SOUTH BEND — Never again.
That’s all Braden Lenzy could think about following Notre Dame’s season-opening win against Louisville on Sept. 2. Lenzy, a redshirt freshman wide receiver, didn’t play a single snap. What made matters worse was who was in the stands to watch Lenzy play that night.
“I just remember that feeling, going back to the bus and realizing that my mom, dad, my uncle, my cousin were there — and, obviously, none of them are from Kentucky, Indiana — and I couldn’t even look them in the eye because they expected me to play, and I didn’t even step on to the field,” Lenzy said. “And I was like, ‘Not again.’ This needs to stop because it was kind of embarrassing.”
For Lenzy, seeing his family after the game made matters worse.
“I mean, what do you tell them?” Lenzy said. “Like, ‘Darn, sorry about those couple hundred bucks. Hope you had good seats.’ Like, what do you tell them? I just gave them a hug and walked away. I didn’t even say any words.”
This only fueled Lenzy to become a better player for Notre Dame. After scoring his first career touchdown the next game against New Mexico, the redshirt freshman missed the games against Georgia and Virginia due to a concussion. He played against Bowling Green on Oct. 5, but his breakthrough performance came the following week against USC.
Showing off his lightning-quick speed, Lenzy rushed for a 51-yard touchdown that gave the Irish a 14-3 lead. Notre Dame went on to win 30-27.
Since the victory over the Trojans, the Irish have utilized Lenzy’s speed to their advantage. He had a 70-yard touchdown reception against Navy and a 61-yard rushing score against Boston College. Lenzy finished with four total touchdowns in the regular season, going for 22, 51, 70 and 61 yards, respectively.
“One, I was just improving. And, two, rather than be pass-technical, I guess we changed the way we were using me,” Lenzy said. “They weren’t going to expect me to do what (Lawrence) Keys and (Chris) Finke do because I can’t do that. I feel like there’s a lot of things they can’t do that I can do.
“… We’re going to make each player do what they do to their strengths, and I feel like that’s where I’ve really flourished and gotten my role.”
Lenzy has played with a lot of confidence since returning from the concussion, something Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly has noticed in his young wide receiver.
“I think, like with most players, what you’re looking for is how do they handle the adversity in front of them, whether it be an injury or a setback,” Kelly said. “Did they come back stronger? And I think he came back stronger. And sometimes you wonder, ‘Will they regain the level of confidence they were building?,’ and I think he’s gained even more confidence.”
FANS TO DETERMINE OC?
Kelly was still non-committal over the weekend as to who will call plays for the Irish against Iowa State on Saturday in the Camping World Bowl.
“We’re going to keep it as a national secret and let you guys try to guess and talk about it,” Kelly said. “Don’t you need stuff for the newspaper and the Internet chats and stuff like that? Have you done a poll yet? … Let’s do a fan poll, and I’ll do exactly what the fans tell me.”
When asked if he would actually follow the results of a fan poll to determine who would be the Irish’s offensive coordinator, Kelly’s answer was brief.
Notre Dame flew to Orlando, Fla., on Monday, ahead of the bowl. The Irish will practice Tuesday and Wednesday at a nearby high school, then have a Thursday practice in Camping World Stadium. There is no practice Friday.
There will be more than practice for Notre Dame players in Orlando, as they have a scheduled “Day for Kids” event at the Andretti Indoor Karting and Games facility Thursday morning. There’s also a pep rally Friday afternoon.
As for plans on Christmas Day, the team intends to have a large dinner together at the hotel after practice.
“We’ve got a travel party of about 400, so we’ll have Mass together. We’ll have dinner together,” Kelly said. “And then we’ve got some games and Santa for the kids. We’ll have some fun together.”