FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – It's been awhile since Notre Dame football coach Brian Kelly's team had had that feeling envelop them.
What feeling is that?
It's called sunshine. And the No. 1-ranked Fighting Irish have thoroughly enjoyed practicing in it over the past two days in preparation for Monday's BCS National Championship Game in Miami (ESPN, 8:30 p.m.).
“We needed a good day today,” Kelly said following Friday's practice. “It was hotter today and we pushed our guys. I thought that they responded very well. We only went an hour and fifteen minutes today. I'm pleased with back-to-back days where we got a lot of work done. We're ready to play. We have one more day tomorrow and we'll clean some things up and some situational and we'll get ready to play Alabama in a great game.”
Notre Dame has been practicing at high noon this week with the temperatures hovering around 80 degrees. Though they are accustomed to training in 72 degrees – albeit indoors - throughout the month of December, doing so in slightly warmer temperatures and the sunshine is different physically on the players. Even when they are not at practice, Kelly wants his players cognizant of what the weather can do to their bodies.
“I don't want the players to over-hydrate or under-hydrate either,” Kelly said. “All of our guys need to know that they are in an environment where it's easy to go out to the pool and forget yourself, and you're out there for two hours and then we have some dehydration issues. So they're smart and will take care of that.”
Kelly has enjoyed not just the beautiful weather, but also actually being able to have more realistic special teams work practiced.
“Timing was much better today,” Kelly said. “I think all of the little things are coming back gradually. Being outside and getting our special teams done in a manner that allows the ball to fly. We were in indoors and kicking them into the roof and the ball is banging around. You don't get the same kind of coverage so getting that all out of the way has been good for us.”
The weather forecast for Monday's game calls for temperatures in the low to mid-70s with partly cloudy skies.
Martin wants more
The last time that Fighting Irish offensive coordinator Chuck Martin was part of a program that put its hopes in the hands of a first-year quarterback, as Notre Dame is doing with Everett Golson, the season turned out very well for his team.
He spoke on Friday of hoping that parallel to this season follows a similar path.
“The only time I've been part of it was, (coach Kelly's) last year at Grand Valley State,” Martin explained. “We had a freshman quarterback and won the national title. I would say the year was very similar to this year as far as a young guy growing up on the job, and by the time we got to the National Championship game he was a lot different player.”
In 2003, Kelly turned the Laker offense over to freshman Cullen Finnerty, who ultimately won the 2003 NCAA Division II National Championship. Finnerty later guided Grand Valley State to national titles in 2005 and 2006 as well.
“(Finnerty) went on to win three, so we're hoping that history repeats itself,” Martin said. “Everybody is worried about that next one; we're trying to make this the first of three, actually.”
Martin chuckled and kept going.
“No one thought that was coming out today, huh,” Martin laughed. “You (media) guys are all way too short-sighted with your thinking. Trying to think big picture here.”
No stage fright
Several stories have been written regarding the lack of experience for Golson on such a stage as the national championship game. Martin doesn't foresee the magnitude of Monday's game being too much for his young quarterback to handle, especially given what he has already endured this season.
“I'd say just for him, our schedule,” Martin said. “First-ever college game in Dublin, Ireland. First-ever home game against Purdue, road game (in) primetime at Michigan State, night game at Notre Dame against Michigan, on the road at Oklahoma, on the road at USC, coming off the bench, doing all the things that he's been through, he's battle tested.
Take any other quarterback this year and try to figure out if they've gone through as much as Everett Golson. To me it's not even close. Not even close.”