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Notre Dame coach Marcus Freeman summer 2024 transcript: Part Two

IMG_7504by:Jack Soble05/31/24


Notre Dame head coach Marcus Freeman met with select members of the local South Bend media for an on-the-record conversation spanning over 45 minutes Friday afternoon. Blue & Gold is publishing everything Freeman said in two installments. 

This is part two of the conversation.

How has your perspective on what you have at the offensive tackle position changed since this winter, going into the summer? 

“I feel really good about [Charles] Jagusah. He’s going to be solid at that left tackle position, and I knew it — again, I got to spend a lot of time with him on the scout team last year and he’s just continued to get better and better, and he’s had a great spring. 

“We’ve got a great battle at right tackle. I love them. I know at some point we’ve got five guys. We’ve got to name the five and let them go, but we’re going to have a battle between Tosh [Baker] and Aamil [Wagner] at that right tackle spot. Then we’ve got to figure out, where does Sullivan Absher fit? Where does Anthonie Knapp — where do some of these other guys that have a lot of talent, where do they fit amongst and at what position? 

“Maybe they’re not in the first five, but they better be ready to go. It’s going to be interesting. Who’s going to be the best three guards and center? Who’s going to be those guys? Like I said, I’m really pleased with Billy [Schrauth] and what he’s done. You’ve got two guys who have started, you know. Somebody’s got to be the starting right guard. It’s exciting. I love the depth of the room. At some point, we’ve got to say, ‘Here’s your five. Let’s move forward.’”

With Gi’Bran Payne out, what’s your confidence level in the freshmen to be able to step up? And do you consider moving Devyn Ford back to running back? 

“We did move Devyn Ford back to running back, just to help with the depth in that room. But I’m confident in the freshmen. Aneyas [Williams] had a really good spring and you wish you got to see more of Kedren [Young], but I just believe Kedren brings a skill set that some of the other guys in that room probably don’t have. He’s that big, thick, powerful runner. 

“We haven’t seen it in person. I’ve seen it in high school. You can see him physically, he looks like that. But I think he’ll bring that powerful element to that running back room.” 

Have you gotten to know Fr. Bob Dowd, Notre Dame’s incoming University President who starts Saturday? What are your early impressions?

“Oh, he’s been great. He’s been a huge supporter. We’ve met multiple times. He’s a huge supporter of obviously our football program, but Notre Dame Athletics. He has a strong conviction that we need Notre Dame football to be successful, and I want to help you in it whichever way I can. And he believes in the division of our athletics program. So, it’s been great getting to know him. He’s an extremely intelligent person. I can’t imagine trying to run an entire university. That’s the thing that I learned, spending time with Fr. Bob and Fr. John [Jenkins]. It’s just like, whew, they got a lot on their plate. I thought I got a lot on my plate? They got a lot on their plate.

“But they’re extremely intelligent people. I enjoy spending time with them. The things that Fr. John has been through are different than what Father Bob has been through, but he’s gonna go through them. He’s gonna have to make some tough decisions, but I feel a lot of support. I feel a lot of support for him, and I’m excited about the future of our athletics program.”

How often do you get reminded that Year 3 at Notre Dame is a big year, and how are you approaching it?

Every time I go to a Notre Dame club, I hear about that. [laughs] It’s often said. Yeah, it’s great. I don’t even try to put that pressure on our program or on myself, ‘Oh, we have to win the national championship. We gotta reach our full potential. What does that do for us? We’ll see. But I think there’s just a confidence in what you’re doing as you go into Year 3. And you’re probably gonna be different as you go into Year 4 and 5, but I think it’s just a different mindset, because of the experience you’ve had. What you’re looking to enhance is different in Year 3 than it was in Year 1. 

In Year 1, you’re trying to figure out what to do. How do I want to run practice? Okay, you’re the leader of this program. What does that mean? There’s no playbook for this thing. You have to learn. And so Year 3, I’ve spent a lot of time these last couple weeks in May spending time figuring out how to prepare better. I went to five different NFL football teams, spent time with their coaches and the GM. I went to the Steelers, to the Browns, to the Ravens, to the Commanders, and then I finished in LA with the Chargers. I was just on this mission to, ‘How do we prepare better? What do you guys do? What do you do? What’s your thoughts?’

Then I spent about 36 hours on the USS Abraham Lincoln Naval Battleship, out in the Pacific Ocean, and that was amazing. Basically, what the admiral was telling me, like, they were going through spring ball. They’re going through spring ball. They’re gonna get ready to dock, and then they’re gonna go out for the game. They’re gonna go out and have to — it’s real. And so we were talking about how they were practicing. What are they looking for? How many mistakes they make, how do we correct it? They got 5,000 people on that battleship, but it was so good for me to just get different perspectives, different ideas of how to prepare better and then say, ‘Okay, what’s best for Notre Dame football?’ I gained a lot of wisdom, just talking to some experienced individuals. 

Where do you see your culture now, and how do you define it? And with Loren Landow, how do you make sure that the culture continues to be fostered the way you want it to?

“I think culture is what you all will say if you spent time in our football program, right? We have a saying, The Golden Standard. Challenge everything, unit strength and competitive spirit. That’s how it’s defined, but the culture is what you all feel, what the players feel when they’re with us every single day. I think you can be very demanding and still treat people with respect. And I hope that’s something that people say about the culture of our football program. ‘Man, they’re tough, but they challenge you. They’re creative, but they can treat you with respect. That’s a non-negotiable for me.

“I love Coach Landow. I think he’s done a terrific job. I’m excited for his first summer. We’ve been in constant communication. He’s had a little bit of a break as he gets ready to come back. I love the plan that he has, the ability for him to work with our coaches to say, ‘Okay, hey, here’s the goal.’ As you look at this thing, there’s many different ways to get the load in. The players need a certain load, as you build up to fall camp. There’s many different ways to get the load in. How can we utilize football? How can we utilize the strength and conditioning program to get them prepared for fall camp?

“That’s what it’s about, and so I love his collaborative effort, working with our coaches and our sports analytics [staff] to say, ‘Okay, here’s how we’re gonna get to the point where our guys are ready for fall camp.’ And so I’m really, really encouraged about that transition and what’s going to happen this summer.”

What talks have you had with athletics director Pete Bevacqua about the potential for revenue-sharing and the upcoming settlement for House v. NCAA? And how do you see that working at Notre Dame going forward?

“Yeah, I think it’s really good for our players. I’m a believer in it, and that’s the general idea, right? Should players be able to make money based off their name, image and likeness? Yeah. Yes. And there’s still so many open-ended avenues into how this is gonna happen, and that’s been my constant communication with Pete, with everyone I’ve talked to about this, is that we can’t start making decisions based off things that aren’t even — the decision hasn’t been made from the Supreme Court. The courts haven’t said, ‘This is the final ruling.’

“So, are players gonna get paid? Yes. How they get paid? Still to be determined. How much they get paid? To be determined. I still, in my heart of hearts, believe that you’re gonna get paid based on how good of a football player you are. And that’s my message to them, ‘Hey, this is no different than now.’ You’re making money off your name, image and likeness based off how good of a player you are. So continue to focus on that. You’re gonna get paid just as well at Notre Dame as anywhere else in the country.

“We’re gonna be great. We’re in a great situation here. I couldn’t be more excited for where our athletic program will be amongst college sports, college athletics programs. But players shouldn’t focus on how much they’re getting paid. Just keep being a great player. You’re gonna get paid as well at Notre Dame as anywhere else in the country.”

What was your conversation like with Beaux Collins when you recruited him? He mentioned you never tried to sell him on playing time.

“I’m selling Notre Dame. You just have to be authentic, be who you are and either he wants that or not but my sales-pitch to him or non sales-pitch was ‘You have a chance to be part of something special. And that’s this university, that’s this football program. You have a skillset that I think is different than what we have in this room currently. We’ve tried to defend you and you’re a really good football player. And if you’re a really good football player at Clemson I think you’ll be a really good football player at Notre Dame.’

“I have high expectations for him. The length, the experience, the skillset. Is he going to be the No. 1? That’s to-be-determined. We’ll see when he gets out there in fall camp. But I believe he brings a skillset to our wide receivers room that’s going to truly make us better. And I’m excited to get him out there.”

Benjamin Morrison: Cleared for summer workouts? Expected to be cleared for fall camp? Or is the focus on Game No. 1?

“He will be a partial participant. He won’t be full-go until — I don’t know when the exact date is — sometime close to Texas A&M. He won’t be truly, fully cleared — I don’t know when that date is but it won’t be the start of fall camp. But he’ll be a partial participant.”

What have you learned about Riley Leonard in the last six months that you didn’t know about him before? 

“If I didn’t know Riley Leonard, I would think he was — I don’t want to say arrogant — but dang, I wouldn’t think he’s as humble as he is because he plays with a passion and a demeanor that’s like, ‘Holy cow, man.’ But off the field, he’s the most humble and hungry. He’s obsessed with improvement, with information, preparation. That’s something that I’ve gotten to know about him. He’s not easily distracted. Sometimes he’s oblivious to how good he is, which is great. He can tune out some of that outside noise. 

“I guess I’m also surprised when I hear from [Loren] Landow and some of those guys, he’s one of the most competitive individuals even in this football program now. Yeah, he’s a good football player. Yes, he competes on the field. But when you hear that and it’s not in practice, you’re talking about workouts, that tells you a lot about who he is. He’s a leader.” 

If there was a pie chart representing the reasons why you’re excited for the new football facilities, what would be the two biggest pieces? 

“Servicing our players, number one. They deserve the best. Our players deserve the best football facility. The best nutrition room. The best training and recovery facilities. All of those different things. They deserve the best. The best learning environment. That’s what I want more than anything. That’s the biggest part of the pie. I told this to Pete [Bevacqua], Ron [Powlus], everybody — this building is about serving our players. This isn’t about recruiting. This isn’t about a museum for fans. Now, those things can be included. But every decision we have to make has to be about, ‘Is this what’s best to serve our players?’ And that’s what’s really encouraging to me. 

“The second part of that will be, that’s going to help us in recruiting because our players are going to be able to say, ‘Man, they are going to take care of you at Notre Dame.’ The decisions they make are for you. So when you get here, this is how you’re going to be treated. And I believe in that building, it’s going to pay tribute to the greatness, the legacy of Notre Dame football. That’s players and coaches and teams. It’s a great reminder that Notre Dame football isn’t where it’s at right now because of me or anybody else that’s here currently. It’s been built. It’s been built for a long time. We need to make sure to remind ourselves. It keeps us humble to remind ourselves of all that work that’s been built to put this program in the position it’s in.”

What does the offense need to do to get to a championship level?

We have to play better versus really good defenses. That’s the thing that we have to be able to do. We played well for three quarters of the game against Ohio State, which was an extremely good defense. But I don’t know if we played as well versus some of the other great defenses we played.  We have to be able, when a team says we’re going to make you one dimensional, make them pay. When a team says we’re going to load the box and not let you run the football, we’re going to make you pay in the passing game. When a team says, ‘We’re gonna play prevent defense,’ — and not many teams do that to us — but if a team’s gonna say, ‘We’re going to stop the pass and play two high, you’re going to have to run the ball,’ and we’re going to make them pay.

That, to me, was something I think at points last year when teams loaded the box and said we’re not going to let you run, we didn’t always make them pay. And I don’t think we always protected the quarterback to the standard that we need to when teams are teeing off and pass rushing. They knew it was a pass down; we didn’t protect the quarterback to my standard, our standard when we had to at all times. So I think those areas, we gotta really enhance that. To be creative enough, to have enough talent, to if you’re going to load the box and make us throw the ball, we’re going to win. If you’re going to play man-to-man coverage, if you’re going to play zero coverage we’re going to make you pay. But also make sure when teams say we’re going to tee off and pass rush the quarterback, protect him at all costs.

What’s the challenge of integrating several younger players into the defense alongside several fifth- and sixth-year seniors?

I’m less concerned of the inexperience of guys that have been here, because they’ve heard the terminology. They know the schemes. The Drayk Bowens, the Jaylen Sneeds, the Christian Grays, those guys heard it, they practiced it, even though they may not have done it in a game.

The challenge is making sure just because you have a fourth or fifth year guy, Jordan Clark and RJ Oben, you can’t just assume that because they have game experience that they’re going to be able to play fast in a new scheme. It’s a learning progression for those guys. We have to remind ourselves of that. We can’t get frustrated when guys that are just learning this stuff, I know they have experience, they’re transfers, they can’t perform it yet because they don’t know it well enough to play fast. So that I think is going to be the challenge for us, is to get those guys that have transferred caught up to the standard that the guys that have been here, no matter if you’ve played or not, are able to play at.

Are you a proponent or not of the potential move to a June signing day?


What is the status of some of the other injured players, the ones who were held out of spring like Mitchell Evans, Kevin Bauman, Armel Mukam? 

“They will all be ready for fall camp. … They’re not 100% cleared yet, for summer. But yeah, they should be ready for fall camp. Kevin is a little bit ahead of Mitch, just because his surgery was before his, but they should all be ready for fall camp.” 

You said you didn’t do a good job of putting Sam Hartman in a position to succeed. What did you pinpoint as specific examples of that?

“I don’t know if we executed. We didn’t protect him well enough at times. We didn’t beat man coverage like we should’ve at times. Did we always — I’m always going to put the blame on us as coaches. That’s something that I’ll never — I’ll never point the finger at a player. If the play didn’t work, we got to figure out a better way to do it. That’s why I say that. If it didn’t work, we better come up with a better scheme and put our players in a better position to have success. Maybe we should recruit better, I don’t know. I’m not blaming Sam Hartman for any of our lack of success.” 

Among the receivers — because that’s part of it — who do you think made the biggest jump from the end of last season to the start of fall camp?

“JG [Jaden Greathouse] had a great spring. He really did. He stood out in spring ball. And I think a part of that is when you’re not asking Jaden Greathouse, Rico [Flores Jr.] to be the guy. It’s going to make them better. JT [Jayden Thomas] is better because we have a deeper wide receiver room. So I think the depth of our room is going to make each individual better, because you’re gonna see the best version of Jaden Greathouse. We’re gonna put him in the best situation to be successful. Is that slot? Is that outside? I don’t know. But because of the depth of our room, now, we’re gonna put those guys in position to be successful.

“We’re gonna have a fresh JT, and that’s the best version of JT. So I think that’s what you’ll see is gonna be really the difference between last year and this year. The depth wasn’t where we needed it to be last year. I think the depth, now, is gonna give those guys to truly be the best version of themselves.”

You’ve mentioned a non-negotiable is treating people with respect. Are there any listed rules for players? And what’s your philosophy on that?

“No. I don’t have — I think you can set yourself up for failure when you write out, ‘Here’s our 10 rules that we have.’ I know that’s a little bit old-school. Probably [the only] rule is use common sense, right? Use common sense. That’s probably the one rule, but again, don’t embarrass this football program. And that accomplishes a lot of different things, so when you have philosophies like that, they’ve heard those things, right? Use common sense, don’t embarrass our football program and treat people with respect. I think that can encompass a lot of different situations.

“I just never want to be a person that says, ‘Here’s my three rules. If you break it, you’re gone.’ There’s some things you do, you’re gonna be gone. But we’re fortunate that we haven’t had to deal with that right now. And I’m not saying it’s never, but I think we really attract a certain individual here that I don’t really worry about that often.”

Gabe Rubio’s status?

Gabe Rubio will be back this summer, part of the team. Ready to roll.”

What does senior offensive analyst Trent Miles bring to the equation?

“I got to know Trent — I think he was the head coach at Indiana State when I was at Purdue. Then when I was at Cincinnati, we hired Mike Mickens, who coached for him at Indiana State. And [Mike] Denbrock obviously knew him [from coaching together at LSU]. And he was around a little bit at Cincinnati, and then he went with Denbrock to LSU, but any time you have a guy that has, one, a wealth of experience and knowledge. Has been a head coach. He’s a dang good football coach, but he’s a team guy. And those are the guys, you can’t have enough of those guys in your program.

“Denbrock is the one who got him here, but if you surround yourself with really good people, really good coaches, man, that’s the formula for success. It ain’t about one person, and the minute you start to think it’s about you, watch out. Good luck. For me, I’ve been fortunate. I’ve got great players, great people that are in this football program and all are committed to making sure Notre Dame succeeds. And Trent Miles is a great example of that.”

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