SOUTH BEND, Ind. – Four days removed from an academic fraud scandal that has left four of his players indefinitely suspended, Notre Dame football coach Brian Kelly talked Tuesday about moving on.
Just how long receiver DaVaris Daniels, cornerback KeiVarae Russell, defensive end Ishaq Williams and linebacker Kendall Moore will remain suspended remains unknown. But as the No. 17-ranked Irish try to move past the controversy and prepare for their season-opener against Rice on Aug. 30, Kelly said Tuesday he must worry more about his program as a whole than about concerning himself too much with what he’s lost.
Daniels was expected to be quarterback Everett Golson’s top target while Russell is Notre Dame’s top defensive back and Williams was expected to start on the defensive line. Kelly has allowed the four players – who remain on scholarship – to have limited contact with their teammates, but has kept them from sitting in on team meetings.
Kelly said accountability and academic responsibility are topics he addresses on a daily basis. But, in the midst of a second academic impropriety in as many years, Kelly insists players understand what they’re in for academically when they come to Notre Dame.
“It’s harder at Notre Dame – if it was easy, it wouldn’t be special,” Kelly said. “That’s why Notre Dame is special. It’s harder here. But the benefits you get coming to Notre Dame far outweigh so many other universities.
“But there are no shortcuts and our guys know it. They’re held accountable for it and that’s why it’s not a huge issue within our football team because (players) know what they sign up for when they come here.”
Golson understands that message more than most. Golson missed the entire 2013 season for an honor code violation, later admitting he cheated on an exam. The four suspended players are part of an ongoing investigation that centers around students turning in papers and homework that was completed by others.
While players were instructed Tuesday not to comment on the investigation, Golson can sympathize with what his suspended teammates are going through. Being dismissed by the university and having to re-apply for admission put Golson more “in line”, he said, with the school’s classroom expectations.
“It’s just the mentality and ideology of hard work,” Golson said Tuesday. “Nothing is going to be easy. Being a student-athlete here definitely isn’t easy, but it’s manageable. It’s possible to be done, but it’s going to take a lot of hard work.”
As Kelly suggested earlier in the day, defensive lineman Sheldon Day said that the university’s academic rigors come up during recruiting visits. The university’s high standards first drew his mother’s attention.
Day, who is just beginning his junior year, enrolled early to get a taste of just how hard he would have to work, but said it wasn’t until his freshman year when he truly discovered what meeting the school’s expectations off the field meant.
“(Coaches) definitely tell you that you will be held to a higher standard here,” said Day, who is a management consulting major. “So you do know what you’re getting into here when you come here.”
Senior kicker and punter Kyle Brindza said balancing football and academics isn’t easy. From a finals week that he characterized as “the worst week ever” to staying up until all hours to finish work long after his daily football duties have wrapped up, Brindza maintains it’s difficult to keep up.
Despite the expectations, though, Brindza has constantly focused on what graduating from Notre Dame with a degree will mean to him.
“That’s what makes Notre Dame special,” said Brindza, who majors in graphic design. “It’s staying up until 2 a.m., always pushing through it. Your professors are on you 24/7 because they know what they can get out of you and they’re pushing you to be that much better. But that’s what we knew when we came to Notre Dame.
“It’s not easy, but you have to push through it.”
Despite playing without four players – three of whom fill major roles – Golson believes the Irish will remain as one as Notre Dame faces a difficult schedule that includes Michigan, Stanford, USC and defending national champion Florida State.
“I guess I can go back to my instance, where you really see who your true friends are,” Golson said.”You see your true brotherhood through adversity. I think we’ve definitely come together.”