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Notre Dame football tabs three captains as spring practice opens

NOTRE DAME, Ind. - The 2018 football season is here – in a way.

The first spring practice was held Tuesday, giving Notre Dame coaches their initial opportunity to see what the coming season may hold.

“Sometimes you have to look away, it’s sloppy,” said head coach Brian Kelly. “Today was not a sloppy first practice. In many areas, such a stark difference to what I saw last year.”

What he did see was a renewed intensity from the defensive unit which returns nearly every starter. With a new quarterback competition, Kelly also said he noticed last year’s QB1 Brandon Wimbush take a step forward.

“You can see a big difference in his footwork, throwing the football with the kind of assertiveness you want to see.”

Last year, Notre Dame was in position for a College Football Playoff berth heading into the final month. After the late fall in the rankings, Kelly said that finishing strong is an emphasis this year, giving the team plenty of motivation even though the first game is still months away.

“As we build our habits on a day to day basis, we’re building it towards certainly beating Michigan in our opener, protecting our home field and playing better in November. If we hit those three mileposts, we’ll be in pretty good shape next season.”

The first day of practice was kickstarted by the announcement of three team captains for 2018 – linebacker Drue Tranquill for the second season, center Sam Mustipher, and punter Tyler Newsome.

The captains were selected by their peers in a team vote.

“I’m thankful to all of [my teammates] for making that opportunity possible,” said Tranquill, becoming the 23rd two-time captain. “There’s a lot of work ahead of us, but definitely a really memorable day for me and something I’ll remember for the rest of my life.”

Mustipher has spent the past couple seasons learning and playing alongside All-American linemen Quenton Nelson and Mike McGlinchey.

He said those two expected first-round picks often forced the other linemen, especially Sam, to lead by example, which is what he plans to continue.

“I kept saying I’m going to put my nose to the grindstone and see where this takes me,” Mustipher said of his journey at Notre Dame. “I’m just going to keep working every day and keep chipping away at all the goals I have set for myself.”

That commitment to continuing the process was echoed by Newsome, the most surprising choice of the three.

“The title is very much so an honor and I’m blessed to have it,” he said. “I’m going to keep doing what I’ve been doing and help push the guys any way I can.”

Even though punters are rarely in the huddle with players on offensive or defensive units, Newsome still received a vote on more than 50 percent of player ballots.

And it showed Brian Kelly that his team is seeing his vision.

“This is not a popularity contest and this is not about production,” he said. “It’s about those guys that you don’t want to let down.”

Kelly also said that there will be a fourth captain added at the conclusion of spring practice season based on who else takes leadership of the team.

If the improvements Kelly noticed continue past the first day of practice, Kelly said the late season woes might be solved.

“We’re reminded by the past but we’re living in the present and I like where we’re at right now.”

The Blue-Gold Game that caps spring football will take place on April 21.

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