SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Sheldon Day knows the target will be on his back this year. He doesn't have Stephon Tuitt or Louis Nix lining up next to him to draw the attention of opposing offensive linemen.
Entering Year 3, Day isn't shying away from the challenge of being the don't-let-him-beat-you player on Notre Dame's defensive line.
"It’s just a good feeling knowing that you’re being that singled-out guy," Day said. "They’re saying ‘We need to block No. 91.’ When that focus is all on you, it kind of builds up the excitement to play in the game. I wouldn’t call it pressure, I would see it as a challenge or something like that. If you think you can double team me, well let’s see you do it.”
It's taken Day two full seasons to emerge as not only the best player on Notre Dame's defensive line but as a leader of the unit as well. Day was reserved his freshman and sophomore years, the kind of guy who didn't feel it was his place to rally the troops.
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But armed with a good understanding of his leadership role and an overall level of comfort with Brian VanGorder's 4-3 scheme, he's primed to be one of Notre Dame's best defensive players this fall.
"He has always been very productive on the field, and now he has the whole complement of his leadership, bringing other guys with him and the production on the field is as high if not higher than it ever has been," defensive line coach Mike Elston said. "Knock on wood, Sheldon is going to have one heck of a year.”
VanGorder said Day didn't really grasp his leadership role until he had the scheme nailed down — as in, after spring practice. Coaches have talked about how impressive the defensive line group has been in terms of cohesiveness with Day as its leader, key for a unit filled with inexperience and youth.
Now, Day is focused on not only getting better himself but making the rest of his defensive line mates better, too.
"I just used to sit back and observe things," Day said, "and now I’m up front saying things, communicating, just trying to be the best football player I can be and the best teammate I can be."