Notre Dame didn’t need any more big personalities during its storied 2012 season. The Irish had plenty, thank you.
They’re not sure they need them now, though.
Manti Te’o evolved as the unquestioned face of the university and dominated in the role of in-game spiritual leader.
Kapron Lewis-Moore stood strong as the stoic mentor of all across the lines of offense and defense.
Tyler Eifert was loud and bold with his athleticism and big-play skills.
Theo Riddick’s unselfishness spoke volumes.
They were the big voices on and off the field.
So as ND looks to bridge the gap left by last January’s BCS Championship demolition, the holes to fill in Xs and Os are clear, but what Brian Kelly and his staff are waiting to see — in games — are leaders.
The Irish say they have them — they’ve been there all along. They just may not have been easily heard, let alone seen.
Matthias Farley and Bennett Jackson believe they’re ready to rattle eardrums in earnest.
“I’ve got to be vocal,” said Jackson, who along with T.J. Jones and Zack Martin were named Irish tri-captains. “But we have a pretty vocal defense with Matthias, Carlo (Calabrese), (Dan) Fox, the whole D-line. I think we have a great trust level. We know how one another plays, we know our strengths and weaknesses.”
“I think Bennett is everything that we ask our players to be,” said Kerry Cooks, the team’s co-defensive coordinator. “For one, he leads by example the right way off the field and on the field. He’s been a great example for what it takes to start off as a young guy and continue to develop and continue to strive. He’s put himself in a position now to lead this team and lead this group and he’s very deserving of that captainship.”
“Every year you have to put the team back together and the team is going to take on a different persona. We had maybe not a large exodus of personnel depart, but a major void in leadership and some real stalwart players,” said defensive coordinator Bob Diaco. “Through the course of camp we have done that and the players have responded to that. We have great energy over there, really solid leadership and everybody really likes and cares about each other a bunch so that part has been accomplished.”
Defensively, that energy begins with Farley at safety and Jackson at corner.
Louis Nix, ND’s latest media darling, anchors a talented defensive line and Calabrese, Dan Fox and Prince Shembo are linebacking fixtures.
Those are givens, though not necessarily the go-to forces for the team.
With the revolving door of players who will be thrown into the fire — remember, Kelly says this Irish will have a lot of players that are going to have to play significant roles — a traffic cop or two are needed to keep the parade moving smoothly.
Cooks, who coaches the cornerbacks, thinks Farley, poised and calm soul that he appears to be, is a great fit.
“He wouldn’t have said two words a year ago, but he didn’t have to,” Cooks said. “In everything that he does, you could see the growth and the confidence and the belief in himself that he can lead this defense.”
“I think it started last spring,’’ safeties coach Bob Elliott said of Farley. “He makes a lot of calls ... you can hear him all over field which is what you need. If you’re not confident you’re making the right decisions, it’s hard to be vocal.
“When Matthias Farley speaks, they listen.”
Last year’s Irish fed off Te’o and his bold presence. It changes every fall for every team and few programs embrace the same characteristics year-in, year-out.
With one notable exception, perhaps.
In its dominant national championship game run, all the bold figures in the world couldn’t help the Irish against an Alabama machine which forged its might from the sum many great parts — not big and bold personalities.
Notre Dame doesn’t need big personalties. It needs strong, steady voices.
Farley said he’d almost prefer a savvy, low-key approach as the season takes shape.
“I think that is a good thing honestly,” Farley said. “When you have a whole team that has a similar mindset you do not have to say a lot and there is a lot of trust there between everybody of just knowing what the expectations are and knowing that everyone is going to give everything that they have to reach that and nothing has to be said at all.
“I think that it is a very positive thing for our team.”
“From my perspective when you lose guys like Manti and Kapron, guys that were so dominant and vocal, you have no other choice but to improve,” Cooks said. “We don’t have that guy right now, that superstar so to speak, or that vocal leader. We have very experienced guys and from what we’re seeing right now they’re a tight-knit group and the expectation is for everybody to be on the same page and play as one. If you do that, you have a great chance to play very good defense.”
Whether that positive framework and new scenery of leadership translates into success on Saturdays — beginning this week with Temple — is one of many burning Irish questions.
The rhetoric always sounds good. The rhetoric sounded good in 2012 and in other years.
Coaches trust the players. Players trust in each other.
Players change. Roles change.
Change doesn’t have to be good or bad — it’s inevitable.
And in Notre Dame’s case, it needs to be significant.
Bill Beck is The Elkhart Truth sports editor. Contact him @BillBeckTruth or email to email@example.com