Sharpley: Back to the grind for Notre Dame

Evan Sharpley
NDI Correspondent

Yawn. Hold on one second please. If it is OK with you, let me stretch my legs and grab a cup of coffee before we get started.

Sorry, I just woke up from my bye week hibernation. I know I am not the only one that finds it strange to once again feel the warmth and glow of what is game week for Fighting Irish football.

Glad the bye week is over? Me too. I know taking that week off has my writing skills a tad rusty, so bear with me as I ease back into my routine. Hopefully by the third or fourth paragraph I’ll be back on my game. Let’s hope the Irish do not take as long on Saturday!

Now, if a large-scale poll is taken of former football players, there would be a mixed response of answers as to their opinion on bye weeks. Want to know mine? If you’re still reading, then you obviously want to know. I am not a proponent. That being said, I appreciate and understand how rewarding an off week can be mentally and physically. For me, and many other players, I didn’t like getting out of rhythm, getting out of my weekly routine.

How do you, as a fan, handle the bye week? I’m sure as a fan it’s challenging to ride the emotional roller coaster each weekend provided by the Irish football team. Your happiness hangs in the balance each Saturday afternoon as student-athletes snap up their golden helmets. If anything, you keep heartburn companies in business. Just like the Irish players, the bye week provides you with a needed opportunity to rest, mentally and physically. Seasons are long and bye weeks can be a player’s best friend, or worst enemy.

Bye week is strange. As each coach has his own unique style, each coach manages the bye week differently. Having not played for Brian Kelly, I am not sure how each day/practice is scheduled.

With my experience, coach Charlie Weis finally gave opportunities to many young players to get reps. As great as this was, it created a huge disconnect between starters and non-starters. Under Weis, the starters left practice early to work out, rest and watch film. Meanwhile, the backups had grueling practices and scrimmages. This, among other things, created an interesting bye week culture.

Another interesting aspect to consider are coaches leaving to make recruiting visits, meaning practices are short-staffed. Not having a full coaching staff in town makes it difficult to take bye week practices serious. Imagine not having your position coach in practice. Focus is essential.

Listen, I understand and know how grueling and long football season can be. Summer workouts and summer classes turn into fall camp which segways into the beginning of fall classes and then just like that, the season starts. Once the season starts, it is the same song on repeat: classes, practice, film, ice baths, ankles taped, meetings, workouts, studying, homework, and social life. What I found hardest was finding a proper balance between athletic, academics, social, and faith. Some players find it early in their career, while others take time.

Each person deals with the bye week in very different ways. For this year’s team, and any team for that matter, there are many positives in bye weeks, the most important of which is rest and recovery. It allows some bumps and bruises to heal.

For younger players, it gives them time to check out mentally and move past how overwhelming college football can be, especially how mentally and emotionally draining the season has been following the home opener, the final Michigan game under the lights, and a dog-fight at Lucas Oil. For most, this is the longest break since fall camp started. Most players use the bye week as an opportunity to catch up on homework, spend time with friends, visit family back home, and rest/recover.

For some, getting out of the routine can be detrimental. They don’t take care of their bodies, they stay up late, and they do not manage their time wisely. From my experience, it usually takes a couple years to find a good balance on weeks when there isn’t a game on Saturday. Will this years’ squad be able to wake up from a long off-week?

For me, the hardest part was focus. It’s hard to focus during the bye week and sometimes it’s even hard to flip that switch back on once it’s game week again. Players must be able to separate a bye week mentality from game week and not let bye week preparation and recovery seep into game week.

How this team uses the off week will speak volumes about the character and leadership from the Fighting Irish football team. Go Irish!

In addition to his weekly column, former Notre Dame quarterback Evan Sharpley previews upcoming games each Friday at 7:50 a.m. on WSBT’s JT in the Morning Show (960 AM and 96.1 FM). On Mondays, Sharpley co-hosts WSBT’s Notre Dame Football Final, which airs from 9-10 a.m. He’ll also be an occasional contributor to WSBT’s Weekday SportsBeat and Gameday SportsBeat radio programs. Sharpley owns and operates Sharpley Training in Mishawaka.

Under former coach Charlie Weis bye week practices were often grueling for backups as starters were given time to work out and watch film. (SBT File Photo)