The Freeman Era Sets Its Foundation – Notre Dame Fighting Irish – Official Athletics Website – Notre Dame Athletics


By John Brice
Special Contributor
Almost nothing is left to the imagination.
Cameras reveal the locker room and the pre-game prayers; thousands have witnessed the walk from mass.
Not seen are the quiet moments. The uncertain moments.
They happen for everyone, but especially for a first-time head coach at college football’s lone true global brand; Notre Dame is not for everyone.
Marcus Freeman, though, is for Notre Dame.
“You know, it’s tough because you have some moments in your office by yourself that you got to take a deep dive into yourself, like what are you doing? What do you have to do to get this thing changed?,” Freeman reveals, vulnerable after his team’s invincible performance.
“You got to believe in what you’re doing. When I’m in front of that group, you got to be the most confident individual that they’ve ever seen. If their leader gets up there in front of the group after a loss, or we don’t play well, with their head down, what are they supposed to think?”
Listen to a former Irish great, his words prelude to a 35-14 beatdown that stands among college football’s most defining wins for a first-year coach against a top-five foe.
“We’ve got a helluva coach in Coach Freeman,” Jaylon Smith, standout from a previous era but among the scores embracing a new one, tells a bubbling crowd in front of ‘Touchdown Jesus,’ more than two hours before kickoff.
Such is evident a bit more in each passing week.
A ‘home game’ in Las Vegas, anathema to quaint South Bend, Indiana, adds a layer of substance to Freeman in a win against BYU along the journey.
Freeman’s, after all, is a program with a defense led by the ultimate of veterans in JD Bertrand and Isaiah Foskey as well as the most precocious of rookies in Benjamin Morrison.
With an offense that continues to shape-shift into whatever it needs behind a star-studded offensive line, role-playing signal-caller Drew Pyne and three-headed Hydra of Logan Diggs, Audric Estimè and Chris Tyree that comprises the running back platoon.
Adding to an earlier testament of dominance at North Carolina is a more recent dismantling of top-20 Syracuse.
Each is an oppositional program with a veteran coach, one in the Tar Heels’ Mack Brown even owning a national title; neither with Freeman’s current program-pulse.
Authenticity? Check
Humility? Check
Vulnerability? Take Notes.
Freeman is coming of age as a head coach and bringing everyone, from Irish players to fans to the millions tuning in each week on television, along with him.
“I make sure when I walk out of my office I’m the most confident leader that I can be,” Freeman says, after thousands chant his name and clamor for his smile of approval inside Notre Dame Stadium. “They need that. They will go as their leader goes, and I have to do that. Listen, there are times, as we all have where we’re by ourselves in solitude, and have to reflect and talk to ourselves a little bit. But I think the thing I learned is that what I said earlier, is that it’s never how we foresee it on the front end.
“If you go on to win a national championship or if you’re, what are we? 6-3 and you lost a couple games that you didn’t believe you would’ve (lost) at the start of the year? But you can paint a beautiful picture.
“You can make this thing the way you want as long as you continue.”
This watercolor is different. A foundation-building win, against a program, Clemson, that has in modern times oft vexed Notre Dame.
Not this occasion.
Borne of all those factors, ND throttled Clemson, 35-14, Saturday night; kicked the Tigers’ ass, actually.
This is neither opinion nor hyperbole; it is the very words of Clemson coach Dabo Swinney.
Not because of a singular individual on a blustery but picturesque Saturday evening, with almost 78,000 fans – and not nearly as many of them in orange as social media skews – shouldering into sold-out Notre Dame Stadium.
Because all of them. Because players are engaged, invested and hell yes they are playing for now and for pride and for the future.
Playing for their head coach and his assistants.
“To the coaches, those positions coaches that every day are with them and continue to reinforce that message,” Freeman says of a selfless approach that shines when a reserve linebacker, Prince Kollie, takes the punt block of a reserve defender, Jordan Botelho, and houses it for a special teams touchdown that establishes the tone like a bass drum at a symphony. “To the type of kids we have. You know, Notre Dame attracts a special individual, right? It takes a selfless individual to thrive in a place like this, that understands it is bigger than yourself.
“I think that’s the beauty of being here. We got a whole bunch of kids that want to be national champions, first-round (NFL Draft) picks, but they’re selfless and they understand about the bigger picture, that it’s bigger than themselves.
“That’s why it is a joy to coach them. Every day, those position coaches have to reinforce that message.”
The message is unmistakable.
From Harry Hiestand’s offensive line, which on average plows the pathways for more than half of a first down on each and every one of 47 carries that translate into 263 rushing yards against the celebrated Clemson front.
From the defensive backs and safeties of Mike Mickens and Chris O’Leary; their groups who yielded virtually nothing in broken tackles and yards-after-catch efforts that, in previous years, doom the Irish on such a stage. Who see the rookie Morrison pick off either leather-slinger Clemson chooses and both directly and indirectly deliver 14 Notre Dame points in the process.
Tommy Rees’ offense, Al Golden’s defense, Brian Mason’s special teams and all points in between.
“We’re going to keep fighting, no matter what anybody says or thinks about us, we don’t care,” said Irish All-American tight end Michael Mayer, whose record-breaking 16th career touchdown reception supplied the Irish’s romp-cementing touchdown. “We are going to keep fighting and keep practicing and keep our head down and keep listening to Coach Freeman, because he’s a fantastic head coach.
“That’s really it. That’s all I can say.”
There is more to be said, this month, this season and in this program.
“As I told the guys, this is a spiritual school,” Freeman shared. “We can’t just pray and think things will magically change. We play, but you have to put in the work and be very intentional. Saying we’re not just trusting the process, (but) we have to fix it and attack the deficiencies that we have.
“That’s going to be the challenge, even after (the Clemson win). After a great win like this, are we still willing to go and take a hard look at ourselves and say, ‘How can I improve as an individual? After a win over a top-five program, can we still be selfless? Can we tune out all the outside noise?’ It’s easy to tune it out when you’re not winning, because it’s all negativity.
“The challenge to this group is can you tune it out right now when somebody might pat you on the back and say, ‘You’re doing a great job.’ Continue to stay focused and continue to work on the things that we know it’s going to take for us to improve, because that’s the challenge every week to improve.”
The task accepted by Freeman & Co.
For everyone? No.
For Notre Dame? Absolutely.
© 2022 The University of Notre Dame. All rights reserved.

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