Notre Dame running back Amir Carlisle got football tips from San Francisco 49ers back Frank Gore, Philadelphia Eagles back Brian Westbrook and other NFL players when he was growing up while his father was working as a strength coach for those teams.
Gore, especially, gave Carlisle technical advice on what it takes to be a standout running back.
"Pad level, your mindset when you're in the hole, how to take on a linebacker, a lot of different things I learned," Carlisle said.
Carlisle displayed some of those lessons he learned against Michigan last Saturday when he ran through a hole, collided with safety Thomas Gordon in the open field, bounced off him and lunged ahead for another 6 yards before being taken down after a 14-yard gain. Carlisle said he uses the advice he received from Gore in such situations.
"He always taught me to have low pad level in the hole and if a defender shows himself in the hole, pick a side of him and attack that side of him. That's teaching that I really embrace and have taken with me throughout my football career," he said.
That run was just one of several tough runs inside Carlisle had against Michigan that impressed coach Brian Kelly.
"His running after contact was probably the thing that I liked the most," Kelly said.
Carlisle's father, Duane, will get a chance to see his son when the 21st-ranked Irish (1-1) play Saturday night at Purdue (1-1), where the elder Carlisle has been director of sports performance since February 2011. Carlisle calls competing against his father "an interesting, fun dynamic."
"But at the end of the day it's still a game that I'd say is a must-win for us," he said.
Officially, Carlisle is listed as second on Notre Dame's depth chart, behind George Atkinson III. But Carlisle appears to be emerging as Notre Dame's top threat. Through two games, Carlisle is leading the team with 19 carries for 132 yards. Atkinson has 13 carries for 71 yards.
Kelly said earlier this year that the player who can do all the things the coaches are looking for will become the top ball carrier. While Atkinson had three dropped passes and ran the wrong route when he misread the defense on one play against Michigan, leading to him getting an earful from running backs coach Tony Alford, Carlisle had two catches for nine yards.
More important, on 15 third-down plays, Carlisle either ran the ball or had a pass thrown to him six times. Five times it went to the player Kelly describes as Notre Dame's go-to receiver, TJ Jones. One pass went to Atkinson.
The 5-foot-10, 190-pound Carlisle also showed he can block, stopping 6-2, 273-pound Michigan defensive end Patrick Kugler when the Wolverines rushed seven players on a third-and-9, giving Tommy Rees time to complete an 18-yard pass to Jones to set up Notre Dame's first TD.
Kelly, though, said it's too early to name a top running back.
"We're still a work in progress there," he said.
Carlisle said he's not worried with where he is on the depth chart as long as he gets chances to show what he can do. He's just happy to be playing football again after missing all of last season with an ankle injury after transferring from USC and missed some of spring practice with a broken collar bone.
"It's fun to go out there and play the game I love," he said.
Author: TOM COYNE