New coach Marcus Freeman liking his first Irish spring

Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

SOUTH BEND, Ind. – A third of the way into his first spring practice as Notre Dame coach, 36-year-old Marcus Freeman likes what he is seeing from the Fighting Irish.

“I love the way they are flying around,” Freeman said Saturday following the fifth of 14 practices ahead of the annual spring game April 23.

Notre Dame is coming off an 11-2 season and No. 8 ranking in the final Associated Press Top 25 rankings.

“I love what are offense is doing trying to establish the run game and the play-action pass – they are so multiple,” Freeman said. “Defensively, we’re doing a lot of different things. I think our kids are grasping what our coordinators are doing on both sides of the ball.”

It’s been a whirlwind couple of months for the first-time head coach who was elevated from defensive coordinator to head coach shortly after Brian Kelly surprised Notre Dame by taking the head job at LSU on Nov. 30. Freeman’s first game in charge was a 37-35 loss to Oklahoma State in the Fiesta Bowl after which he spent time on the road recruiting.

In the 75 days between the end of the 2021 season and the first day of spring drills, the returning players and 12 incoming freshmen have become acquainted with eight new members of the coaching staff.

Among them Al Golden, Freeman’s successor at defensive coordinator and linebackers coach who arrived days after directing the Cincinnati Bengals’ linebackers in their 23-20 Super Bowl LVI loss to the Los Angeles Rams on Feb. 13.

“My buddies in coaching are like, `You’re on Week 32 now.’ The season just kept going,” joked the 52-year-old Golden, whose spent 10 years as a head coach at Temple and Miami. “There will be a break here soon, but right now we’re pushing, and the kids are responding.”

Golden likes what he sees from several returnees, including 6-foot-5, 260-pound senior hybrid end Isaiah Foskey, who had 11 sacks last season All of Golden’s linebackers, led by J.D. Bertrand, Jack Kiser and Bo Bauer, are being asked to learn multiple positions.

“That’s going to make us strong in the long term and it helps them develop a conceptual mindset of what’s going on around them, which is important,” Golden said.

His new charges like what Golden brings to the table.

“You can tell (Golden’s) been around the game a long time – he knows what he’s doing,” said 6-foot-2, 229-pound senior linebacker Marist Liufau, who missed last season with a broken leg. Bertrand stepped in and led the team with 101 tackles despite playing with an injured wrist that required postseason surgery.

Golden likes all the things Liafau can do and he sees some of the same versatility in another native Hawaiian, 6-foot-2+, 245-pound junior Jordan Botelho.

The coaching staff turnover was considerable on the offensive side of the ball.

Running backs coach Lance Taylor and tight ends coach John McNulty left, and Freeman almost lost 29-year-old offensive coordinator Tommy Rees, a former quarterback under Kelly who drew considerable interest from other programs.

Rees has free rein to run the offense but he needs a new starting quarterback to replace Jack Coan (3,150 passing yards and 25 touchdowns with a 65.5% completion percentage). Sophomore Tyler Buchner and junior Drew Pyne both have three years of eligibility remaining and valuable playing experience from 2021.

Buchner ran for 336 yards and three TDs and the two combined for more than 500 yards and five touchdowns passing, and Rees believes both are good leaders.

“Drew’s always had that – he has that energy that people gravitate to,” Rees said. “Tyler has it in him. He’s ultra-competitive. They are both hungry and eager to get better and learn.”

Their top target returns in 6-4+, 251-pound junior tight end Michael Mayer who had a team-high 71 receptions for 840 yards and seven scores in 2021.

The Irish need to replace all-purpose running back Kyren Williams. Chris Tyree, Logan Diggs and Audric Estime will carry the load behind an offensive line being rebuilt by a familiar face: 63-year-old Harry Hiestand, who mentored four first-round NFL draft picks during his previous stint (2012-17) under Kelly.

Vick, Fitzgerald and Suggs among stars on College Football Hall of Fame ballot for 1st time

RVR Photos-USA TODAY Sports

Michael Vick, Larry Fitzgerald and Terrell Suggs are among the college football stars who will be considered for induction to the Hall of Fame for the first time this year.

The National Football Foundation released Monday a list of 78 players and nine coaches from major college football who are on the Hall of Fame ballot. There also are 101 players and 32 coaches from lower divisions of college football up for consideration.

Vick, who led Virginia Tech to the BCS championship game against Florida State as a redshirt freshman in 1999, is among the most notable players appearing on the ballot in his first year of eligibility.

Vick finished third in the Heisman Trophy voting in 1999. He played one season of college football before being drafted No. 1 overall by the Atlanta Falcons in 2001. Vick’s professional career was interrupted when he served 21 months in prison for his involvement in dog fighting.

Fitzgerald was the Heisman runner-up in 2003 to Oklahoma quarterback Jason White. He scored 34 touchdowns in just two seasons at Pitt.

Suggs led the nation in sacks with 24 in 2002 for Arizona State.

The 2024 Hall of Fame class will be chosen by the National Football Foundation’s Honors Court and announced in January. Induction into the Atlanta-based hall is the following December.

Alabama freshman DB Mitchell says he wasn’t sure he’d get to play again after arrest

Mickey Welsh / Advertiser / USA TODAY NETWORK
1 Comment

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. – Alabama defensive back Tony Mitchell said he feared his football career was over after his arrest on a drug charge.

The Crimson Tide freshman said in a video posted Sunday on social media that he knew “something much bigger could have happened.”

A judge in Holmes County, Florida, sentenced Mitchell to three years of probation with a fine and community service on May 24 after Mitchell pleaded guilty to a charge of possession of more than 20 grams of cannabis.

“I didn’t know if I’d be able to play football again, but I continued to work out and stay close with the Lord and those who love me unconditionally,” Mitchell said. “During those times, it helped me to keep my mind off it. But when I was by myself looking at social media, what everybody had to say about it, it just felt like it happened again.

“I didn’t sleep at night.”

He was suspended from the Alabama team following the arrest, but Mitchell’s father, Tony Sr., posted on Facebook last week that the defensive back had been reinstated. An Alabama spokesman declined to comment on Mitchell’s status.

Tony Mitchell Sr. shared his son’s video on Facebook, saying it was filmed during a talk to youth.

“I was doing things I knew I shouldn’t to try to fit in,” the younger Mitchell said, “but not everybody’s your friend.”

Mitchell, who is from Alabaster, Alabama, was a four-star prospect and the 15th-rated safety in the 247Composite rankings.

He had been charged in March with possession of a controlled substance with intent to sell after a traffic stop when authorities said he drove over 141 mph (227 kph) while trying to evade deputies in the Florida Panhandle. A deputy had spotted Mitchell’s black Dodge Challenger traveling 78 mph (125 kph) in a 55 mph (88 kph) zone on a rural highway north of Bonifay.

He also received 100 hours of community service and paid a fine of $1,560.

Mitchell and a passenger were both charged with possession of marijuana with the intent to sell or deliver, according to a Holmes County Sheriff’s Office arrest report. The other man also was charged with carrying a concealed gun without a permit.