Abiamiri moves on, moves up for Irish

College football: Former Gilman star Victor Abiamiri puts the Maryland recruiting controversy behind him and begins to make an impact as a Notre Dame freshman.

November 04, 2003|By Nathan Max | Nathan Max,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

SOUTH BEND, Ind. - In the final moments leading up to his first college football game, Notre Dame freshman defensive end Victor Abiamiri did not think about the multitude of new sets he had learned or the scouting report on his team's season-opening opponent, Washington State.

Instead, his attention was focused on the Fighting Irish marching band.

"A couple of guys were laughing at me, because I was just looking around, listening to the band play, thinking, `The band plays really well,' " Abiamiri said.

Forgive Abiamiri, a Gilman graduate and last year's All-Metro Defensive Player of the Year, for getting so caught up in the spectacle of a football Saturday in South Bend.

After a year marked by a tumultuous recruiting process that resulted in the resignation of a University of Maryland assistant coach and left the Terps on one year's probation, it was nice to get back to enjoying football and everything that goes with it.

Abiamiri and the Fighting Irish will play host to Navy on Saturday.

"I couldn't be happier," said Abiamiri, 6 feet 5, 245 pounds, who accepted $335 last fall from former Maryland linebackers coach Rod Sharpless to buy a video game system, but eventually returned the money without making the purchase.

"We could be winning a little bit more, but I definitely think I made the best decision. I'm in the right place. I think I fit in and I'm doing well here."

Abiamiri recently spoke about the recruiting incident and said he had been leaning toward attending Maryland, where his two older brothers, Rob and Paschal, play. However, Abiamiri said he had not yet made his final decision when the Terrapins stopped recruiting him.

"It was definitely an unfortunate situation," Abiamiri said. "I feel bad that it happened. I never wanted anything bad to happen to their program. I know they run a good program. Coach [Ralph] Friedgen is a good coach and they have good, honest people on their staff. Things worked out for the best. They didn't get in too much trouble. They're moving on and so am I."

Abiamiri also said he immediately realized Maryland had committed a violation when Sharpless gave him the money.

"I was pretty surprised," he said. "It was on my conscience for a while, and that's why I gave the money back, told my parents and told my coaches. I knew [taking the money] was the wrong thing to do."

With the episode behind him, Abiamiri has quickly made an impact on the Notre Dame defense despite his youth. His rapid progress has been one of the few positives during a 2-6 season. Abiamiri has played primarily as a pass rusher in all eight games and has recorded 12 tackles, one sack and two tackles for a loss.

Abiamiri also became just the third Notre Dame freshman since 1991 to start on the defensive line when he replaced then-injured defensive end Justin Tuck against Michigan State on Sept. 20. Although it was only Abiamiri's third game, he registered seven tackles, second highest on the team.

Two weeks later, Abiamiri made his first career sack in the first quarter of the Irish's upset of Pittsburgh.

"He is an outstanding player that plays the game to win," Notre Dame coach Tyrone Willingham said. "He doesn't spectate, he plays well, he flies around and plays smart. The college game is more complex than the high school level, and he has done a great job being able to master the complexities of the college game."

High school football was hardly complicated for Abiamiri, who struck fear into local offenses with quickness and brute strength. Abiamiri regularly busted through significantly smaller and weaker high school linemen to make 29 sacks in his final two seasons at Gilman.

But it did not take long for Abiamiri to realize he could no longer just rely on his talent, line up in identical fashion and use the same move on every play. In college, Abiamiri was up against 11 high school all-stars on every down.

"He wants to learn, and that's key," said Notre Dame defensive line coach Greg Mattison. "He really puts the time in to try to learn what happens: `Why are they doing this?' and `How did I get blocked?' When a guy wants to do that, he's going to learn. The sky's the limit for him. He can be as good of a football player as he wants to be."

To this point, Abiamiri's teammates and coaches say they have been most impressed by his physical and mental maturity. Tuck, a 6-5, 246-pound junior, said he began worrying about his starting job the second Abiamiri arrived.

"I could tell when he stepped on campus, just from his physical physique, that he was not your ordinary freshman," Tuck said. "When I came in, I was a 215-pound skinny kid from Alabama. He's come here and is as big as I am now. When I come out of the game and he comes in, we don't miss a beat."

Willingham, meanwhile, praised Abiamiri's character repeatedly and lauded the way he has handled himself off the field.

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