NOTRE DAME — There’s a picture making its rounds across the Internet, involving a certain Notre Dame defensive end and a popular Batman villain.
It’s a product of Photoshop, Stephon Tuitt’s head on the body of physically imposing Bane, perhaps partially a nod to Tuitt’s unique face mask but most likely referencing Tuitt’s smothering play these first four games.
Teammate Manti Te’o is on the national radar, gracing the cover of Sports Illustrated and entering the Heisman Trophy race.
The Irish defense hasn’t allowed a touchdown in eight quarters, ranks fourth nationally in scoring defense and 16th in total defense. Four games into the season, Notre Dame’s “D” is the talk of college football.
And defensive coordinator Bob Diaco doesn’t want to hear any of it.
“We’re interested in building a unit that loves each other, loves being with their teammates and coaches, and coaches with their players,” Diaco said at a Wednesday press conference. “We’re interested in building a player that understands that the minute he decelerates and takes a second to pat himself on the back, somebody is going to pass him by. We’re interested in creating players and developing players that love hard work.
“They bring the same energy to every task. If they’re sweeping the floor, they’re attacking that job just as they would attack an opponent at 7:30 p.m. on national TV against an arch-rival.”
Tuitt, who ranks fourth in the nation with six sacks in four games, follows his coach’s lead. The sophomore says it’s hard to keep the noise muffled while getting constant emails and text messages about the rising star of the Notre Dame defense.
“It is possible to avoid the noise,” he said. “It’s exciting to be part of it, but what I know is me, Louis (Nix), Kap(ron Lewis-Moore), Ishaq (Williams), Sheldon (Day), everyone, Kona (Schwenke), everyone who goes out there. I don’t look at awards. I don’t look at nothing, none of that stuff. That doesn’t mean anything to me.”
That doesn’t mean Tuitt doesn’t savor that moment on the field when he breaks through the offensive line and throws his entire 6-foot-6, 303-pound frame into the opposing quarterback.
“Sacks are energizing,” he said, a grin forming. “Once I get one, I can’t stop. You just keep doing it. I get really excited because during the summer I worked really, really hard on increasing my pass rushing skills.”
A fraternity has formed along the defense, a bond freshman Sheldon Day said he felt the first day he stepped on campus back in June.
“Since I came here, the group chemistry (was established) early,” Day said. “I’m really honored to play with these guys.”
Day said he was intimidated by his first night game at home against rival Michigan, but a senior leader helped him feel at ease.
“My heart was kind of racing a little bit, but I got a talk from Kap,” Day said. “That kinda calmed me down. He just told me I have to do what I have to do.”
That brotherhood has a good chance of leading Notre Dame to its first double-digit win season since 2006.
Just don’t expect them to get caught up in the excitement.
“I go out every day with (the defense) and we’re going to play hard, and I know I’m playing for them and helping them make plays, and they’re playing for me,” Tuitt said. “At the end of the day, we’re just all trying to win and shut out the offense.”