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Notre Dame Football Notes: Brian Kelly has told his freshmen (including quarterback Phil Jurkovec) ‘Get ready to play’

Notre Dame football coach Brian Kelly watches his team from on the field at Notre Dame Stadium during the annual Blue-Gold Spring Game in April in South Bend. (By The Associated Press)
2018 Notre Dame freshman quarterback Phil Jurkovec
Notre Dame's Dexter Williams (2) falls onto Daelin Hayes (9) during the annual Notre Dame Blue-Gold Spring Game in April in South Bend. (By The Associated Press)

SOUTH BEND – For the curious Notre Dame football fans, who wondered whether they would catch a glimpse of the future this fall in Fighting Irish freshman quarterback Phil Jurkovec, Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly answered that question when he met with the media for his 2018 season-opening press conference Thursday.

“I want to get them ready,” Kelly said of his incoming freshmen class. “I want to get them ready. When they sat here in front of me and they got here in June, I told every one of them, ‘Get ready to play this fall.’ We’ll see how that plays out.”

Notre Dame opens training camp Friday with the first of four practices at Culver Academies before returning to South Bend Wednesday for the remainder of the camp. The Fighting Irish will host Michigan in their season-opening game Sept. 1 (NBC, 7:30 p.m.).

What has made Kelly so emphatic about looking more thoroughly than ever before at the Irish newcomers is the implementation of the new NCAA rule, which allows a student-athlete to participate in as many as four games, yet still retain his eligibility for four seasons.

The rule has been so impactful that Kelly is altering his training camp schedule in order to get a deeper look at the new players prior to the game with the Wolverines.

“With the new redshirt rule,” Kelly explained, “it’s given me pause to look at our schedule in preseason camp to see how we can get them much more involved in what we’re doing. I made some changes within our schedule where we are going to get an opportunity during the practice to scrimmage a lot of the young guys and answer some of the questions that we all probably have, and certainly I do, as well.”

Jurkovec and the rest of the new athletes have been on campus since June and have immersed themselves both athletically and academically and Kelly said the group has gotten off to a nice start.

The 6-foot-4 ½ quarterback has added 16 pounds of muscle and now weighs 220 pounds.

“I can tell that you there are some that are physically more prepared and some more mentally prepared,” Kelly said. “So you have to put them in football situations and I think that’s what we’ll do. That’s why I’m eager to kind of give the freshmen much more of an opportunity to compete in preseason camp.”

In regards to Jurkovec, Kelly said that he definitely will be worked with early, but probably not at the expense of returning quarterbacks Brandon Wimbush and Ian Book.

“I want him to learn,” Kelly said of the young quarterback, whom he said upon signing Jurkovec was “the best quarterback in the country.” “We are not going to rush him into anything, but again, I go back to what I said earlier relative to our practices. There are going to be more opportunities for Phil to get in there and compete during camp with all eyes on him.

“I really think it’s going to be great for him. It allows us to really focus on Brandon and Ian’s development, there still needs to be some development there, but I think we can do all three.”

READY, BUT WILL DEXTER WILLIAMS GO?

On the field, Notre Dame senior running back Dexter Williams battled health issues most of last season, while off it, he has had to deal with in-team disciplinary issues. Kelly has been non-committal on Williams’ status for the season-opening game (or any game for that matter) this off-season and that did not change Thursday.

“He’s going to be, you know, on our roster,” Kelly said. “We’ll see who ends up playing against Michigan, but he’s on our football team and I’m really proud of what he’s accomplished in the summer.”

That last comment wasn’t cynicism on the part of the coach, Kelly has been ecstatic with Williams’ diligence since last season.

“It’s been the best summer that he’s had since he’s been here,” Kelly said. “He’s put on eight to ten pounds and his volume is up in terms of his ability to sustain his cardiovascular at a high level. He can go. He struggled with that at times last year.

“He’s physically fit and in great shape. He’s in the best position that he’s been and he’s going to help our football team next year.”

GOING GREEN (SORT OF)

Kelly tweeted out some news regarding the Michigan game earlier this week in reference to the color green playing a special role that night. However, he clarified on Thursday the reason for his tweet and what role it will play not only against the Wolverines but all season.

“We are listening to what our students wanted,” Kelly said of the traditional “season shirt” being green. “It started back in April with our shirt. As you know, the shirt is green. They wanted that to be emblematic of a color that was outside maybe our opponents at home, and so we’ve taken that, we’ve listened to their wants and desires to be unified in the stadium with a color, and obviously green is the one that they have chosen.”

Kelly explained that some of his staff may be wearing the color, but at this point anyway, his team probably will not be.

“I think some of our coaches, they will have some green (on),” Kelly said. “We’re pushing some other things within the stadium, through our marketing department that I think is going to bring the stadium together.

“I have not made a decision on (the jerseys). My sense is, there’s going to be plenty of green in that stadium. Our home jerseys are blue. I love that tradition. Unless something happens drastically in my thought process, we’ll wear our traditional blue coming into that game.”

FIGHTING IRISH RANKED, KELLY PUMPED, ETC.

The initial coaches poll was released Thursday and Notre Dame is ranked 11th entering the 2018 season, of which, Kelly is exuberant to get underway.

“This is the only sport,” Kelly said, “that you lose contact for six to eight weeks. It’s difficult because that’s why we do this, we love the interactions, the day-to-day teaching, and learning, and relationships that you get with your players.

“So, look, all coaches got to live with the time off. We’re all fired up. We’re excited. These guys have been busting their butt for the last eight weeks.”

Kelly couldn’t predict how things will unfold throughout this season, however, he was definitive on a number of topics regarding this group.

“I could tell you standing here in front of you today,” Kelly said, “and without playing a football game, that our guys love to compete. They love the challenge of being here at Notre Dame, the kind of schedule that we play, and they love the opportunity to be around their teammates.

“So if that’s any indication of where we’re going to go, it’s a good start.”

For more on Notre Dame football, follow Tom Davis on Twitter at Tom101010, Facebook at Thomas Davis, and Instagram at tomdavis101010.

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