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September 29, 2005

Foes finding it difficult to handle Samardzija

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SOUTH BEND, Ind. - After going two seasons and 24 games without a touchdown catch, Notre Dame receiver Jeff Samardzija is suddenly finding himself in the end zone with the ball on a regular basis.

He has no explanation for why he has TD catches in four straight games other than he's getting more chances under coach Charlie Weis' new offense.

"It's just a matter of being in the right place at the right time and I think taking advantage of the plays when you get the chance," he said.

Samardzija is finding himself in the right place regularly for the 13th-ranked Irish (3-1). He's tied with tight end Anthony Fasano for the team lead in receptions with 21. He's also leading the team with 86.5 yards a game receiving and six TD passes, including tying a school record with three TD catches in a game against Michigan State.

"I think that Jeff's a very dependable, reliable receiver with great hands and good ball skills," Weis said.

With the season a third over, Samardzija is already more than halfway to breaking the school record of 11 touchdown catches in a season. He has had a couple of highlight reel catches in the bunch, including pulling in a tipped pass for a touchdown against Michigan and an over-the-shoulder 52-yard TD catch against Washington last week.

Purdue coach Joe Tiller is familiar with Samardzija because he tried to recruit him out of Valparaiso High School in northwestern Indiana.

"He's the type of player who can make big plays because he has soft hands, he's a big target at receiver and he's faster than most people think," Tiller said.

Weis credits the body control of the 6-foot-5, 216-pound junior.

"Some people have a gift," Weis said. "He does a great job of positioning his body where he's the only one who really has a chance of making the play."

Samardzija can make plays on the baseball field, as well. Samardzija was 8-1 with a 3.89 ERA in 15 pitching appearances for the Irish baseball team last season, frequently doing spring practice and playing baseball at the same time.

The hardest part for Samardzija, a marketing major, is finding time to do classwork while keeping up his responsibilities to both teams.

"I think my schedule is pretty much down to the last half hour," he said. "I think before it happens you have to be ready to go through whatever that day has called for it."

Samardzija is called "Shark" by his teammates because a former baseball teammate said he looked like a character from the animated film "Shark Tale," he said.

Samardzija has shown his versatility on the football field as well, serving as the holder for field goals and being used as a defensive back in a prevent defense at the end of the first half against Washington.

"We've practiced both him and Mo (Stovall) back there," Weis said. "So, at times, we might even put both of them back there. When you've got two guys that are 6-5 and jump and have good hands, they are good choices."

Weis said Samardzija reminds him of Ed McCaffrey, a sure-handed receiver who helped the Denver Broncos win back-to-back Super Bowls.

"I remember Eddie when we drafted him to the Giants out of Stanford, and he was another free-spirited guy, tall guy, productive in college," Weis said. "I think if Jeff could go on and play in the NFL and had a similar career to Eddie McCaffrey, I think he would be pretty happy."

For more coverage of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, check out IrishIllustrated.com.



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