Former Miner hopes to help Fighting Irish make strides this fall
Taylor Dever was standing in somewhat of a football no-man’s land last season, having graduated from his high school playing days at Nevada Union but stuck in a redshirt freshman season at the University of Notre Dame.
And it wasn’t a fun season for him to be watching as a football fan.
Dever’s former Miners struggled to a 4-6 record and his Fighting Irish suffered through a 3-9 campaign, the worst season in school history.
“It was tough,” said Dever, currently listed as the No. 2 right tackle on the offensive line depth chart. “Every year, we expected to win in high school and almost every year we were winning, week in and week out.
“This was my first time on the sideline and it was tough to watch.”
Notre Dame started off the season with five straight losses, before breaking the string with a 20-6 win over UCLA. But four more losses followed, including a triple overtime defeat to Navy that marked ND’s first loss to the Midshipmen in more than 40 years.
Along the way, the Irish offensive line drew most of the criticism, allowing the most quarterback sacks (56) in the nation and providing little to no punch for a ground game.
“Everyone kind of knows we had a lot of things to improve on,” Dever said. “And at one point ” I’m not sure which game it was ” but I thought ‘Oh my gosh, where does it end? Can it get any worse?’ I kind of just told myself ‘You’ve got to do something about this.'”
What he’s done ” so far ” is work maddenly hard in the weight room alongside his teammates throughout the offseason. Dever reported for his first fall camp standing 6 feet, 5 inches and weighing 289 pounds. Now, he’s 6-6, 307, but those aren’t his most impressive numbers.
All that hard work has translated into huge gains in strength, which he put on display by maxing out at 375 pounds on bench press, 315 in clean and 505 in squat.
But perhaps the most telling transformation for the Fighting Irish wasn’t the added muscle to members of its offensive line. Dever said there was a clear change in attitude that arose from all of those early morning training sessions.
“That’s where it started,” Dever said. “One morning during winter conditioning, we’re coming in at 6 o’clock and everybody is just getting to work. And after we started working out, everyone just started screaming and getting after each other.
“It was hard, but it was fun. Really, it was eye-opening. It was like this is where it starts. Now … we’re getting better.”
Fighting Irish fans will expect nothing less than improvement over the 2007 campaign, which Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis said wasn’t even worthy of talking about when camp opened this fall.
For the first time in several years, the schedule might actually make such improvement more apparent. Notre Dame has just two preseason top 25 teams on the slate, with No. 25 Pittsburgh and No. 3 USC. The Fighting Irish faced double that many ranked foes in the first five weeks of the 2007, when Weis threw a slew of underclassmen into the mix.
Now Notre Dame is hoping last season’s bumps and bruises were just growing pains in replacing a 2006 senior-laden squad that earned a BCS bowl bid. The game experience gained by the young Irish is expected to lead to better things down the road.
“I think people will be impressed by our running game … and even our pass protection, too,” Dever said. “We’re getting off the ball, getting under and getting into people.
“I think we’re on the right track.”
And what about his former team, which also had a tough run in ’07?
“I do know the guys (NU coach Dave) Humphers has are working hard,” Dever said. “He’s pushing them really hard. So, at the very least, I know they’ll be ready to go.”
To contact Sports Editor Brian Hamilton, e-mail email@example.com or call 477-4240.
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