Notre Dame LB commit Pete Werner healthy, hungry in senior season

Tyler James
South Bend Tribune

Pete Werner had already undergone one offseason surgery on his shoulder when he received the bad news about his hips.

The labra in both of his hips had suffered tears and an operation would be required to fix them long term. The Notre Dame linebacker commit had a decision to make: should he play through his senior season with the injuries or should he get it taken care of right away?

He also had to make a phone call to Irish linebackers coach Mike Elston.

"Literally right when it happened, I was calling coach Elston,” Werner said. “I was like, 'I gotta talk to you about something.'”

Werner gave his verbal commitment to Notre Dame in March, but voices around him started to wonder if his changing health status would change his standing with the Irish.

“It was hard to wrap your mind around,” Werner said.

Any worries were washed away after talking to Elston. They decided he should have the surgery as soon as possible. Werner went under the knife in April with both surgeries occurring less than two weeks apart. His track season was cut short, but he would be ready to play the majority of his senior season.

Werner missed the first two weeks as a precaution, but he took the field for the first time last Friday at Mishawaka High School. He only played every other defensive series but showed little sign of a delayed absence.

The Indianapolis Cathedral coaching staff utilized the 6-foot-3, 215-pound Werner as a cornerback and safety to slow down Mishawaka’s flexbone option attack. He said he will return to a linebacker role this week against Bishop Chatard.

“I'm finally off the sidelines, so that's always a good thing,” Werner said. “Getting out here, playing with the guys, it's always a great feeling. Making that first hit, you know you're back in it.”

The first hit came on the first play for Werner. Mishawaka tried to complete a pass his way, but the open wide receiver failed to hold onto the ball as Werner closed on him for the tackle.

Werner produced louder thuds with solo tackles on the quarterback and a running back later in the game that drew oohs from the crowd. He finished the game with six tackles.

“I didn't go out every snap on defense, so making hits, whatever. Tackle,” Werner said. “It was just good getting up, celebrating with your guys. It was fun.”

Cathedral led 21-0 at the end of the first quarter and 34-0 at halftime, so very few of Werner’s plays were high-pressure. He maintained his rotation of playing every other series until the finish of the 41-20 victory. Each rep is valuable to work out any hiccups in his game.

“I actually do feel 100 percent right now,” Werner said. “My body felt great. They were like, 'We're going to have you stay out and working in and see how you play when you get out there.' It was fine. I accepted that.”

Werner won’t have to hear any chiding from his teammates about not being healthy enough to play. It certainly didn’t help that his list of offseason surgeries sounded more like someone headed to a nursing home rather than on track to play college football. The big, bad Notre Dame commit can now live up to his hype.

Werner, a four-star recruit, projects as the most versatile and athletic linebacker in Notre Dame’s 2017 recruiting class. Rivals ranks him as the No. 18 outside linebacker in the country. 247Sports slates him 19th.

“I'm just trying to be a part of the team,” Werner said. “I don't want anything titled higher than a Cathedral football player right now. I'll go bigger into things once I get older."

The main goal for his senior season: winning a Class 6A state championship. Cathedral’s streak of five straight state titles ended last season when the Irish moved up to 6A, the state’s highest class.

Werner’s weekdays will be dedicated to his current team and redeeming last season’s regional championship loss. He’ll shift a focus to his future team on the weekends. Werner plans to attend Saturday’s home opener against Nevada. It won’t be his last.

"I'm going to watch it differently. I'm not just going to watch wherever the ball goes,” Werner said. “I'm going to look at my position. See how they play. Look at the coaches. See how they coach. It's going to be different. I'm definitely going to follow them more. Not like I used to. It will be nice watching them every Saturday. I'm excited for that."

tjames@ndinsider.com

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Twitter: @TJamesNDI

Notre Dame LB commit Pete Werner played for the first time in his senior season at Mishawaka High School after missing the first two weeks recovering from offseason hip surgeries. (Tribune Photo/TYLER JAMES)