Winds of change agree with Notre Dame's Amir Carlisle

Eric Hansen
South Bend Tribune

INDIANAPOLIS — A second wind and a whole lot of faith makes it easier now for Amir Carlisle to frame last year’s 31-24 escape from a Purdue team that didn’t win a game over an FBS opponent.

The Notre Dame running back-turned-slot receiver now admits the weirdness of having to be in separate camps from his father, Duane, a former track standout at Maryland and currently the Boilermakers’ director of sports performance.

Even more awkward was his slide from a prominent role at running back into statistical oblivion that started with a late fumble against Purdue.

“There were times I could have gotten down when my season didn’t exactly go how I planned for it to go,” said Carlisle, who has a new position and a new bounce in his step for Saturday night’s (7:30 EDT; NBC) Shamrock Series matchup between the 11th-ranked Irish (2-0) and Purdue (1-1) at Lucas Oil Stadium.

Notre Dame is 5-0 all-time in Shamrock Series off-site home games, outscoring its opponents, 200-75. Other than last year’s 37-34 edging of Arizona State in Arlington, Texas, all the others have been decided by at least 24 points.

“I really got in my Bible and prayed about things, and talked to my mom,” Carlisle said. “Each and every day is an opportunity for me to be an example of God, so I have to be positive and approach everything with excellence.

“Everything I do, regardless of the circumstances, I have to do with excellence.”

The 5-foot-10, 190-pound senior, with 2015 eligibility, is bringing significant improvement, if not excellence, to Notre Dame’s slot receiver position. He enters this Purdue matchup with nine receptions for 115 yards and two touchdowns.

Together he and slot tag teammate C.J. Prosise have 11 catches for 186 yards in two games. Though ND did rotate some of its outside receivers into the slot occasionally last year, the slot receiving corps itself accounted for a mere seven receptions for 72 yards over 13 games in 2013.

“The slot receiver position has been an area that has been a bit of a concern for me,” said ND head coach Brian Kelly, who moved Carlisle to his new position last winter. “We’ve finally got a guy that can match up inside out.”

Carlisle immediately embraced the opportunity to contribute again to the offense. The USC transfer, who has battled injuries while with the Trojans and again in 2012 after being granted immediate eligibility at ND by the NCAA, had become an afterthought at running back last season.

His fumble occurred with 8:10 left in the game against the Boilermakers and ND leading by seven points. Purdue took possession on the Irish 41, but went backwards 17 yards on its ensuing possession and elected to punt.

Carlisle’s replacement, Cam McDaniel, ended up carrying the ball 10 times in the final ball-hogging drive that killed all of the remaining 7:22 on the clock.

As for Carlisle, he finished the game with 16 yards on 11 carries, giving him 148 yards on 30 attempts — and seven receptions for 130 yards — in ND’s first three games of 2013. He carried just 17 times over the last 10 games for 56 yards and did not catch a pass in any of those contests.

Carlisle’s fumble was just one of two the Irish running back corps lost all season and one of 10 by the running backs in the Kelly coaching era (2010-present). The Irish have not committed a turnover of any kind in 2014 so far, one of eight FBS schools that have played two games that can make that claim.

“I learned from that,” Carlisle said of the fumble and its aftermath. “It was a learning experience. I put it in the past. All I can do is focus on the present and be the best for this game coming up on Saturday.”

He helped put himself in that position by working this summer with Michael Johnson, the new head coach at Carlisle’s old high school, The King’s Academy in Sunnyvale, Calif.

Johnson had served as a college assistant at Oregon State and UCLA, and in the pros with Atlanta, San Diego, Buffalo and San Francisco.

Carlisle also leaned on nine-year NFL veteran running back Frank Gore, whom Duane Carlisle introduced to his son when the elder Carlisle was working as the strength coach for the 49ers (2005-10).

“All the time in high school, I’d be at the 49ers complex, when my dad was with the 49ers every single day,” he said, “so I got a chance to work out with a lot of the guys over there.

“Frank Gore has always been a mentor for me, throughout my entire high school career and college career. He’s been there when I need to talk to somebody. He’s offered advice, so I really appreciate that.”

And Carlisle has needed that. The switch to slot receiver had a lot more adjustments than even Carlisle had envisioned.

“It was a lot of football for him to learn,” Kelly said. “It's still a lot of football for him to continue to learn. He plays hard. He is a great kid. He is a conscientious kid, but he was learning a lot of football at that position. There is a lot going on.

“I think, really, what put him over the top was his concentration on catching the football with his hands. Once that really became something that he felt comfortable doing, I think it really allowed him to progress quickly.”

And now he can’t wait to show off to his long-time biggest fan, Duane Carlisle, on Saturday night.

“My dad is the one who introduced me to football,” the younger Carlisle said. “Last year, it was weird (playing Purdue), but it’s not weird for me (now). I approach it like any other game — focused and ready to execute.

“At the end of the day, that’s my dad, and our relationship always supersedes football.”

ehansen@ndinsider.com

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Notre Dame's Amir Carlisle makes a catch next to Michigan's Delonte Hollowell during the ND's 31-0 shutout of the Wolverines last Saturday. (SBT Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN)