Sharpley: Quieting crowds can be quite fun

Evan Sharpley
ND Insider Correspondent

Notre Dame football players are the most prepared to play in new venues, cities and high-profile games because it occurs every year. Most teams that come to South Bend are enamored with ND’s campus, the tradition, and everything else attached to the Notre Dame experience. Whether teams want to admit this or not, it happens. I have seen first-hand, opposing teams step foot in Notre Dame stadium and lose sight of the actual game. Irish players are part of the pinnacle of college football, meaning they are much more even-keeled when it comes to play in high-profile venues and in new environments.

As a student-athlete, I was extremely blessed to have played all across the country in some of the most unique and well-known sporting arenas. Aside from Notre Dame Stadium, I was able to travel to play USC in the LA Coliseum, Penn State in Happy Valley, Michigan in the Big House, LSU in the SuperDome, and countless other amazing stadiums. Notre Dame players are adept to the big stage, and Tallahassee, Fla. will be no different.

Without lessening the importance of physical preparation, the off-field mental preparation is extremely important this week, as it is every week. With a plethora of off-field distractions for both Notre Dame and Florida State, it will be quite intriguing to see which coaching staff will be able to best prepare their team. Fortunately (or unfortunately) for both teams, these off-field issues have been transpiring throughout the year to date. It would seem, based on performance, that Jimbo Fisher and Brian Kelly have done their part to weather the storm that potentially could damage their season’s success.

In 2005, as an incoming freshman at Notre Dame, I experienced the ousting of one coach, Tyrone Willingham, and the beginning of another, Charlie Weis. During the 2005 and 2006 seasons, my teams saw a level of success that hadn’t been experienced at Notre Dame in some time. To coach Weis’ credit, he created an “us against the word” atmosphere in our locker room and amongst our team.

Under his leadership and the leadership of many upperclassmen, we were part of a sudden burst back into the national college football scene as we went from unranked to highly ranked in a very short period. I recall an amazingly high level of excitement in the weight room, on the practice field and around campus. At times, it was difficult to deal with, to avoid the noise, and not get caught up in the excitement surrounding our program.

It can be easy to develop a sense of entitlement that we deserved to win or have success because we were Notre Dame. In order to combat this, players, coaches and support staff must increase accountability and challenge each other day in and day out. Nothing is ever guaranteed, but teams should approach each season, approach each game expecting to win and must dream of playing championship football. To raise the level of play, teams must continually aim higher each week regardless of the opponent.

This week, that opponent is Florida State University. As a collegiate football player, one of the most amazing experiences is going into “enemy” territory. Imagine going to classes all week, watching film, lifting weights, practicing, and then getting on a bus or boarding a plane with more than 80 liked-minded men, all with the same goal: win. Add to the mix, two top five-ranked teams, two Heisman Trophy candidates, and a prime time venue and everything is magnified.

For many of the young players, going into these hostile environments is an important learning experience. As each negative comment is hurled toward the Notre Dame team, focus and adrenaline heighten to levels that players never thought possible.

I have said it before and I will say it once again, athletes thrive on proving critics wrong. It was, and still is, hard to truly describe and put into words the feelings and emotions of walking out of a tunnel into an opponent’s stadium and being greeted by an extended string of boos. What trumps that? Walking back into the opposing team’s tunnel after a victory. 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.

Notre Dame players celebrate with fans after a 20-3 win against Michigan State on Saturday, Sept. 15, 2012, in East Lansing, Mich. (SBT File Photo)