“They say they weren’t nervous,” Weis said. “There were a bunch of them that were nervous. The first day, I do my best to bite my lip. I talk to the whole team at the end of practice about freshmen. What I did say was that I’ll be more patient with them than someone who has been here before. But if they intend to play themselves in the mix, they better get it soon.”
One freshman would did stand out in practice was Munir Prince. The 5-10, 175-pound speedster from Florissant, MO is in a battle to handle the backup carries at running back behind starter Darius Walker. If the first session is a good indicator of what's to come, Weis will have a smile on his face many times after Prince touches the ball.
“I’m not used to seeing that type of speed,” Weis said of his freshman back. “The last running back I spent time with (who had that type of speed) was Napoleon Kaufman out of Washington before he went to the Raiders. We all know Reggie (Bush) had giddy up but there aren’t that many guys at that position who run that fast. He (Prince) runs really fast.
“I’m not used to seeing that type of speed at running back. When I’m talking speed, I’m talking about ‘Whoosh.’ I can’t describe that sound but you know what I’m talking about.”
An upperclassman also impressed Weis enough to single him out before the media. Travis Leitko, a senior defensive lineman, is back on the team in 2006 after sitting out last season. The roster has him listed at 6-7, 270 pounds and it’s the added weight and athletic ability that could give the defensive line a real push.
“Travis was a defensive end when he was here,” Weis said. “Then he was gone last year and now he’s 15-20 pounds bigger. He was very noticeable all day, even though he’s not running with the first group. He’s running with the second and third group but he was a guy I noticed a whole bunch.”
There are more players out on the field than last year. In 2005, Notre Dame had 71 players. This season, the number is slightly over 80. A positive sign is that all of the Irish players passed their conditioning test. Weis praised strength and conditioning coach Ruben Mendoza for the added power and speed this bunch brought with them to fall camp.
“If you saw the numbers coming from Ruben when we met last Thursday, they were unbelievable where we were last year and where we are at this time now,” Weis said. “The strength gains were unbelievable.”
One person in particular stood out. Freshman offensive lineman Chris Stewart enrolled early last January and participated in spring ball. He was a bit heavier than the coaching staff would have liked him. An ideal weight was given to him by Weis to meet before fall camp. Stewart met the challenge and shed 55 pounds down to under 340.
“The best thing that happened to him, besides the fact that he had great grades, he got himself into shape where he could compete,” Weis said. “If he came in now with that weight, he probably couldn’t compete. It gives him a chance.”
As for the position battles, Weis said that all the field goals at the end of practice were made. He mentioned that freshman Ryan Burkhart could have hit a kick from 60 yards as it sailed through the uprights. Another worry spot is at linebacker. Travis Thomas participated at weak side backer during practice while Maurice Crum, Jr., after recovering from back surgery in the spring, finally was on the field at 100 percent.
“It was good to see Mo Crum run around in there because he was out in spring,” Weis said. “Those linebackers were moving around pretty well. Now did they do everything right, including Travis? I don’t know but they showed up.”