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    Chuck In the Armor - 4.13.12

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    On Super Bowl Sunday, Clint Eastwood declared "it's halftime in America," a rallying speech intended to get the public fired up about buying cars in Detroit.

    It's just a little bit past halftime in the Notre Dame baseball season, and the Irish need something to get them fired up right now.  They've lost five in a row, seven of their last eight, and it seems nothing is going right.

    I'm here to tell you that can all change this weekend. This isn't Pollyanna speak.  I don't wear  rose-colored glasses as I write this.  

    The main thing Notre Dame is missing right now is confidence.

    You can see it in every move they don't make, every step they don't take. Confident teams don't hesitate going after balls in the outfield. Confident teams don't hesitate running the bases.  Confident teams shrug off mistakes, rather than dwelling on them.

    This is not a confident bunch right now.  The weekend sweep at Seton Hall left deep marks on the psyche of this team, and they are still thinking about things that happened a week ago.

    They need to think about what happened a month ago.

    They need to think back to that Sunday night at Alex Box Stadium when 10,000 people thought they were showing up for an Irish wake, and instead watched Notre Dame not just beat LSU, but whip them 7-1.  They need to remember they made errors in that game and bounced back with double plays. They need to remember they had enough speed to pressure a top 10 team into making mistakes on bunts.  They need to remember that when everyone expected them to fail, they delivered clutch two-out hits.

    What has changed about that team? Injuries and illness to Trey Mancini and Charlie Markson? They're coming back.  No, the difference is this squad between then and now is only the pressure they put on themselves. That Notre Dame team took the field relaxed with no pretense.  Now it looks as though every at-bat, every pitch and every ground ball carries the weight of the world with it.

    To a certain extent, the Irish need to adopt the Rhett Butler approach and frankly, not give a blank.  That's not playing with apathy... it's just not playing with pressure. It's playing loose, letting it rip, and if you make a mistake, forget about it and move on to the next pitch.

    The last place team in the BIG EAST, the Cincinnati Bearcats, are coming to town.  They've lost seven one-run games and a pair of two-run games, so they've had their hearts not only broken, but picked apart like Play-Doh. Their marquee win came over Pittsburgh, the next-to-last team in the conference. Brian Cleary's 11-21 squad is having a tough season, and they're not going to play with any pressure on them.  

    The Irish need to respond in kind. 

    t's much too early to say this season is "Gone with the Wind." It's only halftime in South Bend.  Confidence can be built anew just like an American car, and the Irish can start rolling on the winning track again.

    - Chuck Freeby ('86)

    2012 Coaches Clinic: The A-Team

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    Earlier this morning, head coach Brian Kelly spoke with more than 630 guests for the 2012 Notre Dame Football Coaches Clinic at the Purcell Pavilion.

    Coach Kelly addressed visitors from New York, California, Canada and everywhere in between. I had a chance to catch the last few minutes of Coach Kelly's presentation, where he talked specifically about the program's 'A-Team' philosophy.

    To understand a bit more about 'The A-Team,' the Isban Auditorium at the Guglielmino Athletics Complex underwent a bit of a facelift during spring break. The minor renovation added several signs to the Gug, making it recognizable to all visitors that they have arrived at the home of Notre Dame football. Three of these signs focus on 'The A-Team,' a set of principles the Irish are focused on as they prepare for the 2012 season - accountability, appreciation and achievement.

    536298_393613444001541_155703994459155_1440608_1435666757_n.jpg The first 'A' that Coach Kelly talked about was accountability. More specifically, peer accountability, players holding one another to high standards, and having the courage to tell teammates when they have failed to live up to those expectations. From on-field attitude, to work ethic in the classroom to character in the community, Coach Kelly and his staff expect a lot from their players, as they rightfully should at the University of Notre Dame. From top to bottom, senior captain to freshman walk-on, every member of the Irish football program is held accountable to these expectations.

    531806_393613507334868_155703994459155_1440610_1831287763_n.jpg Coach Kelly also addressed appreciation, saying he did not want to sound as if he were giving a sermon, but that he expects his players to recognize all that they have here at Notre Dame. They have the God-given talent to play Division I football, the ability to earn a college education, and a chance to represent their university, community, family and friends. Players have to 'come to work everyday' with this in mind, never to lose sight of their opportunities.

    530791_393617040667848_155703994459155_1440616_948723340_n.jpg The Irish head coach finished the 'A-Team' portion of his presentation by talking about achievement. The Notre Dame football program seeks to go 'beyond the call of duty,' striving for excellence in everything and every way. Coach Kelly stressed that both the head and the heart have to be committed to the team and doing everything necessary to succeed.

    Coach Kelly also compared 'building a team' to 'building a program.' When you're building a team he said, you go out to get the best players you can find, and you will have a few great seasons. But when you're building a program and seeking to achieve sustained success, recruiting players has to be about much more than their rankings and football accolades. You have to determine if the student-athlete understands where he is going, if he's trustworthy, if he's committed to the challenge and if he exemplifies the character traits you want represented in your players.

    Finally, Kelly said he and his assistant coaches "lay their cards on the table" when talking to recruits, explaining to them and their families what Notre Dame is all about. At the end, it often boils down to how a player answers the question - Can you picture yourself here at Notre Dame? Student-athletes and their families have to decide: Is Notre Dame the right fit? It's perfect for some. It's not for others. That's the way it works, at just about every college.

    The 2012 Notre Dame Coaches Clinic continues throughout the day and into tomorrow at the Purcell Pavilion. Participants have a chance to hear presentations from all the Irish assistant coaches, as well as several featured guests, including Greg McMahon, the special teams coach for the New Orleans Saints, and Tim Murphy, head coach of the Harvard Crimson.

    For more on this year's coaches clinic, check out the Notre Dame Football Camps Facebook page.

    - Josh Flynt ('11)

    Strike Out Cancer

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    This Saturday, April 14, the Notre Dame softball team is hosting its Second Annual Strike Out Cancer for Pediatric Leukemia event. The Fighting Irish host Syracuse for a BIG EAST conference doubleheader beginning at noon ET at Melissa Cook Stadium, but there will also be various events throughout the day.

    A pre-game ceremony will honor Memorial Children's Hospital patients battling cancer. During the games, a silent auction will be held with items including 2 pre-game sideline passes and game tickets for the Notre Dame vs. Michigan football game on September 22nd. Other items include replica commemorative Strike Out Cancer jerseys (the Irish uniforms will feature orange, the 'color' associated with leukemia awareness), game worn commemorative helmets and gloves.

    There will be balloon animals, face-painting and a dunk tank during the game, and after game one, a 'Chuck-a-duck' competition in the pitcher's circle. After the doubleheader, any fans in attendance can register for the on-field home run derby, with the winner receiving a flat screen television.

    All proceeds benefit Memorial Children's Hospital Pediatric Oncology Clinic. Pediatric leukemia is a disease the Notre Dame softball team holds close to its heart. The Strike Out Cancer event was started last year in honor of Tatum Gumpf, head coach Deanna Gumpf's daugther who is battling cancer. Coach Gumpf's story was recently featured in the athletic department's 'Strong of Heart' book, which is available online and at the Hammes Bookstore.

    For more information visit, UND.com. Come out on Saturday to support the cause, and the Irish, as they seek to improve upon their 4-1 BIG EAST start and 7-0 record at home.

    - Josh Flynt ('11)

    Live Blog: Baseball vs. Western Michigan

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    Notre Dame returns to the Frank Eck Stadium diamond this evening, in a non-conference matchup against Western Michigan.

    UND.com will stream the game live at 5:35 pm ET, but Irish UNDerground will also have all the angles in and around the action covered throughout today's Irish baseball action. Be sure to share your questions, comments and complaints and let your voice be heard throughout the Notre Dame nation.

    Want to track all the action from your mobile device? No problem.

    Simply click (or to be phone friendly, "touch") HERE.

    Samardzija Nearly Goes Distance

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    JeffSamardzija.jpg

    The Chicago Cubs picked up their first win of the season on Sunday, thanks to a strong performance on the mound from former Notre Dame wide receiver/pitcher Jeff Samardzija. The righty from Vaparaiso, Ind. pitched 8.2 innings, allowing four hits and three runs, while striking out eight.

    This is the Cubs we're talking about, so naturally, the game was more dramatic than expected. Samardzija looked poised for a complete game one-run performance, before a two-out error and a two-run home run made it a 4-3 game.

    Here's an excerpt from Paul Sullivan of the Chicago Tribune. See the entire article on the South Bend Tribune website:

    As Wrigleyville held its breath, closer Carlos Marmol came in and walked the first batter, conjuring up memories of the first two blown games by the Cubs' bullpen.

    But Marmol induced Xaver Nady to pop out, ending a dramatic 4-3 win before 31,973 at Wrigley Field.

    For Samardzija, the nail-biting win was about as sweet as it gets.

    "I really feel like I have a chip on my shoulders, because I've talked a big game about wanting to start and made it public," Samardzija said. "I don't want to look like an idiot."

    Samardzija is expected to start again on Friday when the Cubs open a weekend series at the defending World Series champion St. Louis Cardinals.

    Live Blog: Women's Lacrosse vs. Syracuse

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    Ninth-ranked Notre Dame returns to the field this evening at 7:00 pm ET when it takes on #2 Syracuse in a BIG EAST conference game at Arlotta Stadium.

    The game will be broadcast on CBS College Sports Network, but Irish UNDerground will also have all the angles in and around the action covered throughout today's game too. Be sure to share your questions, comments and complaints and let your voice be heard throughout the Notre Dame nation, as the Fighting Irish look to bounce back from last week's loss at Loyola.

    Want to track all the action from your mobile device? No problem.

    Simply click (or to be phone friendly, "touch") HERE.

    Chuck In the Armor - 4.4.12

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    563583_392201520799155_150002341685742_1472064_1179325124_n.jpg Since the Irish wore the throwback uniforms last week - and I wore the throwback fedora - let me share a throwback moment with you.

    Prior to my first season as a hockey broadcaster 20 years ago, I had stopped in to chat with Notre Dame hockey coach Ric Schafer. I wanted to know the sport I would be broadcasting better, so I asked him "what's the one thing every hockey fan should know that they don't?"

    Ric didn't hesitate. He replied quickly "It's a very simple game. It's a race to four. If you get to four, you win 95 percent of the time."

    In hockey, it's four. For Notre Dame's baseball team, the magic number is six.

    When the Irish hold teams to five runs or less this year, they are 14-1. Let me repeat that ... 14-1 when the opponent scores five or less. That's 93 percent of the time, and good enough for me.

    The staff earned run average is 3.97, so it stands to reason if the Irish don't give the other team help, an average outing should be enough to earn a win. And another stat backs that up. When Notre Dame makes one error or none, they are 15-5.

    In fact, there are very few innings where the other team is scoring without some help from the Irish. Over the last 10 games, there have been 25 different innings when the opponent has scored. 20 of those innings featured at least one walk or error.

    And at the risk of deluging you in statistics, here's one from the Irish offense that bears mentioning. When the Irish are successful, it's because the bottom of the order helps the cause. Over those last 10 games, the bottom third of the Irish order (usually Alex Robinson, Charlie Markson and the shortstop of the day) is 21-for-69 (.304) in seven wins and 5-for-29 (.172) in three losses. When those 7-8-9 hitters do something, Notre Dame's lineup is formidable.

    As Durham Bulls manager Joe Riggins once told his lollygagging team, "This is a very simple game. You throw the ball. You hit the ball. You catch the ball." When the Irish do those things, they are tough to beat.

    That's good news heading into a weekend series with Seton Hall, a team that has really struggled at the plate this year. The defending Big East tournament champs are 13-14 overall, 2-4 in league play. They can beat good teams, as evidenced by a 5-2 win at Virginia. They can lose to bad teams, such as a 3-1 home loss to St. Peter's.

    The inconsistency is mainly because the Pirates are batting .237 as a team. Seton Hall plays in the biggest park in America east of Yellowstone (it's about an eighth of a mile to right center) so Rob Sheppard's team plays small ball to manufacture runs ... bunting, stealing bases. That means the Irish bunt defense, which has been everywhere from nifty to non-existent, needs to be ready.

    On the mound, Seton Hall has a bonafide ace in Jon Prosinski, but relies heavily on the bullpen after that. With a staff ERA even lower than Notre Dame's (3.73), the Pirates would like to make this a low-scoring series.

    A Notre Dame team much worse than this one swept the Pirates in South Orange two years ago. A series win is definitely doable, and a must if the Irish have conference title aspirations.

    The race to six is on.

    It's a very simple game.

    - Chuck Freeby ('86)

    Tim Andree Takes Dentsu To New Heights

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    Tim Andree ('83) played basketball for head coach Digger Phelps from 1979-83.

    Today, Andree works in TriBeCa where he leads global operations for Dentsu. Headquartered in Japan, Dentsu is one of the largest advertising agencies in the world.

    His son, Tim Jr. ('10) followed in his footsteps, attending Notre Dame and earning a walk-on spot on the basketball team.

    Andree was recently featured in a profile by Kunur Patel for Advertising Age. The article focuses on the work he has been doing with Dentsu, but also includes some background on his basketball career. Here's an excerpt:

    He no longer plays ball because of a bum knee, but his love for the sport is palpable on a rainy Wednesday evening at Madison Square Garden, where a somewhat damp Mr. Andree miraculously folds himself into a stadium seat. (He travels without an umbrella. He says he's never found one big enough.)

    Tim Jr., 23 and the oldest of six, is also at the game. He too played basketball for Notre Dame, and his college roommate Luke Harangody, now a Cleveland Cavalier, is playing the home team. Spectators making their way to their seats eye the elder Mr. Andree curiously, searching his face, trying to determine whether he's a retired basketball star.
    Click here to check out the rest of the article.

    Notes from Pro Day

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    Twice each year, Notre Dame students suit up for the career fair at the Joyce Center. Today, nine former Fighting Irish football players had their own job fair, except instead of business attire and resumes, it was adidas shorts, spandex and agility drills.

    IMAG1307.jpg

    Robert Blanton, Taylor Dever, Darius Fleming, Michael Floyd, Gary Gray, Jonas Gray, Trevor Robinson, David Ruffer and Harrison Smith worked out at the annual Notre Dame Football Pro Day at the Guglielmino Athletics Complex and Loftus Sports Center. The day began at approximately 11 a.m. in the Haggar Fitness Complex at "the Gug," where height and weight measurements, vertical jump, broad jump and bench press were all conducted.

    Afterwards, Pro Day moved to Meyo Field in the adjoining Loftus Sports Center, where the 40-yard dash, pro agility (20-yard shuttle), 60-yard shuttle, three-cone drill and position-specific drills took place.

    IMAG1320.jpg

    Representatives from 27 of 32 NFL teams were in attendance, including several position coaches, coordinators and scouts, as well as two general managers and two head coaches.

    This afternoon, I spoke with Notre Dame director of football media relations Brian Hardin, who provided me with a few notes on the Irish:

    - Robert Blanton posted a 40-yard dash time of 4.53 seconds, a time that would have ranked as the fourth-fastest by a safety at the NFL Combine this year. Among cornerbacks, Blanton's 4.53 time would have tied for 12th. Of note is that the top two cornerbacks on most NFL mock drafts - LSU's Morris Claiborne and Alabama's Dre Kirkpatrick - ran similar times to Blanton at the NFL Combine. Claiborne ran the 10th fastest time (4.50) while Kirkpatrick was right behind him and barely ahead of Blanton at 4.51 seconds.

    - Taylor Dever's broad jump distance of 8'9" would have tied him for sixth at the NFL Combine. Dever, who attended the NFL Combine, improved his times in the 40-yard dash (from 5.46 at the Combine to 5.34) and pro agility (from 4.90 to 4.71).

    - Darius Fleming posted two very quick times and helped his draft stock at the Pro Day. Fleming's 40-yard dash time of 4.54 seconds would have ranked third among linebackers at the NFL Combine and his 11.58 seconds in the 60-yard shuttle would have been the fourth-fastest among LBs. He also ranked in the top seven in bench press, pro agility (20-yard shuttle) and the three-cone drill at the Combine.

    - Jonas Gray improved his bench press numbers from 20 at the NFL Combine to 22 today. Even more impressive was the fact Gray ran and cut on the practice field while catching passes, despite being less than five months removed from knee surgery.

    - Trevor Robinson made the most of his opportunity as he recorded numbers that would have placed him among offensive linemen in the top 10 in four different categories. Robinson would have been the only offensive lineman at the NFL Combine to have ranked in the top 10 in vertical jump (30"; t-8th), broad jump (8'9"; t-6th), bench press (31; t-8th) and 40-yard dash (5.22; 8th).

    - David Ruffer made 13 of 15 field goals and many of his kickoffs landed in the endzone.

    - Harrison Smith's 60-yard shuttle time of 11.52 seconds would have been the fastest time by a safety at the NFL Combine.

    - NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock attended the Pro Day and offered his thoughts: "I think the two guys that really helped themselves in terms of 40 times and measurables are Blanton and Fleming. They both ran in the mid-4.5. I've been a believer for a long time."

    - Mayock on the draft prospects of Michael Floyd: "In my book he is (the best receiver in the Draft). If you take the off-the-field stuff away from Michael Floyd and just watch the tape, I think he compares very, very favorably to Justin Blackmon. In my opinion, I think Jacksonville at [No.] 7 starts his interest. I don't think he gets past 16 with the Jets. I think there are some teams like Chicago hanging down there at 19 that would love to have Michael Floyd."

    - Mayock on the draft prospects of Harrison Smith: "I think Mark Barron, the safety from Alabama, is in the top 20. Harrison should be the next safety. I see him late first round, but probably the top half of the second round. He's 6-foot-2, 215 pounds with great movement skills. Somebody's going to get a steal with Harrison Smith."

    - The quarterback that threw passes to Floyd and Jonas Gray during the position drills was former Notre Dame QB and current Carolina Panthers QB Jimmy Clausen.

    The 2012 NFL Draft begins with the first round on Thursday, April 26. Rounds two and three will held on Friday, with rounds 4-7 on Saturday.

    Live Blog: Baseball vs. Toledo

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    Notre Dame returns to the diamond this evening, in a non-conference matchup against Toledo.

    UND.com will stream the game live at 5:35 pm ET, but Irish UNDerground will also have all the angles in and around the action covered throughout today's Irish baseball action. Be sure to share your questions, comments and complaints and let your voice be heard throughout the Notre Dame nation.

    Want to track all the action from your mobile device? No problem.

    Simply click (or to be phone friendly, "touch") HERE.

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