Daily focus key to N.D. success

first_img That’s how Rooney can comfortably approach a season like this one when he had to replace all but four starters from last year’s 14-0 team. In fact, Green wasn’t able to play in Notre Dame’s opener against Westlake last Friday because of an injured hand. That meant sophomore Dayne Crist had to start. Most coaches would fret over a situation like that. Not Rooney. He already knew before the first snap of the season that he could replace departing players with capable ones, including Crist, who threw for 128 yards in a 45-20 victory over the Warriors. “It’s hard to imagine any practices being as intense and as competitive as ours,” running back Rodney Glass said. “You see (non-starters) getting better and better every day because they’re practicing every day against other really good players. That’s how you can rebuild so quickly. Guys are ready to go.” Still, the type of success Notre Dame is achieving can’t be explained away by really hard and competitive practices. Consider this: Notre Dame last tasted defeat in a 24-21 loss to St. Paul of Santa Fe Springs on Oct. 16, 2003. Their win streak is the longest active streak in the Southern Section and currently the state’s third-longest active streak, behind Central Catholic of Modesto (51) and Central Valley Christian of Visalia (24). Notre Dame has won three consecutive Southern Section titles. Oaks Christian of Westlake Village is the only other Southern Section team to enter this season having won two titles in a row. Paraclete of Lancaster owns the region record by winning five in a row between 1997 and 2001. The Knights are ranked No. 3 in the state by Cal-Hi Sports (behind Mission Viejo and Clovis West) and No. 22 in Student Sports National Fab 50 poll. Since the beginning of the decade, they are 63-4-1 (.926). Only St. Bonaventure of Ventura (70-3, .959), Mission Viejo (68-4, .944) and Sutter (57-4, .934) have better winning percentages in the state during that time. That’s excellence. “To me you have to take a real hard look at our coaching staff, because they do an incredible job of preparing us,” Glass said. “As a result, when we step on the field, we already feel we have an advantage.” Rooney has been the coach at Notre Dame for 25 years and led the Knights to four Southern Section titles. Assistants like Joe McNab and Jeff Kraemer have been with him the entire time, and his lower level coaches on the JV and freshman teams have been together for a number of years. As a result, there are few surprises, even when a young player gets promoted from a lower-level team to varsity, as Green did as a freshman and Glass did as a sophomore. “I know that our (lower-level) coaches do such a good job in preparing these guys,” Rooney said. “That’s a nice comfort level to have. We’re all on the same page.” It’s also a staff that pays attention to small details. Notre Dame wins plenty of games with blowout scores, but over the years the Knights have shown an uncanny ability to win close games. So often those narrow wins came down to a key special teams play like a blocked punt or a long field goal. Two years ago Notre Dame took control of its Southern Section championship game against Palmdale when K.C. Croal blocked a 51-yard field goal attempt and Jimmy Welker scooped up the loose ball and returned it 59 yards for a touchdown. What seemed like a lucky bounce was actually a well-rehearsed play. The Knights had detected a weak link in Palmdale’s field goal blocking scheme that week in practice and schemed to exploit it. “I know for a fact nobody practices special teams more than we do,” said kicker Kai Forbath, the latest in a long line of quality kickers at Notre Dame. “It’s a very big point of emphasis for us.” Forbath has benefited from the extra attention. His 130 kicking points are a state record and second all-time nationally. Again though, nobody does what Notre Dame does by simply practicing better and paying more attention to details. There has to be more. We don’t take things for granted because we know how elusive things like championships are,” Green said. Just look at this history of this program.” Maybe Green is on to something here. Notre Dame started playing football in 1950 but didn’t win its first championship until 1994. That was Rooney’s 15th season. “It took a long time to get that first one,” Rooney said. It didn’t take as long to get the second – eight years – but the pain Notre Dame experienced in upset, championship-game losses to Camarillo (1996) and Arroyo Grande in 1997 made it a more excruciating wait. The two losses came during running back Justin Fargas’ magical Notre Dame career. “You have to appreciate winning championships because every one is hard to get,” Glass said. “Anything can happen along the way.” It’s a simple reminder Rooney drives home to the Knights every season. He speaks from experience, and the message gets through loud and clear. “Focus on the next game, and don’t think too far ahead,” Green said. “The minute you start looking too far ahead, you’re asking for trouble.” —Staff Writer Vincent Bonsignore covers high schools for the Daily News. His column appears on Saturday. He can be reached at (818) 713-3612 or [email protected] 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREThe top 10 theme park moments of 2019 If that happens Green will leave high school with a record of 39-1 as a starting quarterback, and the hushed excellence that personifies Notre Dame football will continue its quiet tap dance into history. “Hold on,” Green said cautiously. “Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. We still have a long way to go before even thinking along those lines. Don’t get me wrong though, we have definite goals for ourselves.” With that, Green answered the question without even answering it. At Notre Dame, it’s not just a season-to-season thing or even a game-to-game thing. It’s literally a day-to-day thing. The difference is the Knights keep one eye focused on the present and another on the immediate future. This is a place where coach Kevin Rooney presides over practices that are often more competitive than actual games. The intensity of these workouts serves two purposes. The first is to prepare starters for the next game, the other is to develop backups into future starters. Notre Dame running back Rodney Glass (21) attributes his team’s success to an all-inclusive effort during workouts.Daily focus key to N.D. successThe first person you go to for answers about a football team is the quarterback. Something about crouching behind another man and accepting a snapped ball play after play seems to qualify these guys to gauge the pulse of a team. So Garrett Green wasn’t the least bit surprised when asked to define the reasons he might walk away this year from his four-year varsity career at Notre Dame of Sherman Oaks having tasted defeat just one time. center_img Better yet, the question of how the quaint Notre Dame program continues to produce championship teams year after year despite rebuilding its entire starting roster almost every single summer. Green and the Knights took 24 straight wins into Friday’s game against Palmdale. Of those, three came in Southern Section championship games. If they can attach 13 more wins to that total it won’t just add up to a startling 37 straight, it will also mean a fourth straight Southern Section championship. last_img

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