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October 18, 2013

A familiar foe

After the game Saturday night, Amir Carlisle will catch-up with some friends he hasn’t spoken to in-person since transferring to Notre Dame in 2012.

The junior running back began his collegiate career at USC, playing one season for the Trojans in which he gained 118 yards on 19 rushes and caught seven passes for 41 yards and a score.

Of his time in Los Angeles, Carlisle’s main memories don’t revolve around a specific carry or catch. Instead he remembers the friends he still keeps in contact with, such as receivers Marqise Lee and George Farmer, fullback Soma Vainuku, and defensive tackle Antwaun Woods, who all entered USC the same year Carlisle did.

“Off the field, it’s fun and games. Those are my guys,” Carlisle said Wednesday, noting he had not spoken to any of his Trojan buddies this week. “But on the field, it’s all business. This week is a business week.”

So before Carlisle either congratulates or consoles his former teammates, he will do everything in his power to make the latter option a reality in his first encounter on the gridiron with the Trojans since departing Los Angeles. Carlisle did not play last season as he battled an ankle injury.

Playing against the Trojans may be a “weird” game for Carlisle, but Saturday night’s festivities in Notre Dame Stadium will not be anything new for him. Carlisle played under the lights in 2011 -- Notre Dame’s first home night game in 21 years -- though in a different uniform. Carlisle and USC won that contest, 31-17.

Battling a knee injury at the time, he only took part in kick returns. Whenever Irish kicker Kyle Brindza kicked off, Carlisle hoped for a chance to make a mark on the game. However, the Notre Dame coaching staff knew better than to kick the ball to a player they had strongly recruited due to his explosiveness in such situations. Two of Brindza’s kicks went for touchbacks, and the other two went to his kick-returning running mates.

“I guess you could say that was the most live environment that we had that season,” Carlisle said. “It was Notre Dame. Coach (Lane) Kiffin preached that entire week that this was a big game. This was Notre Dame.

“The energy we had that went into that game was very high. We got off the bus, rocking the bus. It was a great experience to come here and actually play.”

Though Kiffin is out as the Trojans’ coach, enough remains the same at USC that Carlisle cannot hide his desire to impact this game. Irish head coach Brian Kelly, just like most coaches across the country, usually emphasizes the need to focus on the game itself, ignoring any other storylines. This week, even Kelly admitted Carlisle’s concentration is acute.

“You can see he’s pretty focused this week,” Kelly said Tuesday. “My guess is he’s going to be excited about the opportunity to play against USC. So we’ll be keenly aware of his want to play very well against USC.”

Carlisle puts even less effort into hiding his hopes of showing his friends and former teammates the talent they no longer benefit from and play alongside.

“I’m not going to lie. Yeah, there’s an excitement for me, personally, to be able to face my former team,” he said. “For them to be here, it’s a weird dynamic for me. But it’s exciting.”

Afterward, be it late Saturday night or early Sunday morning, victorious or in defeat, Carlisle will finally see some friends he once expected to spend four years with.

“After the game, it’ll be nice to see some of my guys.”


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