Sunday, December 10, 2000

Boiman takes rocky road with Notre Dame

St. X star's fortunes have mirrored team's

By John Fay
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        From the outside, the ups and downs of Notre Dame football have seemed pretty extreme over the last year. It was like that on the inside, too.

        “It's been such a big change,” Irish linebacker Rocky Boiman said. “For the coaches and the players who were in the middle of it, it's been amazing.”

        A year ago, the Irish were coming off a 5-7 year and it looked liked the Bob Davie era was about to end. Notre Dame is 9-2 now, Davie is a coach of the year candidate and received a five-year contract extension.

        Davie got the contract because the Irish went from a 2-2 team to a Fiesta Bowl participant.

        Boiman, a product of St. Xavier High School, thinks Notre Dame football is poised to return to its once lofty status.

        “That new contract for Coach Davie is the best thing that could have happened,” Boiman said. “He's helped turn it around here. I think it will continue.”

        Boiman, a junior, was home this weekend for a short break. He'll return to South Bend Monday to begin preparing for the Fiesta Bowl against Oregon State.

        “The Fiesta is great,” Boiman said. “The excitement is unbelievable.”

        Notre Dame wasn't expected to be playing on New Year's Day. The Irish lost four straight to end last year and finished 5-7, their first losing season since 1986.

        This year was another rough start. Notre Dame lost to Nebraska in overtime in the opener and then to Michigan State on the final play two weeks later.

        The Irish have been perfect since.

        “We're two plays from being undefeated and playing for the national championship,” Boiman said. “That's a big, big step after last year.”

        Boiman says the players are not surprised by the strong season.

        “We had confidence from the start,” he said. “We didn't get down after those losses. We bounced back. We had full confidence in each other.

        “The team chemistry has been great. We knew we could do this. When you know it, that's the most important thing.”

        Boiman was one of Davie's first recruits. He signed the July before his senior year at St. X. It was an easy sell. Boiman grew up an Irish fan.

        Boiman played free safety at St. X. He had 164 tackles and 11 interceptions as a senior. He was fast enough to return kicks and was a sprinter on the track team.

        He lettered at Notre Dame as a true freshman, playing on special teams. But the coaches told him the fastest way into the lineup was as a linebacker.

        “I wanted to stay at safety at first,” he said. “But my body was changing. I came in at 218 (pounds) as freshman. I played at 210 at St. X.”

        Boiman, who is 6-foot-4, bulked up to over 240 before last year. He worked his way into the starting lineup by the sixth game. But Boiman realizes he went overboard on adding size.

        “I probably was a little too heavy,” he said.

        This year, his speed is back.

        “I think the thing Rocky Boiman has done is, No.1, he lost some weight since last year,” Davie said. “He played at 245, probably playing at 235 this year. He is an aggressive football player, and I think we are doing a pretty good job of putting him in some different situations to make plays.”

        Boiman is third on the team in tackles and he's starting to feel like a linebacker.

        “It was a big adjustment,” he said. “At safety, you're eight or 10 yards off the ball. At linebacker, you're right at the line of scrimmage. Things come at you a lot faster. I had to adjust. It's a different style of football.”

        “Last year was a learning year. I'm not content with where I am. I think I can do bigger things.”

Five Questions with Rocky Boiman

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