October 11, 2006

Aldridge makes long-awaited debut

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If message boards made a discernable sound, they would have been humming like telephone wires filled with callers blabbing back and forth about the collegiate debut of James Aldridge.

Video: James Aldridge

Check out Aldridge's game highlights and more in this interview.
--Jack Freeman

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Few players have been greeted with such resounding anticipation as Aldridge was last Saturday when his four carries in the waning moments of Notre Dame's 31-10 victory over Stanford netted 25 yards and satisfied a throng of followers who have been anxiously waiting to see the 6-foot-0, 213-pounder from Crown Point, Ind., in action.

"I was pretty anxious myself, but it was good," said Aldridge with a smile. "It was a sigh of relief to see the field.

"I guess there was some anxiety. You know how that goes. I didn't get a bunch of carries, but I was happy to see the field."

Head coach Charlie Weis had toyed with the idea of playing Aldridge—who was coming off a left knee injury—against Purdue the previous weekend. But when the weather turned inclement and precipitation made the field a bit slippery, Weis decided to choose a more auspicious debut for Aldridge.

"It was a nice day. The field was firm. My intent was to give him eight touches," said Weis of Aldridge's debut against Stanford. "Four was enough where I could get him in the training room, they could go check on him, and see where he was. He came out of the game pretty good.

"The fact that he came out of the game not being sore with those few touches, that means now I can give him more. First of all, you have to make sure you can give him what he can handle. I wanted to try to get him eight touches in the game. I got him four. That means you can up the ante a little bit."

Aldridge, one of the nation's top-rated backs coming out of high school, traveled a rocky road to get to those four carries against the Cardinal. A knee injury at the end of his junior season at Merrillville High School put a damper on his final prep season. It didn't prevent him from rushing for 1,433 yards and 21 touchdowns. But it was a far cry from the 2,067 yards he rushed for as a junior, before the physical setback.

Aldridge enrolled at Notre Dame in the second semester of the 2005-06 school year and suffered another setback with his knee in spring drills. Thus, when training camp opened in August, Weis warned that it would be several weeks before Aldridge was full-go.

Weeks turned into a couple of months, and as the Irish neared the halfway point of the 2006 season, Aldridge still wasn't quite ready for game action. The time finally arrived last Saturday against Stanford.

His first carry was met with great resistance in the middle of the line of scrimmage. His second afforded him considerable daylight for an 11-yard gain. His third was a 10-yarder, and his fourth was a five-yard power run accentuated by a bulldozing effort against Stanford linebacker Will Powers. It likely left Powers with a token memory of things to come in 2007-09.

"I guess he was just in the way," said the powerfully built Aldridge. "Football is a physical game, and that's how you have to run."

The anxiety built during one of NBC's interminable TV timeouts as Aldridge and the rest of the backups waited for clearance to launch.

"I was like, 'Can it be any longer?'" Aldridge laughed. "But that's how TV timeouts are. We were just joking around (in the huddle). Still staying focused but hanging loose.

"I knew I was about to get the ball, so you feel like, 'Let's go in here and see what happens.' After I got the ball, the ice was broken. It's not that much different than high school. The people are a little bigger but it's fun."

Aldridge insists that he no longer gives consideration to the injury to his left knee.

"I'm pretty confident with it," Aldridge said. "It hasn't given me a problem. I'm just happy to be 100 percent again. Hopefully I won't have to deal with any more injuries and I can have a pretty good career here.

"Since I got a couple of carries under my belt, I've got a little more confidence, and (Weis is) building some in me.

Aldridge said he will approach the second half of the season without any preconceived expectations.

"I'm going to take it as it comes," Aldridge said. "I'm happy with anything. Positive yards. I'm just waiting on the call."

As for that hit on the Stanford tackler at the end of the game…

"If somebody is in the way, you've got to knock him over," Aldridge said. "If you've got to shake 'em, shake 'em."

A nation of Aldridge fans awaits his next move.




 

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