Irish Looking to Gain Respect in ‘07

( – As the media descended upon Notre Dame Monday for the beginning of year three of the Charlie Weis Era, an underlying theme of earning respect was seen in the statements of the Notre Dame players and coaches. From head coach Charlie Weis to fifth year senior and captain Tom Zbikowski, the Irish talked about earning respect in a season everyone in the media is labeling a rebuilding year.

“Football players or any athlete in general – want respect, and I think that they understand that respect is something that you just don’t hand out. It’s something you have to earn,” Weis told the media Monday when talking about coaching a team with low expectations this year after reiterating that his expectations are always high.

Weis can’t deny the fact, though, that people outside of the program have very low expectations and very little respect for the 2007 edition of the Fighting Irish. In fact, Weis is using the low expectations those in the media have for Notre Dame as motivation.

As Weis said Monday, his message to his team is fairly simple, “Fellas, people perceive you a certain way and you’re going to have to be the ones to change that perception. We had a large changeover in personnel, a lot of front-line players have moved onto the NFL. Okay, why shouldn’t they have their doubts or reservations? You guys are going to be the ones to change it.”

The message is already starting to sink in with the players. When asked why he is hungrier this year over previous years, Zbikowski responded, “”I didn’t have the season that I wanted to have last year. Plus a lot of people, as usual, are saying that we are going to win one game out of our first eight. But that’s old news and they’ve said that the past three years.”
Zbikowski is of course, referring to every Notre Dame fan’s favorite ESPN commentator Mark May who predicted Notre Dame would be lucky to win two of its first eight games this year. This is the same Mark May who predicted the Irish would be 1-5 after six games in 2005. Notre Dame then went on to a 4-2 record with both losses coming by a combined six points with one coming in overtime and the other coming with less than 15 seconds remaining in regulation.

Zibby wasn’t the only team veteran talking about the lack of respect this year’s squad is facing though. Fellow captain Travis Thomas would add, “With the tools we have, we can get everyone on the same page and we can still accomplish that goal (winning a national title), regardless of what everyone else thinks.”

Trevor Laws chimed in with, “We’re not here to maybe help these other guys win games in two years. This is my last year at Notre Dame and I want to go out with a bang, so I don’t even use that word at all,” when asked about using people calling 2007 a rebuilding year as motivation.

After the way the Irish ended the 2006 season with lopsided losses to USC and LSU, they will continue to face a lack of respect from the media and the college football world until they earn it back on the field and it seems rather apparent that this will be the rallying cry for the 2007 season.

Weis mentioned that the staff would not be using gimmicks this year as he had in the past. He didn’t specifically mention the “9-3 isn’t Good Enough” sign, but that is precisely what he is referring to. Instead he and his staff will continue to remind the team what people outside of the program think of their chances this season.

So far it appears the players are buying into this “playing with a chip on their shoulder” mentality as they had in 2005 when expectations were as low as they are this season.

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