football Edit

How ND's Marcus Freeman plans to coax the best yet out of QB Sam Hartman

Wake Forest transfer Sam Hartman (10) throws a pass Wednesday in a drill during Notre Dame's first spring football practice as freshman Kenny Minchey (8) looks on.
Wake Forest transfer Sam Hartman (10) throws a pass Wednesday in a drill during Notre Dame's first spring football practice as freshman Kenny Minchey (8) looks on. (Jeff Douglas, Inside ND Sports)

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Marcus Freeman met his new fifth-string quarterback for the first time Wednesday morning, admitting to only remembering the young man’s first name (Devin) by the time Notre Dame’s first spring practice was in the books a couple of hours later, and that he was probably from Louisiana.

Devin was one of two players who impressed enough at the recent walk-on tryout — “Jerry the linebacker” was the other — to be issued a uniform and be part of Freeman’s second spring as the Irish head football coach.

On Day 1, it didn’t appear that Devin’s experience was all that divergent from Sam’s. As in Sam Hartman. As in the sixth-year quarterback transfer from Wake Forest, whose ceiling purports to be as high as anyone who’s played that position at Notre Dame since the Brady Quinn/Jimmy Clausen stretch that began two decades ago.

At least.

Hartman didn’t lead a stretching line in warmups, as the team’s perceived winter workout leaders do. Nor did Devin. Later, he rotated through the same drills as Devin, junior semi-incumbent Tyler Buchner, sophomore Steve Angeli and early enrolled freshman Kenny Minchey. (Junior deep backup Ron Powlus III has medically retired.)

Freeman talks about the status of the ACC’s second all-time leader in passing yardage (12,967) and first in TD tosses (110) in terms of being in a competition with at least Buchner to eventually top the Irish depth chart. Whether anyone on the outside looking in believes there’s more than one outcome possible isn’t Freeman’s point.



Freeman — and by extension new QBs coach Gino Guidulgi and recently promoted offensive coordinator Gerad Parker — are not interested in unveiling the Sam Hartman who spent the past five years at Wake Forest, intermittently transcending adversity and consistently evolving to the general public at the April 22 Blue-Gold Game.

Freeman instead is determined to coax a better version of Hartman over the next 14 practices.

“As hard as it is to do, we have to stay focused on the things that really matter,” Freeman saide in response to a question that started out about struggling receiver Lorenzo Styles but that Freeman eventually pointed out applies to everyone, including un-struggling Hartman.

“Praise doesn't matter,” Freeman continued. “Everybody loves praise. But criticism doesn't matter. You have to say, ‘OK, how can I get better?’ We talked about it one day in a meeting. You can't be a praise-seeker. What is a praise seeker? Guys just seeking praise from his parents or from the media or from his coaches.

“No, you have to be a truth-seeker. That's how you stay right in the middle. You're seeking truth. How do I improve? How do I get better? What am I doing wrong? What am I doing good? You have to continuously remind these guys to focus on the things that are going to help you improve and seek feedback on things that will help you.

“Don't seek praise. Don't seek, ‘Yeah, I’m going to go talk to coach, because I want him to tell me I did a good job.’ My 7-year-old does that. Just focus on seeking truth and seeking feedback on how to improve. If they do that, they'll be successful. They'll improve.”

And it’s important for Buchner, Angeli and Minchey to perceive they’re improving, developing too — enough to believe they have a shot at the starting job in 2024 when Hartman is gone and vaunted recruit CJ Carr is a freshman.

Because, while the portal can bring you missing pieces it can also taketh away.

“That’s your job, as a coach, to continue to find ways to get guys reps, to help them improve,” Freeman said, “but also be able to have an evaluation where you can make a decision on who goes out first.”

Even though the reps and opportunities looked similar in structure on Wednesday, they did not necessarily look that way in the manner in which they were executed during the media viewing window at least (stretching and the first five of 18 or 19 five-minute periods).

The ball comes out of Hartman’s hand differently. And when he got a chance to throw the deep ball, it looked effortless. That’s with no defender, no pass rush, no sold-out stadium dissecting every move.

But still.


“Today being day one, he’s like a freshman,” Freeman said. “It’s new. I think this is his sixth spring ball, but you’re at a new place with a new system and still figuring out where to go and what a drill is called.

“You can see him saying at times just trying to go, ‘Where are we going? What’s the drill? How many plays?’ But he’s obviously got some natural ability when he throws the ball and he plays the game of football.

“So, you’ll see the leadership traits that he possesses, because I know he has them. He’s a leader. The first time you meet him, you could tell he commands respect.”

Especially for the way he handles Buchner — befriending him, working out during last week’s spring break with him, taking him along for the ride, whatever that might look like beyond this spring and the second transfer portal window opens and closes (May 1-15).

“The ability to have that respect — choosing to love each other, to choose and have each other's back, but also competition and the ability to make each other better,” Freeman said. “That's a reflection of the leadership in our room, but also the type of personalities those guys have.”

Freeman said his role with the QBs this spring won’t differ much from last spring, when he generally deferred to former offensive coordinator/QBs coach Tommy Rees on the fundamentals and the X’s and O’s but was invaluable when it came to managing the players’ psyches.

“It’ll be a collective group effort between all three of us (Freeman, Guidugli, Parker) to really at some point be able to name a starter,” he said.

All the while Freeman plans on taking his own advice on how to improve himself.

He related a story about how he had worn a New York Yankees hat to a ND women’s basketball game last month and how that got shown on the Purcell Pavilion videoboard and eventually spilled over to social media.

“Focus on improving,” he said. “Not praise, not criticism, not praise from my parents. I had to tell my dad yesterday. He sent me a text like, 'I don't know if you should keep wearing that Yankees hat.'

“I'm like, 'Dad, what are you talking about?’

“He said, ‘Some people are talking about it.’

“I’m like, ‘Dad, stop reading social media.' Just focus on the things that really matter, and that's for all of us to improve."

Walk-on "Devin from Louisiana" lets a pass rip during Wednesday's Notre Dame spring football practice.
Walk-on "Devin from Louisiana" lets a pass rip during Wednesday's Notre Dame spring football practice. (Jeff Douglas, Inside ND Sports)


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