Notre Dame football: Calabrese a better player

Bob Wieneke

SOUTH BEND - On Saturday mornings last year, after breakfast and team meetings, roommates Carlo Calabrese and Manti Te'o would flip on their hotel room TV for some gameday rest and relaxation.

ESPN? Nope.

Movies? Uh-uh.

Cartoons? Negative.

Try this one: The Joy of Painting with Bob Ross.

This, Notre Dame football fans, is how two of Notre Dame's fiercest defenders spent their Saturday mornings. Not quite the picture you had imagined, huh?

"We just started watching it," Calabrese said, "and it became ritual."

That ritual worked pretty well as Te'o and Calabrese were in the middle of what became one of the nation's top defenses. Te'o, however, is gone to the NFL while Calabrese returns for a fifth season in South Bend. And with Te'o, the unquestioned emotional leader of the 2012 team gone, it's a different backdrop this season.

Leaders are scattered throughout the defense, and one of them is the 6-foot-1, 250-pound Calabrese, one of three players, along with Dan Fox and Jarrett Grace, expected to log the majority of minutes at the two inside linebacker spots.

"We have a bunch of leaders on our defense now. And instead of just looking to one person, we can look to several people on our defense," Calabrese, a graduate of Verona (N.J.) High School said. "It's great being a leader and having the younger kids come up to you and ask you about the plays and ask you about anything. I like it. I enjoy it a lot."

What defensive coordinator Bob Diaco is enjoying is the work Calabrese has put in.

Calabrese re-calibrated his diet and is now in better shape. He's worked on his speed and change of direction. Mentally, Calabrese is a better player.

"His overall athleticism he's kind of focused and targeted this summer, along with the strength staff, in getting him to try to move some liabilities of the past to either assets or a wash," Diaco said.

Beyond the offseason stuff, Diaco offered one more piece of ammo to why he believes Calabrese can flourish.

"He's had a really, really solid camp too," Diaco said. "I'm proud of the way he's prepared."

More than once this offseason Irish coach Brian Kelly insisted that the hangover from the 42-14 Alabama slammer in the BCS National Championship Game was gone by the next morning. Calabrese too says he swiftly turned the page.

"I just flushed it right out," Calabrese said. "It wasn't hard for me."

Calabrese too is ready to finish strong. He missed the first game last season after being suspended following an offseason brush with police, but he played in the final 12 games, recording 49 tackles while sharing the inside linebacker job opposite Te'o with Fox.

"I've grown a lot. On and off the field I've grown a lot," said Calabrese, who graduated in May with a degree in design. "I just can't wait to get started for the season. I really can't."

Notre Dame linebacker Carlo Calabrese (44) celebrates a stop during the first half of the BCS National Championship Game on Monday, Jan. 7, 2013, at Sun Life Stadium in Miami Gardens, Fla. South Bend Tribune/JAMES BROSHER