published Friday, August 19th, 2011

Football Preview: Fant's plays, energy inspiring Notre Dame Irish

New Notre Dame assistant coach Charles Fant is installing a wide-ranging offensive approach for the Irish.
New Notre Dame assistant coach Charles Fant is installing a wide-ranging offensive approach for the Irish.
Photo by John Rawlston.

NOTRE DAME FIGHTING IRISH

Coach: Josh Sellers (4-16 here; 61-23 overall)

Returning starters (O/D/K): 4/3/0

Remember these names: Transfer quarterback Josh Moore (Sr., 6-2, 200) offers immediate help to a revamped passing game that will feature Matt Reilly (Sr., 6-0, 170) and Christian San Miguel (5-11, 170). Shaqualm McCoy (Jr., 6-0, 205) and Josh Deocampo (Jr., 5-8, 150) will shoulder the running load along with fullback Taylor Bankston (Jr., 5-10, 180). A major factor in Irish success will be two-way tackle Ben Brower (Sr., 6-4, 270).

Will be a memorable year if: The Irish win more than one game. It would be an improvement on 2010. There is optimism, but most of the squad is freshmen and sophomores and they could be hard-pressed to get back to .500, which an Irish team last accomplished in 2007, because all of the 7-AA opponents have so much more experience. However, their nonconference schedule includes Class 1A teams Grace Academy, Lookout Valley and Whitwell and no longer has such talented teams as Howard, Brainerd or Polk County.

Schedule

Aug. 19 at Grace Academy

Aug. 26 at McMinn Central

Sept. 2 Chattanooga Christian*

Sept. 8 Taft Youth Center

Sept. 16 at Bledsoe County*

Sept. 23 Lookout Valley

Sept. 30 at Signal Mountain*

Oct. 14 Sequatchie County*

Oct. 21 Whitwell

Oct. 28 at Grundy County*

* District 7-AA game

Notre Dame will be sporting a new look this year. There still will be some "3 yards and a cloud of dust," but the ball will be in the air and not just on fumbles.

The Irish have welcomed aboard Charles Fant and his offensive repertoire that runs from option to spread with a sprinkling of multiple-I.

"You're going to see more complex route combinations and more ways to keep defenses off balance," head coach Josh Sellers said. "Charles is a spread guy, and as an ex-quarterback he wants to throw the ball, but he understands the need for the running game, too."

Fant was a high school All-American in football, basketball and baseball and had a chance to sign a contract with the San Diego Padres but opted to accept a football scholarship from Vanderbilt. He was signed as a quarterback but wound up as a receiver during Gerry DiNardo's time in Nashville.

"One of the nicest men off the field I've ever met, but on the field he was a tyrant and he wanted everybody to know it," Fant recalled.

Fant first gained coaching notoriety as an assistant to Robert Akins at Boyd-Buchanan. The Buccaneers had a power offense, depending heavily on the running game. Early in the season in Fant's third year mentoring quarterbacks, they were playing Whitwell and trying to run between the tackles although Whitwell had nine players at or very near the line of scrimmage. The Bucs got beat, and the next day Akins asked if Fant thought he could get the spread look installed in a week.

"We went to Franklin Road Academy, which at the time was ranked fourth in the state. We beat them 48-21," Fant related. "Will Healy was the quarterback, and he threw for more than 300 yards. By the next year we were running the spread, the I and triple-option, which is what I do now."

Before he followed Akins to Ringgold, remaining there for three seasons, Fant was part of a three-year run when the Bucs won a state championship and reached the finals all three seasons.

He isn't ready to say Notre Dame has championship qualities, but he sees similarities between its players and the young Bucs he used to coach.

"We had a lot of athletes that could play in space," he said. "These kids are so much like those Boyd-Buchanan kids of old -- nobody that's just purely a great athlete but nobody that's not much of an athlete. Just a bunch of good kids. If we stay healthy I think we can be successful this year."

There is a lot more to Fant than his playbook, which became apparent to Irish athletic director Howie Sompayrac and Sellers.

"He is definitely more than X's and O's," Sellers said. "He brings a great perspective to the kids beyond the game of football, which marries well with the philosophy of the program as a whole. Football is a means to an end.

"Charles brings reinforcement to the thought that you learn things in football that are going to serve you well 10, 20 or 30 years down the road. His enthusiasm is infectious, and the energy he brings to the practice field is a shot in the arm that we need."

MEMORY LANE

The Irish made a serious state-title run in 2005, using their pass-and-go spread offense for 13 consecutive wins. The string didn’t end until a semifinal loss (48-34) on a bone-chilling Friday night at Livingston Academy.

“In retrospect we lost nine games in 2003, and we lost nine games with freshmen and sophomores,” then-coach Charlie Wiggins said. “We had lost two all-state players, Lebron Caffey and Taylor Patton, and six other seniors from the previous year and were wondering how we’d replace them.”

They went with two quarterbacks — Matt Rice and Drew Nelson — and moved receivers Chris Carr and Skeet Berry to the offensive line, leaving them with one experienced receiver in Carson Courter. To replace Caffey they went with Michael Knabb and Sam Eberle.

They had eight returning defensive starters, led by Ian Meredith and Chris Harr, who went on to play at Navy and the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, respectively.

“That group of seniors was my first, and I would hope one day to have another group like them,” Wiggins said. “It was so much fun. ... I’d ride that train again.”

about Ward Gossett...

Ward Gossett is an assistant sports editor and writer for the Times Free Press. Ward has a long history in Chattanooga journalism. He actually wrote a bylined story for the Chattanooga News-Free Press as a third-grader. He Began working part-time there in 1968 and was hired full time in 1970. Ward now covers high school athletics, primarily football, wrestling and baseball and University of Tennessee at Chattanooga wrestling. Over a 40-year career, he has covered ...

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