SOUTH BEND — Listening to Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly on Thursday as he introduced his 2013 team to the public at Media Day, one common thread weaved through comments from the coach and players alike.
The heartbreaking 42-14 loss to Alabama in the BCS National Championship Game in January is a distant memory.
Kelly said looking forward has been the focus for he and his staff from the day after the Alabama loss — through a long offseason.
“It’s been the topic of conversation from day one,” Kelly said. “You don’t just begin this climb at the top of the mountain. We have to start over again. This has been the consistent theme since January, talking about how do we get back up there.”
That message, Kelly said, has included a stark warning to the Irish players.
“If we start relying on what we did in the past, if we do it like we did it last year, we’re going to be an 8-5 football team,” Kelly said. “I haven’t seen anything to show that we haven’t answered that challenge, each and every day.”
Despite the loss of key players like linebacker Manti Te’o — now in the NFL with the San Diego Chargers — and tight end Tyler Eifert — now with the Cincinnati Bengals — Kelly sees much to be upbeat about as the Fighting Irish prepare for the 2013 season opener, set for Saturday, Aug. 31 at Notre Dame Stadium.
Instead of a team with a couple of standout players like Te’o and Eifert, Kelly sees a squad with a group personality.
Kelly, at his camp-opening press conference earlier this month, named senior Tommy Rees the starter at quarterback — at least for the opener.
On Thursday, Kelly reiterated his support of Rees.
Kelly said he’s been in the Irish signal-caller’s corner since the Purdue game last season, when Rees was booed by the Notre Dame student section as he came into the game in relief of starter Everett Golson.
With the 2013 season on the horizon, Kelly said how Rees’ Notre Dame story ends is uncertain.
“I don’t think that story is written,” Kelly said. “I think you write that story after he completes his journey here.”
Rees said he, like Kelly and the rest of the Irish, is looking forward and not back.
“Last year is last year,” Rees said. “We’re focused on what we have to do to be successful this season.”
Kelly is also pleased with the Irish’s depth at running back.
Kelly said the six players at that key position — George Atkinson, Cam McDaniel, Amir Carlisle, Will Mahone (currently injured), Greg Bryant and Tarean Folston – could comprise the deepest backfield he’s ever coached.
“I don’t know if I’ve ever had as much depth in the running back position in all my years coaching,” Kelly said.
Kelly also announced that three captains have been voted for the 2013 season: senior offensive lineman Zach Martin, senior receiver T,J. Jones and senior cornerback Bennett Jackson.