Notebook: Notre Dame football evolution includes yoga and a 'new" Football 101

Eric Hansen
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND — The yoga habit Brian Kelly plunged into last December is still with him six months later.

“What it gives you is just 45 minutes of no noise, right?” the eighth-year Notre Dame head football coach said Tuesday at Notre Dame Stadium while co-presiding with wife Paqui over the Football 101 fundraiser.

“You’re able to just get away from all the noise and just focus solely on what’s in front of you. It allows you to re-energize and not worry about the other things and just be who you are. That's why I do it.”

It’s an unsung part of Kelly’s personal transformation this offseason, following the second losing season of his 26-year head coaching career — 4-8 to be precise — and first since the 2004 season at rebuilding Central Michigan.

Football 101, perhaps the signature event of the Kelly Cares Foundation, will soon undergo its own metamorphosis.

“Next year, it will take the next stage, if you will, to a 201 kind of format,” Kelly said during Tuesday’s Weekday SportsBeat radio show on WSBT.

“So this is the last year in its current form. We’ve done it for eight years. We have a pretty big bang (a fireworks show) at the end of tonight’s Football 101 that will mark a major change in how we’re going to do it.”

Kelly Cares, in its roughly eight years of existence, has distributed more than $3.5 million to support causes, locally and around the world.

As far as the coach’s own football agenda, here's a few topics that came up on his radar Tuesday night:

Doubling down on Kmet

Kelly followed soon-to-be Notre Dame tight end Cole Kmet’s recent run through the Illinois Class 3-A baseball tournament and fully endorses Kmet’s desire to play both baseball and football at Notre Dame.

“I committed to Cole in the recruiting process, that baseball was going to be part of the recruitment process of Cole,” Kelly said. “So that was always on the table. We never wanted to take that off. We were pretty transparent in that.”

Kmet, who starts summer school as a freshman at ND next Monday, helped an Arlington Heights St. Viator squad that finished the regular season 18-15, rip off seven straight tourney wins for the school’s first state title in baseball.

As a pitcher, the 6-foot-5, 230-pound Kmet is a hard-throwing left-hander whose fastball touches the low 90s. As a position player — a center fielder — he batted over .430 and had more extra-base hits for the season than singles. He also stole 14 bases in 17 attempts.

“Look, he’s a kid I think can handle both,” Kelly said. “We’ve worked really well with other sports in making sure we could do both. I don’t see that we can’t continue to do that.

“If we believe there’s a player that can handle the academic rigors of Notre Dame, fulfill the responsibilities of football and help that other sport — that’s the key — we’re going to continue to do it.”

The ‘perfect’ storm

Notre Dame’s offensive line took the axiom “practice makes perfect” a little too literally in spring practice, per Kelly.

The group — which collectively took a step backward in 2016, despite the presence of elite individual talent — struggled early in the spring by pressing too much.

“I think sometimes when you have this collection of experienced players, they sometimes want to be perfect, and we’re not about perfection,” Kelly said of a line that returned four starters.

“And I think we got into the spring with Mike (McGlinchey), Quenton (Nelson), Sam (Mustipher) and Alex (bars) wanting to be perfect, instead of just going out there and playing and being the kind of football players they can be.

“I think we got over that halfway through the spring, and they started to feel a lot more comfortable, where they didn’t have to go out there and be perfect every day. I think we started to see that come together. That group’s going to be really good. I think it’s one of the best offensive lines in the country.”

Tillery a wild card

A key to ND’s still tenuous defensive line is junior defensive tackle/nose guard Jerry Tillery, who ended an uneven 2016 season individually with 37 tackles and a puff of controversy.

In ND’s season ending 45-27 loss at USC, Tillery, in two separate instances, made contact with Trojan players lying on the ground after the play. He later apologized for his actions.

The first came when Tillery appeared to nudge the head of USC running back Aca'Cedric Ware, who momentarily lay motionless after being hit hard by safety Nicco Fertitta.

The second came when Tillery appeared to stomp on the ankle of offensive tackle Zach Banner following USC's final touchdown of the game.

“I think he’s much more aware of what happened and recognizes that it was totally unacceptable for him to handle himself the way that he did,” Kelly said. “So I don’t think you can grow as a person unless you’re aware of what happened first.

“As it relates to (his potential) as a football player, it’s — 1 — consistency of performance and — 2 — I think he’s got to develop as a skilled technician. Sometimes he just tried to rely on athleticism.

“That position requires hand placement, the ability to shed blocks and things like that. And if we can get that consistency and skill development, I think you’re going to see a much better player every single snap.”

Keeping it real — and short

Kelly was invited to speak at his son, Patrick’s, high school graduation last week at South Bend Clay.

The elder Kelly kept his remarks to five minutes.

“I stole a little bit of Lou Holtz,” he said of his message. “ ‘For those that know Notre Dame, no explanation is necessary. And for those who know Patrick Kelly, my son, you can understand why luggage was a great graduation gift for him.’

“We had some fun.”

Patrick Kelly is set to attend Grand Valley State University, the school in which Kelly landed his first head coaching job.

Notre Dame players run guests through a drill during the Football 101 charity event at Notre Dame Stadium on Tuesday, June 13, 2017. The program offered participants food, photo opportunities and a chance to learn more about football through drills and classroom sessions with Notre Dame players and staff. This was the eighth year for the program, that is part of the Kelly Cares Foundation. (Tribune Photo/MICHAEL CATERINA)