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September 28, 2016

James Onwualu

South Bend, Indiana

Q. James before Sunday how many camera stations have you had with Greg Hudson? How well do you know him?
JAMES ONWUALU: He was upstairs doing a lot of the work with the coaches, but he's been around. I've seen him around mainly off the training table. He's been a fun guy to have around. As a player you don't really know his exact role when you have a couple of guys doing upstairs office work. But he's still a guy that's been engaged and talking to all the players, and I think pretty much every player knew who he was even though he wasn't out on the field coaching us every single day. So I've had fun and jokes with him already before he became my coach.

Q. What was he like in practice, him getting his hands on you guys a little bit?
JAMES ONWUALU: Yeah. He brings that at that same energy as he would eating dinner to the field. He's always using different examples, different stories, a little bit of humor in his coaching. And an energy, there hasn't been a day he's been here that I've really seen him just walking around monotone. He's always got some energy and something to say. So brought that same thing to practice yesterday.

Q. At this point for you guys is that more important than like he has a great play call here on third down, just that energy aspect of it?
JAMES ONWUALU: Yeah. I think that's a great aspect of it, just having somebody that adds to the energy of the defense is something that I think he definitely brings.

Q. What was your reaction when you found out that Brian VanGorder had been fired? Was that shocking to you? How did you sort of process that?
JAMES ONWUALU: Yeah. You know, obviously everybody was talking about it. Even our student section seemed to have a strong stance on that. It was shocking to me. Obviously this is the only defensive experience I've ever had. He's really all I knew defensively. So it's difficult for some older guys, you know, and me included to put that aside and just take the next step into something new. All continue my relationship with Coach VanGorder and possibly still learn things from him, but I'm on to the next step and excited for coach Hudson to get us rolling.

Q. James, Coach Kelly said yesterday that he's sure that there are varying degrees of reaction among the defensive players. I mean were you one of the guys that was closest to him and it impacted you as much as anyone?
JAMES ONWUALU: Yeah. I think, you know, everybody had their different relationship with him, you know. And that's going to happen with any coach. I think that especially since I was new to defense, that I really tried to dedicate a lot of my time to sitting down with the head man and trying to learn straight from him. Some of those meetings and those sitdowns with him, even explaining a little bit about myself, you know, we got to know each other a little bit along the way. That helps with that off the field relationship. So yeah, I would say I was maybe one of the closer guys.

Q. Not that we had a ton of opportunities to speak with him, but when speaking with him, he almost always spoke very highly of you. What was your impression as to what he liked about you?
JAMES ONWUALU: He was a guy that had high expectations for everybody and expected people to do their job every single snap. So I think that's one thing that he respected from me, that I took this game and this team very seriously. If I were to miss up even in practice, I feel that weight, and I think that he could see that. And I just always felt as if everything I do reflects on my teammates, and he stood by that.

Q. I'm sure you had a conversation with him. It's personal. I'm not trying to get into all of that, but if you could just generalize what your -- it sounds like you're going to stay in contact with him. But I mean what that initial contact after the news was like?
JAMES ONWUALU: For me it was just, you know, thanks for the opportunity, because without him -- he was really the one that gave me the opportunity and spent the time and invested in me to be able to play defense and to be able to be where I'm at today. So just a quick thanks for the opportunity and the time that you spent with me. I don't think it's a huge good-bye. It's like anybody you work with; right? It's a business, you know. Stay in contact and I hope your next step is a good one, you know.

Q. Is there a sense of guilt or responsibility among the players? I mean obviously the coach gets fired and the next thing everyone is going to look at is will the team play up to your capabilities or obviously the players must be doing something wrong. Obviously there's a sense of urgency when you're 1 and 3, but is that driven home even more now that there have been changes made?
JAMES ONWUALU: Yeah, a little bit. As a unit, like I always say, the coaches are in it with us. They have a player role in that. So obviously he's going to be the first to go. But yeah, I think the whole defense knows that we need to play better ball, and obviously if we were playing better ball, that maybe not would have happened, but that's all in the past now, so just focusing on the players and what we can do from here.

Q. How do you, Isaac, Cole, some of the senior leaders on that side of the ball try to drive that point home to the younger guys that obviously it's a serious matter now, there's no more joking around?
JAMES ONWUALU: Yeah. I think a couple minor changes in the locker room, in the film room and obviously we've made some changes on the field and schematically. So I think that gives some of these younger guys a pretty good idea. When they don't see the same guy in there coaching them, they've got an idea of what's going on.

Q. Coach Kelly mentioned like streamlining the defense. He didn't necessarily say like it was going to be simplified. But what does streamlining mean and what has that meant this week so far?
JAMES ONWUALU: Obviously not going to go too into the schematics of our defense, but obviously there's some changes that the coaches have made, trying to put players in the best position to make plays. And making changes from what wasn't working before.

Q. I think he mentioned the streamlining part also could get a guy like Asmar into a game or some of the younger guys. Have you seen them kind of take to maybe getting an increased role a little bit so far in practice this week?
JAMES ONWUALU: Yeah. It's been talked about, you know, their reps have been increased. So I think it's definitely likely for those guys to get a little bit more PT in the game. So yeah, I think that a couple minor changes in the defense can help with that.

Q. Do some younger players still need to understand that how you prepare during the week affects -- it's not just about how you play on Saturday. It's how you prepare during the week and Mike's ^ response was like prepare like a champion almost. Do you kind of sense that you need to drive that point home with some of the younger guys going forward?
JAMES ONWUALU: Yeah. We've always tried to prepare to the best of our ability. We practice hard. I think it's just the fact that we need to start practicing a little bit smarter, and the coaches have made a couple of changes, like I said, so practices are a little bit different. Still practicing with great intensity and continuing to push these younger guys to focus in on their job.

Q. Practice smarter, like focus on the right things? What do you mean by that, practice smarter?
JAMES ONWUALU: I think that it includes reps. It includes fundamentals. It includes conceptual periods. So really focusing on things like that I think would be the aspect of practicing smarter.

Q. Prior to this, did you notice a lack of passion in preparations? I'm sure it's going to be somewhat different week to week because human nature is different week to week, but did you ever notice that or is this something that you've kind of been made aware of now?
JAMES ONWUALU: No. I think at least our one defense has practiced hard all year long, and the intensity in practice is pretty serious and has been the same as previous years.

Q. Is it something where it's almost gotta trickle down more?
JAMES ONWUALU: I think trickle down, exactly, making sure that some of the younger guys are practicing just as hard as I am. It's huge.

Q. Obviously it's kind of a fresh start when you have a new coach. Do you feel like there's been any difference, rejuvenation or different attitude or different energy this week? Have you noticed anything different from your guys in that sense?
JAMES ONWUALU: Oh, yeah. Absolutely. I think that also giving some of the 2s and 3s serious reps engages everybody; right? So we have a whole sideline that's engaged with what's going on in practice, and that changes the mentality and the excitement a little bit.

Q. It sounds like Coach Kelly is getting more involved this week with the defense. In what ways have you seen him be more involved?
JAMES ONWUALU: Even being over on the defensive field. He wasn't over there much unless we were going against the offense. And having him around has helped a ton. Having the head man around when you're doing your drills and doing 9 and 7 in a team, whatever it is, brings a little bit extra intensity to whatever you're practicing. So having him around and coaching us up and being involved in what our game plan is, I think has helped bring a sense of urgency to a lot of the guys on the defense.

Q. Coach Kelly talked about how one of the things he's going to try to do is get more guys in the rotation. He thinks fatigue may have played a factor in some of the missed tackles, some of the performance. Is that something you see and recognize?
JAMES ONWUALU: Yeah. I think it can play a role. We're all in pretty good shape, but when you're playing 100 snaps, 70, 80 snaps, whatever it is, by your 70th or 80th snap you're obviously not going to be as fresh as you were in the beginning of the game. So if you can get a series off or two even, that makes your 70th and 80th rep much more valuable.

Q. And also you talked about energy and having fun out there again. Is that something that can through how you play as well, how you perform and if so, in what way?
JAMES ONWUALU: Yeah. I think it can play something. If you can't get excited to go out and play for the University of Notre Dame, then we've got a problem. But just making sure that guys are practicing like that all week I think is more of the emphasis.

Q. Syracuse is an up-tempo opponent just like Texas was. Are there any differences in how you see they run their offense?
JAMES ONWUALU: Not much of a difference. A little bit different back field style, and the receivers have some pretty good speed. So them pressing the field and stretching the field is going to be huge in their schematic, in what they're trying to do.

FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports

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