Notre Dame, like its stadium, remains under construction

COMMENTARY

Mike Vorel
South Bend Tribune

More often than not, I’m searching for a symbol.

You can blame Greg Bowers for that. My sports editor and professor at the University of Missouri, Greg hovered over us — hands buried deep in his pockets, gas station soda cup at his side, reading glasses teetering delicately on the tip of his nose. He ran the sports department at the Columbia Missourian with a dictatorial vigor; he either approved of your story, or your story suffered a silent death. We — the scared, ambitious, wildly inexperienced students — absorbed his advice, memorized it, then tried (and often failed) to implement it.

“Show them,” Bowers counselled in his deep, gravelly baritone. “Don’t tell them.”

The best stories, Bowers explained, put pictures in your readers’ minds. It’s not, “This happened, then this happened, then this happened, then he scored.”

Give them a visual. An image. An all-purpose communicator.

On Saturday, that image all but slapped me in the face.

Look at Notre Dame Stadium, the football cathedral in the midst of a massive facelift. Gargantuan structures continue to grow on the east and west, surrounded by fencing, cranes and crews of tireless workers. The construction swallows up sections of the stadium parking lot to the south, where a small village assembles each day and melds progress with tradition.

When 28,061 fans packed the lower bowl for Saturday’s Blue-Gold Game, they found an unfinished product. There was no video board, no ribbon boards, no upgraded benches, no shiny recreation center fused to the west side of the stadium.

But the signs were there. The renovations were ongoing, but encouraging. They found few results, but plenty of potential.

On the field and off.

This was evident almost immediately, on the Blue Squad’s opening drive. Junior quarterback DeShone Kizer completed passes to sophomore running back Dexter Williams, sophomore wide receiver Equanimeous St. Brown and freshman wideout Kevin Stepherson on his 75-yard march, before Williams plowed through a duo of would-be tacklers and scampered with swagger into the end zone.

The defense was young — so, so young — but capable, too. There was freshman safety Devin Studstill, wrapping up quarterback Malik Zaire before pretending to swing an imaginary bat in celebration. There was lightly-used and recently converted junior defensive end Jay Hayes rushing the passer. There was sophomore linebacker Asmar Bilal, settling into Jaylon Smith’s old position, and junior linebacker Nyles Morgan directing traffic from the middle of the field.

There was potential, if not substance. There was a vision of things to come.

There were questions, too. So many festering questions.

What can fans expect from Daelin Hayes, the five-star defensive end with the nagging, career-muddling shoulders? Who will become the alpha dog at running back and wide receiver? Where will Alizé Jones play, and will he finally find the end zone? Who will sack the quarterback?

Someone? Anyone?

Can Brian VanGorder produce a better defense with fewer established parts? Can Max Redfield finally convert five-star expectations into a palpable, productive season? Can Jarron Jones stay healthy? Can Jerry Tillery round into form?

Who will be the starting quarterback against Texas? And will he remain in said role by season’s end?

On Saturday afternoon, I sat in that gradually evolving stadium, gained a sun burn and tried not to suffocate under the swarm of un-answerable questions. Greg Bowers’ words bounced around inside my brain.

Today is Greg’s birthday. To celebrate, here’s a symbol.

Notre Dame’s team, like its stadium, remains under construction.

Fans fill the lower section of Notre Dame Stadium for the Notre Dame Blue-Gold Spring football game on Saturday, April 16, 2016, in South Bend. Tribune Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN