NOTRE DAME — Amir Carlisle watched from the sideline as his teammates carried Notre Dame to its first undefeated regular season in 25 years.
He wasn’t so much frustrated that yet another injury kept him out of commission as he was hungry.
Hungry to get back on the field. Hungry to finally play his first down of football at Notre Dame.
Carlisle transferred to Notre Dame from USC in the spring of 2012. The NCAA waived the usual year transferred players must sit out, but Carlisle broke his foot before spring practice and sat out all season anyway.
He was ready to return in March, then broke his collarbone and was sidelined the rest of spring ball.
In fact, the one year of football he has been able to play at the collegiate level was also marred by injuries.
Despite the seemingly endless stream of setbacks, Carlisle is determined to stay optimistic through the smattering of injuries that have kept him sidelined more often than not since 2011.
“My playing career wasn’t denied,” he said after practice on Friday, Aug. 9. “It was just delayed.”
The wait is (hopefully) over for Carlisle, who enters the fall one of six running backs capable of seeing the field this year. While junior George Atkinson is the current frontrunner to receive the majority of snaps, Carlisle, junior Cam McDaniel, redshirt sophomore Will Mahone, and high-profile freshmen Greg Bryant and Tarean Folston will almost certainly have a role to play in the offense.
So the question isn’t so much if Carlisle will help the team, but how.
Head coach Brian Kelly believes the answer is in Carlsile’s versatility, which makes him ideal for the way the team utilized Theo Riddick last year.
“He catches the ball very well, he’s got a burst, very smart, knows the playbook,” Kelly said of Carlisle. “Versatility is great if you can handle it. What makes him the player he is, is he can handle those dual roles. I think you start with that he’s a very smart kid. You first look at him, you say he’s not a physical kid — he’s almost 200 pounds. He’s 192 and he’s solid. He’s running inside out, he can catch the football, smart, and he has the skill set to play multiple positions.”
On top of that skill set, Carlisle enters the fall with a full year of observation and study under his belt.
“Sitting out last year, it gave me a lot of time to sit back and watch from the sideline,” he said. “I delved into my playbook, really. Tried to learn the Z, tried to learn the X, tried to learn everywhere I could so that when I got here the coaches could feel comfortable putting me on the field.”
Last year, then-running backs coach Tony Alford took on the additional responsibility of coaching slot receivers. It was Kelly’s effort to make a hybrid role, a combination running back and receiver.
Riddick laid the groundwork. Carlisle has the tools to fulfill Kelly’s vision.
He just has to stay healthy.
“I’m ready,” he said. “I’ve been ready for a long time. Day in and day out, I just had that hunger to get back on the field, so I took the mentality that nothing was going to stop me from achieving my goals.”