DE Kyle Budinscak

2002 Statistics

Coach: Tyrone Willingham
10-3, 1 year
2002 Record: 10-3
vs. Maryland WON 22-0
at Michigan State WON 21-17
at Air Force WON 21-14
at Florida State WON 34-24
at Navy WON 30-23
at Southern Cal LOST 13-44
North Carolina State LOST 6-28

2002 Final Rankings
AP-17, Coaches-17, BCS-9

2003 Outlook

Willingham was the coaching story of the year for the first 10 weeks of the season, as Notre Dame climbed from preseason purgatory to the Top Ten. That says much for the long-term impact this guy will have. But this year is not all that, it is now, immediate and unknown. A senior-laden offensive line saved Willingham's first season. But now, graduation has hit, and there's a sizable rebuilding job ahead under the Golden Dome. This is obviously, then, a transition year for Willingham and this program. The Irish roster is still composed mainly of recruits from the Davie era, which hampers Willingham a bit as he attempts to remake the Irish in a speedier, more versatile mold. He'll need a few more classes of his own to attain mobile linemen and quicker receivers.

Defense is the big weapon most will be anticipating as they face this team. The system they run requires all 11 players to recognize their zone and/or specific chore for that play. This defense routinely switches responsibilities between who is designated and for which tasks. Their "offset" versatility makes opposing QBs freak as they simultaneously see down-linemen dropping back to cover with full-sprinting DBs flying all over. It will be ironic if/when the secondary winds up being this teams Achilles heel. But either that area, or the special teams, will be ND's undoing with hindsight next January, if they struggle. Many of the power-houses the Irish face are also retooling in 2003, so the biggest foes could conceivably use ND or ND could use them as stepping stones to that next level.

The offense isn't as expected to be developed to the point of greatness early. Still, the offense is the variable that will make or break this squad. If, with a little luck'o'the Irish, they do deliver early, and knowing their defense will be sharp, South Bend will (again surprisingly) seem BCS-bound.

Notre Dame starts with a brutal schedule - seven of its first eight opponents were bowl teams in 2002. Michigan, USC and FSU could all be Top Ten contenders, and the Irish aren't going to sneak up on anybody this season. So don't expect an 8-0 start, or anything like it. But the Irish do return an experienced defense, which should keep them in most games regardless of the secondary's margin of play. Skill players Grant, Jenkins and Stovall will give them enough firepower to put points on the board. The formula of balance is in place for success to be earned.

The season could really play out many different ways. But look for Notre Dame to win 7-9 games this season and improve toward the end of the year -- pointing themselves toward, at least, a decent bowl destination. They will be the nation's best 4-to-6 loss team, if so, losing by a combined 30 points or less. What's being said is that every game could be tight. And the Irish could find themselves using their special BCS exemptions to sneak into what could have been last season. You don't say, Shamus, you don't say…but we do, so be ready if it happens.

Projected 2003 record: 8-4
LB Courtney Watson
QB Chris Olsen
DE Justin Tuck
QB Chris Olsen
QB - 3 DL - 4.5
RB - 3.5 LB - 4.5
WR - 4 DB - 4
OL - 3.5 ..

Passing: Carlyle Holiday, 257-129-5, 1788 yds., 10 TD's

Rushing: Ryan Grant, 261 att., 1085 yds., 9 TD's

Receiving: Omar Jenkins, 37 rec., 633 yds., 3 TD's

Scoring: Nicholas Setta, 14-25 FG, 32-32 PAT, 74 pts.

Punting: D.J. Fitzpatrick, 1 punt, 31.0 avg.

Kicking: Nicholas Setta, 14-25 FG, 32-32 PAT, 74 pts.

Tackles: Courtney Watson, 90 tot., 51 solo

Sacks: Darrell Campbell, 8 sacks

Interceptions: Courtney Watson, 4 for 123 yds.

Kickoff returns: Vontez Duff, 19 ret., 27.7 avg.

Punt returns: Vontez Duff, 40 ret., 9.6 avg.


LB Courtney Watson
OFFENSE: Tom Lopienski-FB, Arnaz Battle-WR, Jordan Black-OT, Sean Mahan-OG, Jeff Faine-C (NFL), Brennan Curtain-OT (NFL)
DEFENSE: Ryan Roberts-DE, Shane Walton-CB, Gerome Sapp-SS, Joey Hildbold-P

By Joe Howley
Royal Oak, Mich.
contributing writer Dave Hershorin

There's plenty of rebuilding to do in Year Two of the Tyrone Willingham regime. The Fighting Irish, though, aren't exactly bankrupt for talent. Still, this offense will initially sputter and fly out of control like an adolescent, to eventually grow into a consistently functioning part of what will be a Top 10-calibur team by 2003's end.

Holiday struggled at times to master the new offensive approach, and the Fighting Irish finished an anemic 91st in the NCAA Division I passing rankings. Remember, he was not recruited with this scheme in mind. But while Holiday's numbers weren't impressive, he avoided catastrophic mistakes (only 5 INTs) and generated enough offense so the standout ND defense could win games. Holiday could face a challenge from junior Pat Dillingham, considered a stronger drop-back passer, but Dillingham has to fix his accuracy problem (7 INTs) before he'll have many chances to unseat Holiday. In the minds of most Irish fans, they say forget about it. Barring an injury to Holiday, much like 2002, the job is set...Willingham is unlikely to rotate.

The Irish can bank on Ryan Grant, who presents the versatility needed for a quality running back. Only a first year player in 2002, Grant looks to be a name most NBC announcers should wear out before long. Look for a consistent improvement with each game.

The Irish also feature a pair of promising wideouts in Omar Jenkins and Maurice Stovall, both of whom should see significantly increased action as senior quarterback Carlyle Holiday is more properly adjusted for his second year in the "west coast" offense. Back-ups are vital for developing the needed extra dimensions a WC approach has to have for success. Any candidates for third- and fourth-receiver are being welcomed until August. We will tell all as needed for these developments.

On the offensive line, starting right guard Sean Milligan applied for a fifth year of eligibility. He should be the most dependable blocker up front as Willingham will otherwise have to rebuild a depleted line. C Jeff Faine's early entry into the NFL draft left the line without four starters, although senior Jim Molinaro applied for a fifth year and should step into a starting role at tackle. It always takes some time for an offensive line to develop, and the Irish will be shaky in the trenches until that occurs. ND's allowed 38 sacks and averaged an un-Irish-like 3.4 yards-per-rush. Willingham will focus on this in spring and summer, and we will update the line's progress, too, when warranted. The talent is there, but in players not recruited by Willingham. This means run-blockers abound, but hi-breaded, big-and-mobile pulling/roll-out types don't. But Ty can pick and choose from the nation's best here at Notre Dame, huh.

Fifth-year senior TE Gary Godsey is expected back, a big plus. His height and size, both as a blocker and pass-catcher, should be a great advantage in helping their sophisticated scheme going. Willingham will keep him closer for the first few games, until the O-line gels. Godsey will permanently occupy (and eventually exploit) opposing LBs as he becomes a difference-maker.


QB Carlyle Holiday


Returning Starters in bold
QB Carlyle Holiday-Jr Pat Dillingham-So / Chris Olsen-So
FB Rashon Powers-Neal-Jr Julius Jones-Sr
RB Ryan Grant-Jr Marcus Wilson-Jr
WR Omar Jenkins-Sr Maurice Stovall-So
WR Rhema McKnight-So Matt Shelton-Jr
TE Gary Godsey-Sr Jared Clark-Sr
OT Matt LeVoir-Jr Jamie Ryan-So
OG Dan Stevenson-Jr Darrin Mitchell-jr
C Zachary Giles-Jr Bob Morton-So
OG Sean Milligan-Sr Scott Rairdon-So
OT Jim Molinaro-Sr James Bonelli-So
K Nicholas Setta-Sr D.J. Fitzpatrick-Jr



By Joe Howley
Royal Oak, Mich.
contributing writer Dave Hershorin

Seven starters are expected back for an outstanding defense that ranked 9th in I-A. Leading the charge will be fifth-year senior FS Glenn Earl, gritty ILB Mike Goolsby, and MLB Courtney Watson, 2002 Butkus Award semi-finalist even after missing a few early games due to injury.

The Irish run an "offset" 4-3 defense, and a powerful run-stuffer at nose guard is critical to making that alignment work. Senior Cedric Hilliard's return, along with two other deeply-experienced trench men, make the Irish interior defense again strong up the middle. Keeping opponents just under 3 yards-per-carry and 100 rushing yards-per-game should continue true.

Senior talent (and depth) at DE makes their pass-rush look as promising as their run-stopping. Derek Curry, a speedy sack specialist at the weak-side linebacker, is the key to beating 2002's sack total (38). Teamed with the veteran interior line and to-quality LBs, the Notre Dame front seven is again going to be brutal. And savvy. This unit will be better than their numbers show as they play about the toughest schedule in I-A. Eight in the box isn't necessary with their interchange-ability.

The graduation losses for the Irish defense were scattered by position, so Notre Dame doesn't have any glaring holes screaming for an instant fix. Losing two DBs of the caliber of Walton and Sapp will hurt, though. It will be up to some untested corners (such as juniors Preston Jackson and Dwight Ellick) to step into those vacancies and keep the Irish pass defense tight. This is a concern until proven to be a strength. Senior Vontez Duff returns as the leading cover man for the Irish. His reactions in man-to-man give the Irish a potential shutdown-corner. And forget his recovery speed. Senior Garron Bible also saw scant starting action and should step into the role vacated by Gerome Sapp. The unit has the naughty "p" word, potential. Will it work for or against them, though - that is the biggest, unanswerable question the season will answer.

While strategizing, it's evident opposing Off. Coordinators will sooner build a game-plan based on passing. That means early contests (at home with Wazzu, at Michigan, and at Pitt) will put these troops in harms way to then be battle-tested going into a somewhat easier second half of their schedule. The secondary needs to be a strength by then for any chance at the BCS.


CB Vontez Duff


Returning Starters in bold
DE Kyle Budinscak-Jr Travis Leitko-So
DT Darrell Campbell-Jr Greg Pauly-Sr
NG Cedric Hilliard-Sr Derek Landri-So
DE Justin Tuck-Jr Jason Sapp-Sr
ILB Mike Goolsby-Sr Corey Mayes-Jr
ILB Courtney Watson-Sr Brandon Hoyte-Jr
OLB Derek Curry-Jr Jerome Collins-Sr
CB Vontez Duff-Sr Dwight Ellick-Jr
CB Jason Beckstrom-Sr Preston Jackson-Sr
SS Garron Bible-Jr Lionel Bolen-Jr
FS Glenn Earl-Sr Quentin Burrell-Jr
P .. ..




Nick Setta returns as a fifth-year senior, and will give the Irish a tested PK. Setta had a remarkable effort just two seasons ago, but became somewhat erratic in 2002. Vontez Duff is a superb talent that keeps opposition on eggshells whenever he is back to receive kicks and will again give the Irish a breakaway threat to go the distance. Duff has also returned punts, but showed much less success here. A personnel switch at that position won't be a surprise. Punter Joey Hildbold graduated with no immediate successor in sight. Setta and walk-on soph D.J. Fitzpatrick will get a shot at the punting chores, but neither one has shown much talent. Overall the Irish special teams aren't very impressive, and upgrading that department will be a big priority for Willingham in preseason drills. Depth and recruiting will come to bear if this unit improves. Several games will be marginally lost otherwise, with poor field-position and (a lack of) defensive depth the main symptoms and culprits of such losses.


The good news around South Bend this off-season is the return of TB Julius Jones to an offense that lacked a threatening run game. Sure, Ryan Grant racked up 1000 yards, but did he really strike fear into defenses? Probably not. With the addition of Jones, the Irish now have their most potent 1-2 combo since Jerome Bettis and Reggie Brooks… How good is soph QB Chris Olsen? Well, maybe good enough to create a QB controversy. When asked who the starting QB for the fall would be, Tyrone Willingham's response was, "time will tell"… TE Jared Clark may be the best tight end nobody thinks about this season. After an impressive spring, Clark could be a sleeper for the Mackey Award. Keep an eye on that boy… Willingham stated that the offensive line still has a lot of work to do. Not good to hear, when they must play defensive-oriented Washington State and Michigan in their first two games.

The Irish have been rotating through linebackers this spring, with a few injuries causing plague. This, in turn, has helped create depth and a sense of who can do what and each position… The buzz in the secondary involves the return of CB Jason Beckstrom, who sat out last year to injury. Beckstrom has had a gradual recovery and his efforts this spring have shown that he is capable of manning the starting corner spot opposite Duff… As a fourth linebacker this season, Jerome Collins will be just as important as those inked in the starting spots. He is a specimen at outside linebacker and is a tackling machine. His presence helps give the Irish one of the strongest LB corps in the nation…CB Vontez Duff, one of the best all-around athletes on the team, is clearly the leader on this side of the ball, along with Watson.

The addition of Jones will bolster the special teams immensely. He and Duff (as well as Rema McKnight) on both kick and punt returns will make the Irish a threat in all three phases of the game… One would think it might not be wise to have Nick Setta handle both the kick and punt chores, but Willingham wants the best man for the job. So far, that man is Setta. Junior D.J. Fitzpatrick has struggled to average more than 35 yards per kick. Setta's 40-yard average has given him precedence. There's also the chance that incoming frosh Geoffrey Price will win the job.