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The Journal Gazette

Tuesday, June 05, 2018 1:00 am

Assistant praises Irish alumni clubs

Special teams coach sees groups as giving Notre Dame a leg up

DYLAN SINN | The Journal Gazette

When Notre Dame's football coaches try to persuade recruits to play for the Irish, a part of their pitch emphasizes the large network of Notre Dame alumni across the country. Notre Dame Clubs, such as the one in Fort Wayne, are a part of that network, according to Irish recruiting coordinator and special teams coach Brian Polian.

“To be able to talk to a recruit about 270 alumni clubs worldwide and the power of that network is incredibly valuable to us,” Polian said. “To be involved with these clubs and develop these relationships, it's really important.”

Polian was the featured speaker at the annual golf outing and silent auction for the Notre Dame Club of Fort Wayne on Monday, and the coach participated in the scramble-style golf tournament on a blustery day at Orchard Ridge Country Club.

“It's wonderful to have Coach Polian here,” said Jacob Benedict, the club's president. “We always try to get a speaker from the university. ... (The event) is a little later this year; we've typically had it in May, and this year it's even closer to football season, so people get even more excited.”

Polian follows last year's guest from Notre Dame, quarterbacks coach and former quarterback Tommy Rees. This year's guest also praised Fort Wayne and noted that retaining players from this area is part of the Irish's recruiting strategy.

“For us in particular in the state, it always starts at home,” Polian said. “For us to make sure that we're recruiting the top guys in the state first and for them to understand what the degree's gonna mean in terms of their life beyond football, that's where the alumni clubs come in.”

Polian is entering the second year of his second stint as Notre Dame special teams coordinator. He was with the Irish from 2008-09 before departing for Stanford but was hired to the same position in 2017 after spending four years as the head coach at Nevada.

In his first year back at the helm of Notre Dame's special teams unit, the 43-year-old coach said the goal for his players was “do no harm.” He inherited a special teams group that had given up five touchdowns in 2016.

“We had to stop making the mistakes that were costing us football games,” said Polian, who is the son of former Indianapolis Colts president Bill Polian. “I think we did that. (In 2018), we need to take the next step. Instead of being a negative impact on the game, we need to find a way to have a positive impact. ... I believe that we'll get there.”

Polian had some special praise for Fort Wayne native and former Carroll linebacker Drue Tranquill. The Notre Dame captain last year stood in front of his teammates and volunteered to play any position where the Irish needed him, according to Polian.

“That sets such a good example for the young players,” the coach said of Tranquill. “In college from time to time, we will deal with guys who feel like, 'Hey I'm a starter on this team, I shouldn't be on kickoff, or I shouldn't have to be playing on two or three special teams units.'

“So when you have one of your most high-profile leaders (Tranquill) on the team buy in from the day you arrive, it sets a great example and it makes it easier when you're dealing with the rest of the crew.”

Proceeds from the event at Orchard Ridge go to Notre Dame students through scholarships and “support for Summer Service Projects” the club said. Polian was excited that the tournament format was a scramble.

“My dad used to say if you have an assistant coach who's a really good golfer, he's not a very good coach,” he said, laughing. “The head coaches should be really good golfers and I only had four years as a head coach, so not enough to fix my game.”

dsinn@jg.net