The signs of change are everywhere. The stadium has been
expanded from 59,075 seats to 80,225. The campus golf course has
been torn up, soon to be rebuilt. Even the Golden Dome is
getting much-needed structural repairs.
Now it's up to neophyte coach Bob Davie to spruce up the Irish
football program. Notre Dame, after all, has won only one
national championship since 1977, and none in the '90s. On top
of that, only one Irish player has been taken in the first round
of the NFL draft since 1994. Davie must find a way to get the
talent back--and return his school to the top--if he wants to
fill those stadium seats into the next millenium.
The good news for Notre Dame fans is that the Irish always seem
to play better when they have something to prove. With 15
starters back from a team that went 8-3 a year ago, the tools
are there for a successful reclamation project. "There's so much
enthusiasm around here," says Davie, who was elevated from
defensive coordinator after Lou Holtz resigned last November. "I
can't help but feel we're going to do very well."
The centerpiece of the offense will once again be Ron Powlus, a
four-year starter who holds the school record for career
touchdown passes (43) and could break several more marks.
Powlus, who graduated in May with a degree in marketing,
bypassed a shot at the NFL because he wanted to play for the
more pass-oriented Davie. "It was a chance to be part of
something exciting," Powlus says. "I wanted to help build
The results in spring practice were impressive. Freed from
Holtz's manacles, Powlus gunned the ball around, using more
three-step drops and quick passes. He even made Notre Dame's
suspect receiving corps look good. "This is the offense he's
been waiting for," senior tackle Mike Doughty says. "He looks
When Powlus doesn't throw the ball, he'll hand it off to one of
the best running back trios in the country. Junior Autry Denson,
a slasher in the Warrick Dunn mold, rushed for 1,179 yards last
season, the fifth-highest single-season total in Irish history.
Both fullbacks, junior Jamie Spencer and sophomore Joey
Goodspeed, are bruisers with speed. They'll run behind an
experienced line that averages 6'6", 297 pounds and features
three fifth-year seniors.
On defense Notre Dame must replace five of its starting front
seven, but the Irish aren't overly concerned. Junior linebacker
Kory Minor and senior end Melvin Dansby are emerging stars.
Senior cornerback Allen Rossum, an indoor track All-America who
led the nation in punt returns last season with a 22.9-yard
average, leads an experienced secondary.
The Irish lack a game breaker reminiscent of Tim Brown or Rocket
Ismail, and the placekicking is shaky. In addition the schedule
is difficult, with trips to Michigan, Stanford and LSU. Still,
there's no denying that a new spirit reigns in South Bend with
Davie calling the shots. Says Powlus, "He believes we can win
every game this year."
COLOR PHOTO: JOHN BIEVER POWLUS WILL LIKELY PITCH LESS AND PASS MORE WITH DAVIE RUNNING THE SHOW [Ron Powlus in game]
6 Kicks (five punts, one kickoff) returned for touchdowns last
season by Autry Denson, Joey Goodspeed and Allen Rossum, each of
whom is back this year.
TWO GAMES TO WATCH
SEPT. 27 AT MICHIGAN The rivalry is renewed after a two-year
break. New defensive coordinator Greg Mattison gets to face his
OCT. 18 VS. USC Notre Dame has bad memories of last season's
27-20 overtime loss, which kept it out of an Alliance bowl.
Passing Ron Powlus Sr. 133 comp., 232 att.,
1,942 yds., 12 TDs
Rushing Autry Denson Jr. 1,179 yds., 8 TDs
Receiving Malcolm Johnson Sr. 25 catches, 449 yds., 2 TDs
Tackles SS Benny Guilbeaux Jr. 62
Interceptions Guilbeaux 4