Notebook: Irish heat up on new Notre Dame Stadium FieldTurf

Eric Hansen
South Bend Tribune

Notre Dame head football coach Brian Kelly did something Thursday afternoon that he wasn’t always able to pull off in the past.

Hold the final real practice of the week at Notre Dame Stadium.

Either existing poor field conditions or the worry that using the field would create poor conditions on a given Saturday often kept the Irish from a Thursday stadium workout.

Now, with the grass field gone and artificial FieldTurf installed, there weren’t such impediments. But there was a wrinkle of sorts.

As with many artificial surfaces, ND’s new field holds heat, and Kelly estimated the temperature on the field to be 10 to 15 degrees warmer than it normally would have been on natural grass.

“It definitely makes a difference,” Kelly said, “so I’m glad we’ve been in there and (have) become more acclimated to the heat, that the rubber and sand definitely makes a difference in there.

“But we feel a lot more comfortable with the surroundings and the field. It’s a great surface. We’re excited.”

The 17th-ranked Irish play the first game of the turf era Saturday in the 2014 season opener with Rice.

Denbrock rocks

Offensive coordinator Mike Denbrock, recovering from prostate cancer surgery in late July, is already back to a full workload, per Kelly.

“We’re putting in about 14-, 15-hour days,” Kelly said. “He’s been in here every hour, so I would say I have not seen anything different from him, relative to his health, from where he was last year. So I would say he’s back to 100 percent.”

Clarett makes impression

In the hours that followed Maurice Clarett’s Aug. 17 visit with the Notre Dame football team, a number of Irish players tweeted on their Twitter accounts about what they perceived as a positive experience.

Here’s Kelly’s takeaway from the time his tIME spent with the former Ohio State star, who professes to be on the road to redemption at age 30 after drug and alcohol abuse and a prison sentence perpetuated a journey to rock bottom that began after he led the Buckeyes as a freshman to the 2002 national title.

“He knew a lot about Notre Dame,” Kelly said. “And what impressed the guys was that he came in with a monogrammed pair of Notre Dame shorts and shirt. I mean, he was dressed for the occasion.

“He paid a lot of attention to Notre Dame and knows Notre Dame and talked about Notre Dame. And I think that did a lot to get the attention of our guys. Listen, our guys listen to incredible lectures every day from great faculty. They’re not easy to get.

“What really got our guys is when he said, ‘You can’t come to Notre Dame if both feet aren’t in South Bend. You can’t have one foot in Florida and one foot in South Bend. You can’t have one foot in Texas. You’ve got to be all in at Notre Dame.’

“And that really resonated with our guys and that really sent a strong message to our group.”

Pardon the interruption

Irish freshman defensive lineman Jay Hayes was looking for a Christian fellowship meeting when he stumbled into Kelly’s post-practice press conference Thursday evening in the Isban Auditorium at the Guglielmino Athletics Complex.

Hayes tried to leave quickly, but Kelly wanted to have some fun with him.

“Do you want to come on camera with me?” Kelly asked.

Hayes sauntered over to the podium and took over the press conference momentarily with “Shout out to y’all. Let’s beat Rice and get better every day.”

“He’s fun,” Kelly said. “He’s not playing right now, but he’s going to play by the end of the season. He’s about a step away from getting on the field. He’s had a great week of practice and he’s coming.”

Roster addition?

Kelly was trying to sort through his backup options on the interior of the defensive line when he couldn’t recall sophomore Jacob Matuska’s name.

“I keep saying Matuszak,” Kelly quipped, referring to the late, great Oakland Raiders defensive end, John Matuszak. “I wish I had Matuszak.”

Captain selection

It’s typically more autocratic than democratic when it comes to picking captains at Notre Dame under Kelly. This time the fifth-year head coach blended a bit of both when selecting grad student Austin Collinsworth, seniors Nick Martin and Cam McDaniel, and junior Sheldon Day.

“What it really came down to (is) I had two seniors that really kept stepping up in times when we needed things accomplished in our unity council,” Kelly said. “And that was Cam McDaniel and Austin Collinsworth.

“So those, with the two clear choices amongst our team. … Martin had always been a strong voice on our offense and Sheldon had always been that strong voice on defense. So we thought the combination of those four was the best situation for 2014.”

Pep rally locale

Friday night’s pep really, weather-permitting, will take place at 6 on South Quad at the Rockne Memorial on the ND campus. The rally will be canceled rather than being moved inside if the weather does not cooperate.

To reach: Eric Hansen

ehansen@ndinsider.com

574-235-6112

Irish head coach Brian Kelly held practice on Notre Dame Stadium's new FieldTurf Thursday in preparation for Saturday's opener with Rice. (SBT Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN)

WHAT: No. 17 Notre Dame (0-0) vs. Rice (0-0)

WHEN: Saturday at 3:30 p.m. (EDT)

WHERE: Notre Dame Stadium; South Bend, Ind.

TV: NBC

RADIO: WSBT-AM (960), WSBT-FM (96.1), WNSN -FM (101.5)

LINE: Notre Dame by 21.