The top-ranked Fighting Irish (12-0) will face No. 2 Alabama (12-1) in the BCS National Championship game at 8:30 p.m. Monday (ESPN) in Miami.
Young players such as true freshman Sheldon Day and sophomore Tony Springmann went from the background to the forefront virtually overnight. And they will now be counted on to stymie the Crimson Tide’s 19th-rated rushing attack (225 yards per game).
“As a young kid in his first year, Tony was up and down in terms of whether he was going to be a physical player or not,” Irish defensive line coach Mike Elston said. “Once he realized what his strength was, he embraced that and was able to play with that type of demeanor.”
Not only were Springmann and Day called upon way before most thought that they would be – at least to this degree – they also had to develop the versatility to learn multiple positions for a unit that was relied upon many times to keep a perfect season going.
Springmann and Day filled in as reserves at the noseguard spot, as well as both ends. They, along with junior Kona Schwenke, backed up starters Kapron Lewis-Moore, Luis Nix III and Stephon Tuitt. That versatility was critical, as Notre Dame was continually able to play rested players in the latter parts of games.
“They were great as depth players,” Elston said. “Tony played all three positions across the front (and) Sheldon played all three positions across the front. Those guys have added depth and allowed us to do things.”
Those who watched Springmann display the athleticism at Bishop Dwenger High School necessary to attract multiple NCAA Division I offers in basketball, let alone football, weren't surprised by his ability to contribute at Notre Dame this season. Maintaining that agility while increasing his weight by more than 25 pounds from high school to his current 300 was challenging, but he did so.
“Tony has great tangible skill and he's athletic,” Notre Dame defensive coordinator Bob Diaco said. “He moves well, and he bends and twists. He can really run and play hard.”
The 6-foot-6 Springmann played in all 12 games and registered 11 total tackles, including two for a loss, one quarterback sack and three quarterback hurries.
“He's a guy that has been able to play with the size and the mass that he put on,” Elston said. “He plays very physical and imposes his will.”