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August 11, 2013

Carlisle: key cog in ND offense

People on the outside are quick to categorize it, and the stigma that comes with it bears a connotation that suggests a lack of toughness and intestinal fortitude.

Injury prone.

It’s a term that no football player wants to be associated with. It’s thrown around loosely, often inaccurately, in a game in which collisions are so frequent, one bad twist or one unfortunate turn can mean a season on the backburner.

Amir Carlisle - Notre Dame’s junior running back/slot receiver - does not consider himself to be injury prone. That’s why after missing the 2012 season with an off-the-field left ankle injury that simply wouldn’t respond to heavy activity, he barely missed a beat in the spring, literally returning to the practice field within days of suffering a broken collarbone.

“I’m feeling great, 100 percent, both collarbone and ankle,” Carlisle said.

That’s good news for Brian Kelly and the Fighting Irish who, if Friday’s open practice to the media was any indication, intend to use Carlisle in a variety of roles.

“His versatility,” said Kelly when asked what makes Carlisle such a promising candidate for significant playing time this fall. “He catches the ball very well. He’s got burst. He’s very smart. He knows the playbook.

"I just took the mentality that nothing is going to stop me from achieving my goals. I tried to stay positive throughout that whole time, and now that year sitting out motivates me each time I step on the field."
-- Amir Carlisle

“Versatility is great if you can handle it. You can say, ‘I want you to be versatile and play all these positions,’ but if you can’t handle it, then you can’t be versatile. What makes him the player that he is is that he can handle those dual roles, and you start with the fact that he’s a very smart kid.”

Notre Dame liked Carlisle so much coming out of King’s Academy in Sunnyvale, Calif., that Kelly and his staff recruited him. Carlisle chose USC over the Irish.

But when his father, Duane, was named Director of Sports Performance at Purdue, Amir - which translates into Prince in Arabic - sought a transfer to Notre Dame.

He joined the Irish football team and was cleared to participate by the NCAA last fall. But an off-the-field ankle injury never quite seemed to heal, and ultimately, a year of eligibility was preserved.

“I had some nerve involvement in the ankle, and that just slowed the entire healing process down,” said the 5-foot-9 , 190-pounder who hails from Santa Clara, Calif. “I was supposed to be back early in the season, but then I had sharp pains in my foot and it wasn’t allowing me to come back.

“If I practiced, the next day I couldn’t run. It just wasn’t ready.”

With a clean bill of health to start the spring, Carlisle suffered a broken collarbone, which most figured would put him on the shelf the last couple of weeks. Instead, he was back on the field within a few days.

“I really didn’t want to let the collarbone set me back in terms of learning the playbook and getting out there and catching passes,” Carlisle said. “Although I wasn’t able to have contact, there was a lot of other stuff that I could do, so I didn’t allow it to hold me back.”

Carlisle is eager to get back into game competition for the first time since 2011 when he rushed for 118 yards on 19 carries with seven receptions for 41 yards and a touchdown. Ninety of those yards came on 10 carries against Colorado. He added another 31 yards on two receptions against the Buffaloes.

“It’s been crazy to experience it from playing here in 2011 and then playing (in the Los Angeles Coliseum), and now actually this year I get to play against my former teammates,” Carlisle said. “I’m looking forward to that. Those are a great bunch of guys there, and I have nothing but respect for Coach (Lane) Kiffin and his staff.”

After watching his new teammates make a run at the national title, he wants to make a contribution to the 2013 squad.

“As a competitor, you always have that yearning to get out there and play,” Carlisle said. “I wasn’t able to, so I tried to do the things that I could to help my teammates out. Maybe give them water on the sidelines. That’s all I could do.

“It was frustrating, but it also was a great experience. Even though I wasn’t able to play, we still made it to the national championship, and that’s an experience that not many people get to have in their lives. I took the experience in and really enjoyed it while I was there.”

The motivation is great after a two-year absence from game competition, which is why he was back in action so quickly after the collarbone injury.

“I just took the mentality that nothing is going to stop me from achieving my goals,” Carlisle said. “I tried to stay positive throughout that whole time, and now that year sitting out motivates me each time I step on the field.”

And every time Carlisle steps on the field, he is greeted by a more extensive role in Notre Dame’s offense.

“I just want to be able to do as many things as possible so the coaching staff will feel comfortable putting me anywhere on the field,” Carlisle said. “I take it as an honor. It’s a blessing that they trust me to put me at multiple positions. I think I can help this team by playing running back, slot or wherever.

“It’s definitely fun to attack a defense from different angles. The more things you can do as a player, the more valuable you become. I really took that as my motto this summer, to work on my route running and my pass catching so the coaches could trust me and put me in a position where they might put me at receiver.”

Carlisle’s knowledge of the playbook certainly helps get him on the field in multiple roles.

“Sitting out last year, I got the opportunity to learn the playbook,” Carlisle said. “Since I wasn’t able to play, I took notes in meetings and really got into the playbook by myself. That helped a lot in terms of learning multiple positions.”

Kelly believes the Irish have found a valuable weapon for the 2013 offense.

“When you first look at him, you say he’s not a physical kid, (but) he’s almost 200 pounds,” Kelly said. “He’s solid. He’s running inside out. He can catch the football. He’s smart and he has the skill-set to play multiple positions.”

The frustration of two years away from game competition has made Carlisle philosophical.

“Disappointment is the word that summed everything up,” Carlisle said. “But you have to trust in God’s plan and not doubt. By not doubting and trying to keep a positive attitude - although I did get hurt in the spring - I looked at it as I still have the season ahead of me and I’ll be healthy for the season. I really didn’t get down when I hurt my collarbone.”

His moment of truth is less than three weeks away.

“Day-in and day-out, I just have that hunger to get back on the field,” Carlisle said.





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