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    Thanks, Bill.

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    Yesterday afternoon, Notre Dame deputy director of athletics Bill Scholl was introduced as the director of intercollegiate athletics at Ball State in Muncie, Ind.

    A 1979 Notre Dame graduate, Bill has served the athletic department at his alma mater for more than two decades, most recently responsible for senior-level administration, including fundraising and donor relations, divisional budget construction and growing external revenue.

    Bill was also the sport administrator for football team, working with head coach Brian Kelly and the Irish program on a daily basis.

    As seen in the photo above from last October's game against USC, Bill presented a plaque at halftime to 1987 Heisman Trophy winner Tim Brown, commemorating the Irish great's selection as one of six recipients for the NCAA Silver Anniversary Award.

    Having only worked in the department since August, I cannot speak much of Bill's contributions to Notre Dame, but I know his numerous accomplishments have been instrumental in developing our university's athletic programs. Several Notre Dame colleagues also expressed their well wishes on Twitter, including director of football media relations Brian Hardin and und.com's Jack Nolan.

    In the short time that I have known Bill, his door has always been open and he has had the best interest of the university community and student-athletes at heart - two characteristics that will undoubtedly contribute to his success when he begins at Ball State at the end of the month.

    For more on Bill's new opportunity, check out the official press release on UND.com.

    Thanks, Bill. Good luck leading the Cardinals.

    Inside Leprechaun Tryouts

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    It's only mid-April, but on Friday evening, the Notre Dame cheerleading squad hosted a football pep rally in The Pit at the Joyce Center. Actually, there were several mini rallies as seven Notre Dame students tried out to be the shillelagh-holding, green-clad face of the Fighting Irish.

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    Hundreds of students (and even a few Notre Dame Coaches Clinic participants) came out to the basketball practice facility in support of their friends and classmates trying out to be the next Notre Dame leprechaun.

    Events like this that remind you of the passionate spirit of the Notre Dame student body. Homemade t-shirts, thunderstix, but mostly good, old-fashioned cheering made for a great atmosphere, and had everyone thinking about football season (which by the way, is 137 days away).

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    The tryouts began with each of the seven leprechaun hopefuls leading the crowd through a mock pep rally for the Purdue game, the first home football contest on the 2012 schedule (Sept. 8, 3:30 pm ET, Notre Dame Stadium - mark your calendar).

    Outgoing senior, or perhaps leprechaun emeritus Mike George emceed the event, putting the competitors on the spot and asking them to 'introduce' famous Notre Dame personalities as guest speakers - everyone from two-time Super Bowl champion Justin Tuck ('05) to women's basketball head coach Muffet McGraw.

    George also presented each of the leprechauns with a scenario - the band has finished playing, the fans are waiting, the team has yet to arrive and the pep rally is broadcast nationally on NBC. How are you going to keep everyone entertained?

    Afterwards, WNDU sports reporter Angelo Di Carlo grilled each student in a mock live interview, asking if the Irish can return to football dominance and why he or she should be selected as the 2012-13 leprechaun.

    The Fighting Irish expect to light up the scoreboard this fall, so of course, the tryouts concluded with a push-up contest.

    After the team of judges deliberated for a couple hours on Friday evening, junior Bryce Burton was selected as the new Gold Squad leprechaun for football and men's basketball. Burton was the Blue Squad leprechaun this past year, cheering for soccer and women's hoops.

    Sophomore Johnny Romano will take Burton's place on the Blue Squad and junior Louis Ganser will cheer for the new Green Squad.

    All in all, a great evening at The Pit, and a nice promotion for the leprechaun who helped cheer Coach McGraw's squad all the way to the national championship game in Denver. Check out an interview with Burton on WNDU.

    - Josh Flynt ('11)

    The Bald & The Beautiful

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    Picture this: a 22-year old Springfield College graduate sells his Jeep, buys a motorcycle, straps a few possessions to the back of it and rides more than 1,600 miles from Massachusetts to Texas, in search of a coaching position.

    Bob Wager's life sounds like a plot line from Friday Night Lights, and that's because twenty years ago, H.G Bissinger's book inspired him to make a life-changing journey to the mecca of high school football.

    The Arlington Martin High School head coach spoke at the Notre Dame Coaches Clinic on Saturday morning, focusing on 'Winning the Turnover Battle.' Beyond the X's and O's and strategy of football, Wager's career is a very captivating story - from junior high coach, all the way up the ranks of Texas football from 1-A through 5-A.

    Like those who presented before him, Coach Wager could not say enough about the impact his coaches had on his development as a person and football player.

    Having lost his father at a young age, Wager specifically mentioned his high school head coach Barry Clawson, a mentor whom he keeps in touch with to this day. (Interestingly for me, Wager originally hails from Johnstown, N.Y., about 40 miles from my hometown and one of the high schools we used to compete against before changing conferences).

    Coach Wager also described how honored he was to speak at Notre Dame and how blessed he felt to be able to make the trip with four of his assistant coaches - Clifton Odom, Casey Thompson, Tim Mays and Ronnie Jones.

    Though he's not Coach Eric Taylor, watching his presentation featuring clips from drills and practices, turf fields and high school stadiums, it felt like Matt Saracen or Tim Riggins might appear at any moment.

    For more on Wager's story, check out Corbett Smith's article from The Dallas Morning News.

    The 2012 Notre Dame Coaches Clinic comes to an end later today with the football team's twelfth practice of the spring. To see photos and more on this year's clinic, check out the Coaches Clinic Facebook page.

    - Josh Flynt ('11)

    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)

    Samardzija Nearly Goes Distance

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    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.

    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.

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    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.

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    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.

    Irish Gear Up for Pro Day

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    Nine former Notre Dame football student-athletes will be participating in tomorrow's Pro Day activities, but as reported in the South Bend Tribune, another past Irish player will also be making a return to South Bend. See the story excerpt below:

    The most prominent of the pro prospects, ND's all-time leading receiver Michael Floyd, is getting a boost from a teammate out of his past - former Irish standout quarterback Jimmy Clausen.

    Clausen left ND after his junior season in 2009 to enter the draft and has spent the past two seasons with the Carolina Panthers. Of Floyd's school-record 37 touchdown receptions with the Irish, the first 16 were thrown by Clausen. And Clausen will be throwing passes to Floyd Tuesday at the Loftus Center during the position drills portion of Pro Day.

    And while we're on the subject of Clausen passing to Floyd, here's a quick look back at one of their three touchdown connections from the 2009 opener:

    In addition to Floyd, the other Irish players taking part in Pro Day are S Harrison Smith, CB Robert Blanton, RB Jonas Gray, OL Taylor Dever, OL Trevor Robinson, LB Darius Fleming, K David Ruffer and CB Gary Gray.

    Notre Dame's Pro Day begins tomorrow at 11 am in Loftus Center. The event is closed to the public, but check back to UND.com and Irish UNDerground for coverage afterwards.

    - Josh Flynt ('11)

    Caption Contest

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    "Once upon a time ..."

    Smith Looks To Fill NFL Need at Safety

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    Former Notre Dame captain Harrison Smith participated in last month's NFL Combine, and is currently training for April's draft. He will be back on campus next Tuesday, April 3 for Notre Dame's Pro Day in Loftus Center.

    Smith was recently featured in an article by Kevin Fishbain for Pro Football Weekly. Check it out below:
    You need to watch only one highlight of Patriots TE Rob Gronkowski to realize how desperate some teams are for a versatile safety -- a player who can have the coverage skills to stick with the new breed of tight ends while also having the ability to be physical and stop the run in the box.

    Harrison Smith thinks he can be that player.

    The former Notre Dame safety is expected to be a late first- or early second-round pick in April's draft. He played some linebacker earlier in his college career and believes he can be the solution teams are looking for at the position.

    "Safety's definitely where I've felt the most comfortable because you can see everything so well, " Smith told PFW. "You can see the whole formation and where everyone is on offense and defense. You can come down and play the run and also be involved in the pass game.

    "It's an area where you can impact so much, even pre-snap, because you're the one making the calls and adjustments."

    Smith first moved to safety in Pee Wee football around the age of 10 in his hometown of Knoxville, Tenn. He had been playing corner and running back, but wanted to play linebacker like University of Tennessee LB Raynoch Thompson of the hometown Volunteers. "I thought he was the best," Smith said. Instead, Smith's coach told him to watch another Volunteer -- Deon Grant.

    "I started paying attention to (Grant). He made a lot of interceptions and plays. He was fun to watch," Smith said.

    Chuck Martin will be the Fighting Irish's offensive coordinator in 2012, but he was the defensive backs coach the past two seasons, focusing on Smith and the safeties in 2011. Smith had bounced from safety to linebacker and was coming off a rough sophomore season when Martin joined the staff.

    "He did not have a great sophomore year. I think that's an understatement," Martin said. "I don't think he was really ever comfortable at either spot, but he played a lot because he was a talented kid."

    When Martin first saw Smith on the practice field, though, he knew there was plenty to work with.

    "The first day in practice I saw the incredible things he could do on the field. His athleticism, length and toughness," Martin said. "Three practices into my first spring, I told him, 'If you're not a first-, second- or third-round draft choice, I know nothing about football.' His response was, 'did you watch any of my tape from last year, Coach?' I said, 'Yeah, I've watched your tape. I'm telling you that you have every tool and then some to be an incredible safety.' "

    As a junior in 2010, Smith made 91 tackles and hauled in seven interceptions. He had 90 tackles and a forced fumble in his senior season in '11.

    Playing for Notre Dame, Smith had the pleasure -- and challenge -- of going up against elite tight ends in practice. First, it was Kyle Rudolph, who just finished his rookie season with the Vikings. Last season, he had to try to man up against Tyler Eifert, who had 63 catches for 803 yards and five touchdowns. Smith doesn't have to look far for experience in covering athletic tight ends, like the ones NFL teams are desperately trying to stop.

    "That's something that when I started playing safety, I never thought about it. With all the tight ends that are just freaks, monsters -- they're fast and athletic with great hands -- there's really a need for safeties that can match up better with those guys than putting a smaller defensive back on him," Smith said.

    Martin is confident that Smith has the skill set to run with and cover the Gronkowskis of the NFL.

    "He's not as big as those tight ends but he's big for a safety. He's a long-limbed kid," Martin said. Smith measured 6-1 7/8, 213 pounds with a wingspan of more than 76 inches at the NFL Scouting Combine.

    "He has long arms, long range and incredible running ability," Martin continued. "He can run with any of them. Some guys are straight-line fast, but Harrison has body control. He's going to be athletic enough to twist and torque and try to make some plays from positions where you're behind a guy or on his back shoulder. He's used to covering 6-foot-5 guys that can run."

    When pressed on Smith's weaknesses, though, Martin didn't have a whole lot to offer, and neither did the scouts he has talked to.

    "The feedback I'm getting from guys I've known a while that are high up on NFL brass as far as drafting say, 'we don't know what the kid doesn't have,' " Martin said. "Scouts are telling me, 'what are we missing?' I said, 'you're not missing anything.' And (Smith) has done nothing but help himself with the Combine and interviews."

    In PFW's 2012 Draft Guide, Nolan Nawrocki wrote that Smith left his feet to make hits too often. Smith had an opportunity to respond to the report.

    "Obviously, a competitor is going to disagree on the negatives. Early in my career, I left my feet to make a lot of tackles. If you watch this most recent season, my tackling and technique are much improved," he said. "I don't leave my feet unless I'm going to make the tackle. I didn't miss too many tackles this past year."

    Smith then discussed another knock on him -- that he absorbs too much.

    "When I watch a football game and a running back goes up the middle and the safety brings him down, but the safety gets knocked back, they say he got run over," Smith explained. "To me, that doesn't make sense (laughs). At the end of the day, he tackled him. I don't think I get overpowered on the field. Sometimes I need to give more to get the ballcarriers down instead of going in there recklessly and throwing your body around.

    "There's always room to improve. I'm not going to say I'm flawless."

    Smith, 23, was a vocal leader at Notre Dame and has the qualities to "wow" an NFL team with his personality.

    "Once you meet him and interview him, you'll like him 10 times more," Martin said. "(Teams) will say 'holy cow, he's everything you said.' That's how God made him. Very gifted, very genuine."

    Smith's time at Notre Dame was atypical. The Fighting Irish went through two head coaches in his time in South Bend and not as many wins as the program was used to. Smith discussed what he learned from the experience.

    "No matter what, I control what I do. Maybe you don't win as many games as you want or things don't quite go your way, but at the end of the day you can only control yourself," he said. "I was ready to be a leader on the team, where guys looked to me for an example, a word of advice, anything really.

    "That whole process, the ups and downs, made me really appreciate the ups and fight through the downs, which at the end of the day makes you a better player and a more confident player."

    Smith already might speak like a veteran, or even a coach, and Martin told an anecdote where Smith shined in an opportunity to coach -- on the flag football field.

    Martin asked Smith to coach his son's 11-year-old flag football team last winter. "I knew he'd do a great job and the kids would love him," Martin said. But the team's opponent that week had previously beaten Martin's team 66-0.

    "I called him after the game and said, 'sorry, didn't mean to do that to you. I appreciate you helping me out when I'm on the road.' They lost 13-4," Martin said with a laugh. "I come home the next week, and they all wanted Harrison to coach them."

    - Kevin Fishbain
    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. The NFL Network's Charles Davis currently projects Smith as a late first-rounder, going 29th overall, to the Baltimore Ravens.

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