Keeping The ND Bond,
Passing on The Game
Ryan Harris welcomes back Irish teammates as guest coaches at his first Minnesota Pro Camp

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It’s a sunny, warm Saturday morning on the artificial turf of Griffin Stadium at St. Paul’s Central High School. At one end of the field, several high school-aged football players are straining through a grueling workout in which they are laterally jumping over dividers.

“Go….go….go….finish….run out of it.”

The instructions are crisp, the interaction constant.  Lots of detail, with lots of praise. The “coach” appears to be a veteran at this, a born leader.

Brady Quinn works with some aspiring QBs
In many ways, he is. Ryan Harris, about to start his third pro season with the Denver Broncos, is back in his home area directing the inaugural Minnesota Pro Camp, a half-day clinic for 14-to-17 year olds.

Harris came out of nearby Cretin-Derham Hall, an athletic powerhouse that has produced everything from Heisman Trophy winners (Chris Weinke) and freshman phenoms (Michael Floyd) to baseball Hall of Famers (Paul Molitor) and batting champs (Joe Mauer). After a stellar four years starting on the offensive line at Notre Dame, Harris is established as the Broncos’ starting right tackle.

Today, his Minnesota Pro Camp T-shirt simply identifies him as ‘Coach.’

“It’s great to be back here, and working with kids,” said Harris.  “It’s a great opportunity, and we hope to grow this camp each year. I’m really grateful to the guys who have come out to make this special for the kids.”

The “guys” would be several of his Fighting Irish teammates, who help comprise the coaching staff this day.

Ryan and Laws
Ryan Harris addresses the campers, assisted by Trevor Laws, left
Assisting Harris with the linemen are Trevor Laws of the Philadelphia Eagles, and John Sullivan, poised to become the Minnesota Vikings starting center with the departure of Matt Birk to Baltimore.

At midfield, tossing pass after pass to a handful of young receivers, are former ND tight ends John Carlson of Litchfield, Minn., and the Seattle Seahawks, and Marcus Freeman, who like Harris, is a former Cretin-Durham Hall standout.

And at the far end of the field, working with a trio of aspiring signal-callers, is none other than Brady Quinn of the Cleveland Browns.

Imagine that.  “What did you do this weekend, dude?”  “Uh. Not much.  Hung out and played some catch with a guy named Brady Quinn.”

John Carlson becomes a quarterback working with the receiving corps.

To a man, the former Irish stars gave the youngsters – who had varying levels of ability -- their utmost attention. They got to know their names; they showed them countless little tips, and plenty of positive reinforcement.

Afterward, the six gathered at mid-field, and reflected on how their playing days at Notre Dame prepared them for the pros.

“You look around at these guys right here, all these NFL players that I was able to go against every single day in college,” said Laws.  “Guys like Ryan, John Sullivan…who came ready to play every day, NFL-caliber guys.  It was a great preparation.”

Added Carlson: “And the schedule we played included a lot of talented players. And by playing against those types of players, it gave you a taste of what it’s like at the next level.”

“Notre Dame’s a very demanding school academically,” noted Sullivan.  “There’s some things you have to sacrifice to succeed there. It’s not like a lot of colleges.  There are strictly enforced rules, and you have to live up to those.  It puts a little added hardship on you, and prepares you to make some sacrifices later in life, and to manage your time well, and deal with things along the way.”

“I think it helps you become a better person, and able to communicate,” said Harris. “I really love that Notre Dame has you live with the regular student body.  It teaches you the sacrifices that other people make, how hard other people are working, right next to you. That helps you understand a lot about the non-athletic world, and prepares you for life in the business and professional world.  And as far as football, at an early stage in our careers, we were exposed to NFL talent (at ND) and that really helped us out.”

Nobody plays football at Notre Dame under a bigger lens than the starting quarterback.  Quinn said that’s its own particular preparation.  “Being a quarterback at Notre Dame really helps prepare you for the NFL, from the media standpoint, and all your off-the-field obligations.  Also, being the leader on a team with that much national focus and attention.  Your time management off the field at Notre Dame is just as challenging as anything you face now as a pro.”

And how do NFL teammates and opponents treat the “ND man” in the league?

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“A lot of (ND) haters out there,” Laws and Quinn laugh almost in unison.  “When you’re at the elite status of being a Notre Dame alumnus, I think there’s some jealousy,” notes Brady. 

“There’s a lot of USC guys out in Seattle,” said Carlson.  “Michigan State guys, Michigan guys.  We’re all watching the games on Saturdays, seeing if we will be able to rub it in a little if our team wins.  It’s a fun rivalry, and most of the time not all that malicious.”

“They expect Notre Dame to be great, and they expect you to be great,” noted Freeman.

What do the guys expect from this year’s Irish?

“More wins.”  “BCS for sure.”  “Undefeated national champions.”

“I think it’s always important offensively to establish a running game, first and foremost,” Carlson said.  “We should expect them to be able to throw the ball, with the quarterback in his third year. Jimmy (Clausen) has a lot of experience, and they have some receivers who stepped up last year and made a lot of plays. 

“In my fifth year, in 2007, these kids were all freshmen, and now they’re juniors.  I expect big things.”

As the former Domers filed off the field, they fulfilled autograph requests, shook some hands of parents, gave final words of encouragement to their young charges.

In just days, it would be off to their respective NFL training camps.

But for now, for a few more hours, they could just be buddies. Dine at a popular restaurant in Minneapolis’ Uptown neighborhood. Have a few more laughs.

They are bonded by their four or five years at a place they’ll never forget.

They are Forever Irish.



One observer's
thoughts on ND,
sports...and life



2011 Irish
Schedule & Results

Sept. 3 S. FLORIDA L, 20-23
Sept. 10 @Michigan L, 31-35
Sept. 17 MICH. ST. W, 31-13
Sept. 24 @Pittsburgh W, 15-12
Oct. 1 @Purdue W, 38-10
Oct. 8 AIR FORCE W, 59-33
Oct. 15 -- --
Oct. 22 USC L, 17-31
Oct. 29 NAVY W, 56-14
Nov. 5 @Wake Forest W, 24-17
Nov. 12 Maryland (FedEx) W, 45-21
Nov. 19 BOSTON C. W, 16-14
Nov. 26 @Stanford L, 14-28
Dec. 29 Florida St. (Champs Sports Bowl) L, 14-18


(All times Eastern)

2010 Irish
Schedule & Results

Sept. 4 Purdue W, 23-12
Sept. 11 Michigan L, 24-28
Sept. 18 @MSU L, 31-34
Sept. 25 Stanford L, 14-37
Oct. 2 @BC W, 31-13
Oct. 9 Pittsburgh W, 23-17
Oct. 16 W.Mich. W, 44-20
Oct. 23 Navy
L, 17-35
Oct. 30 Tulsa L, 27-28
Nov. 13 Utah W, 28-3
Nov. 20 Army (NYC) W, 27-3
Nov. 27 at USC W, 20-16
Dec. 31 Miami (Sun Bowl) W, 33-17

(All times Eastern)

Schedule of Events
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