Aug 21, 2013, 12:10 AM EDT
While NBC Sports was at Notre Dame last week to shoot footage for their coverage of Irish football, I had the opportunity to speak with 1984 Heisman Trophy winner Doug Flutie for a few minutes. In that period of time we talked the 2013 Notre Dame football squad and about his time at Boston College. Enjoy…
In 1999, quarterback Doug Flutie led the Buffalo Bills to a 10-5 record entering the final week of the regular season. Already having clinched a playoff spot, then Bills head coach Wade Phillips inserted little-used quarterback Rob Johnson into the starting role. With Johnson at the helm, the Bills would roll in their final regular season game over the Indianapolis Colts, 31-6. In an unexplainable decision, Johnson was named the Bills starter for the playoff-opener against the Tennessee Titans. No more explanation is needed as we can just say, “a (Music CIty) miracle” happened.
This is brought up because parts of Flutie’s football career mirror that of Notre Dame quarterback Tommy Rees – the ups and downs, big wins and devastating losses and being ready whenever your number is called are just some of the similarities. Flutie, the 1984 recipient of the Heisman Memorial Trophy and a plethora of other hardware is quite optimistic at what this year holds for the Irish after making it all the way the 2012 BCS Championship Game after an undefeated, 12-0, regular season.
“I’m very optimistic for them, but you need the stars to align to go undefeated,” Flutie said. “Last year gives them the confidence to roll in to this year thinking that they can reach the BCS Championship Game again. You always need breaks to have the type of year they had last year. Look at the Stanford and Pittsburgh game last year as examples. I’m not sure they will make it back to the title game, but a BCS bowl is definitely a possibility.”
With the loss of Tyler Eifert, Mike Golic Jr., Manti Te’o and Kapron Lewis-Moore to name a few, Notre Dame is looking to fill some holes at key positions for this upcoming season. The depth that Coach Kelly has been preaching about will be tested to see if they are ready to play at the highest-level of college football. How the new student-athletes play will be an integral part of the success of the 2013 Notre Dame football team.
“I think defensively they are going to be stronger up front this season, more specifically the front seven,” Flutie remarked. “Coach Kelly seems to be very excited about the guys along the offensive line and we have seen what Tommy (Rees) is able to do in leading this team and I feel he is more than capable of getting the job done.”
Among the new players that will be seeing extended-time this season will most likely be center Nick Martin. After the graduation of Braxston Cave there was a big hole to fill at the center position, but Flutie thinks the position is well tended.
“The guy I’m looking at to be a breakthrough player for the Irish this year is Nick Martin at center,” Flutie said. “He’s coming in for Braxston Cave and solidifying an offensive line that Coach Kelly really believes in. Additionally, the center spot is one of the more important positions in all of football. You have to make calls and be a leader on the offensive line. He has his brother Zack on the left edge at tackle who can provide great leadership as well. The center position is going to be a big position to watch this season.”
Aside from the student-athletes in the trenches, there is an abundance of skill players at Coach Kelly’s disposal this season. To pick one breakout player from that unit is tough as there are many great candidates.
“As far as a dynamic guy, George Atkinson may be that guy this year for the Irish to breakout on the national stage,” Flutie explained. “He’s the guy that can take a little screen pass and run it 80 yards. He is the one guy on this team that I have seen that whenever he touches the ball he has the opportunity to go the distance. It’s that simple.”
Flutie was never the biggest player on the field and as a matter of fact was most of the time one of the smaller ones. His recruitment story was a unique one as he wasn’t a blue-chip prep player or a five-star athlete; he was just a fun-loving football player from Natick, Mass.
“The closest I got to coming to Notre Dame was when I received one letter, that was it,” Flutie jokingly noted. “Boston College offered me extremely late in the process and it was my only D-1 (FBS) offer. The only reason I received the offer from BC was because a coach from the University of Maine, Jack Bicknell, was recruiting me to go to Maine. He then got the BC coaching job late in the recruiting season and lost a bunch of recruits who were committed to BC and was struggling to get athletes. The two quarterbacks he had pinpointed went to other schools. One went to Holy Cross and one went to Syracuse and then he offered me.”
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When Flutie said, “In my eyes coming out of high school I was an Ivy League, 1-AA type of kid.” It showed his overall understanding of the game of football and what coaches look for in a prospective student-athlete.
“People always have to remember that it’s just a game,” Flutie explained. “Once you’re between the lines, the guy that will be successful is the one that can ignore the 80,000 people in the stands and block out external noise. I was told by every recruiter at the D-1 level that I was too small to play quarterback. I was very athletic so they thought maybe wide receiver or defensive back, but definitely not the quarterback position. You think these guys know what they are talking about because they have been around the game so much and you’re just a kid.”
The success that Flutie saw over his 20-year career boiled down to a simple thought.
“Every time you step up to the next level, whether it’s college football to the CFL, the CFL to the NFL and so on, it’s the same game. The game doesn’t change. As long as you can block the external stuff out, it’s the same game. If you can stop thinking about, have fun and take the blinders off on the field and just play football like a game is the difference between guys that are ridiculously talented but didn’t do well for some reason and guys who are superstars.”
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