Late-night texts help Audric Estime forgive himself for first Notre Dame fumble

Mike Berardino
ND Insider
Notre Dame's Audric Estime runs the drill as running backs coach Deland McCullough tries to punch the ball out during Notre Dame Fall Practice on Friday, August 12, 2022, at Irish Athletics Center in South Bend, Indiana.

SOUTH BEND — The perfectionist in Notre Dame running back Audric Estime wouldn’t allow him to truly enjoy the finest game of his budding career.

Despite rushing for a career-best 134 yards and two touchdowns in the Sept. 24 win at North Carolina, the Irish sophomore kept seeing his goal-line fumble run through his mind on an endless loop.

“I couldn’t go to sleep that night,” Estime recalled Tuesday evening after practice. “I texted coach Deland (McCullough): ‘Dang, man, this is haunting me.’ He texted me: ‘You played a great game. Just learn from that.’ That’s what I’m going to do. Put that in the past and keep on going.”

The 227-pound bruiser from Nyack, N.Y., was a vital part of Notre Dame’s highest first-down total in almost half a century (1974 vs. Army). Estime barreled for 61 yards on eight carries, dragging Tar Heel tacklers as he went, on the drive that culminated in the first fumble of his playing career.

That’s what made the memory so painful.

“I actually never fumbled in a game before,” said Estime, who starred at Saint Joseph Regional High School in Montvale, N.J. “My first dropped ball in a game of my career. I was not used to that feeling.”

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His 17th and final carry of the afternoon officially went for 7 yards as he vaulted from the 4, picked up the first down and braced his twisting fall with his left hand. With his back to the end zone, Estime reached blindly with the same right arm that cradled the football, only to have his effort result in an end-zone recovery for the home team and a touchback.

“I tried to extend the ball and stretch, which I’m not really supposed to do,” Estime said. “That’s something I can learn from. Now I’ll (know) the next time I’m in that situation.”

Sep 24, 2022; Chapel Hill, North Carolina, USA; North Carolina Tar Heels defensive back Will Hardy (31) recovers a fumble in the end zone by Notre Dame Fighting Irish running back Audric Estime (7) in the fourth quarter at Kenan Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Did he realize he’d already picked up the first down?

“No,” he said. “Honestly, I was just running. I just saw the end zone. I thought if I just gave a little reach, I could just break the plane, but the ball just came out.”

'Most expensive foot in the Gug'

Seven weeks removed from the sprained right foot that caused him to miss the season-opening loss at Ohio State, left guard Jarrett Patterson is finding the process more manageable.

“It’s getting better,” he said. “I think the first couple weeks practicing and playing, it was just the recovery time was really hard. Now, it will be sore at night and after games, but the recovery period is a lot quicker.”

Injured during an evening practice at Penn High School on Aug. 15, Patterson has played all 233 offensive snaps since returning for the Week 2 home loss to Marshall. Initially, the team captain and preseason first-team All-American had to set his jaw and play through the pain.

“Halfway through the game I was starting to feel it,” Patterson said. “Even going to practice Tuesday, it was like, ‘Man, I still feel like it’s hurting.’ The biggest thing is the time off has really helped and the process of recovery as far as soreness has been a lot better.”

Patterson joked that he has “the most expensive foot in the Gug” as he detailed the elaborate steps taken to fortify his game cleats.

“I have a whole crazy setup,” he said. “I have a metal plate in there. I have a special ultra-custom insert to help keep my arch supported and I have a special tape job as well. It’s going a lot better. They’re doing everything they can for me.”

'No lack of desire' to play Tobias Merriweather

Freshman wide receiver Tobias Merriweather has been on the field for just four plays this season, all of those coming in Week 3 against Cal.

As #FreeTobias becomes a Twitter hashtag and fans clamor for more looks at the four-star recruit, offensive coordinator Tommy Rees was asked once more about Merriweather’s slow rollout.

“I think for any young player, how important it is that all parts of the game plan are prepared for because your number could be called at any point,” Rees said. “We’ve had plays the last two (games) that are specifically tagged for him. We didn’t get to them. It just didn’t happen.”

Notre Dame's Tobias Merriweather during Notre Dame Fall Practice on Friday, August 05, 2022, at Irish Athletics Center in South Bend, Indiana.

In the 24-17 win over the Bears on Sept. 17, Rees said that was because “the game flow wasn’t exactly dictating what his strengths were.” In a 45-32 road win two weeks ago in Chapel Hill, “game flow” was again to blame along with an offense that finally found its stride.

“We were in a rhythm," Rees said. "We were rolling."

Marcus Freeman said this week he has encouraged any player looking for additional playing time to seek feedback from the coaching staff. Rees said those conversations with Merriweather have been positive.

“Tobias has been great,” Rees said. “He knows what’s been in (the game plan); he knows what hasn’t. He knows there’s opportunities for him. We talk constantly. He’s with coach (Chansi) Stuckey all the time. There’s no lack of desire to play Tobias. … It’s not anything specific to Tobias.”

Perhaps the bye week, with its three padded practices and chances for little-used reserves to scrimmage and boost their status, will result in more playing time for Merriweather on Saturday against BYU in Las Vegas. It will be the first college game in the Pacific Time Zone for the Portland-area product.

“We just have to continue to get him ready to go, and when his number is called, he’ll be ready to play,” Rees said. “We’re building in opportunities each week. He’s practicing at a higher level. All those things he needs to do as a young player to earn that time (are) happening.”

Follow Notre Dame football writer Mike Berardino on Twitter @MikeBerardino and on TikTok @mikeberardinoNDI.

Shamrock Series: No. 16 BYU (4-1) vs. Notre Dame (2-2) 

  • When: Saturday at 7:30 p.m. EST 
  • Where: Allegiant Stadium (65,000), Las Vegas 
  • TV/Radio: NBC/Peacock, WSBT Radio (960 AM), WNSN (101.5 FM) 
  • Line: Notre Dame favored by 2½ points  
  • Series: Notre Dame leads series 6-2 
  • Last meeting: ND 23, BYU 13, Nov. 23, 2013 in South Bend