SOUTH BEND – When Everett Golson got expelled from Notre Dame in May, most members of the Irish Nation felt whatever chance their team had at returning to the BCS National Championship Game just left town along with the quarterback. However, no one should include fourth-year coach Brian Kelly of believing that to be the case.
“For us here at Notre Dame, we've worked hard to put ourselves in a position to be back in the national spotlight,” Kelly said. “We have no intention of giving that up. Our focus since our last game has been to get back to the top of the mountain.”
Kelly's team begins that quest for the 2013 season today, as the Fighting Irish open training camp at Shiloh Park and Retreat Center outside of Marion for the next four days.
Notre Dame's last appearance on the football field was a memorable one – for Alabama fans.
The Crimson Tide rolled with stunning swiftness over Notre Dame in the 2012 BCS National Championship Game 42-14, but Kelly said that memory didn't linger at all with his players.
“Everything we've worked on since that next day, and I mean the next day, is about getting back to the national championship game and winning it,” Kelly said. “There's not a man that sat in this seat, when we met as an entire team, which is not committed to that end. That's why they're here.
“That's why there's such great excitement and anticipation. From our standpoint as coaches, we can feel that. So it's pretty clear that our players are committed to one goal, and that is to get back to a national championship.”
The pollsters don't believe that to be likely.
Notre Dame wasn't even selected to be a top 10 squad (they rank 11th in the initial 2013 poll). That ranking is mostly based on Notre Dame losing not only Golson, but it's most productive defensive (Manti Te'o) and offensive (Tyler Eifert) players, among others.
“… the players that were here last year that are no longer here are not part of this team anymore,” Kelly explained. “The plays that were made last year have no influence on this year. So that's the balance.
“The preparation has to be as diligent and keen as it was last year. You're maintaining the environment, you're maintaining what has been built in the program, with the recognition that we have more work to do, and we're still building this thing. A lot of those pieces are still coming together.”
Kelly spoke recently of the importance of how his program has forged a certain culture when it comes to expectations, responsibilities, and work ethic. Those are factors in how he and his current squad feel they'll be able to overcome losses of so many critical components from a year ago.
“Certainly we've developed an environment, people call it culture, workplace mentality,” Kelly said. “There's a lot of ways to spin it.
“But our kids believe in what we do and how we do it. There's a way of doing things here. So that never goes away. That has permeated this football program, the way we do things on a day to day basis, the expectations of how we play defense, offense and special teams, how we prepare. That will never go away.”