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Sunday, June 23, 2024
The Observer

Kareem, Irish defense collected in face of adversity

Despite the disappointment that came with the loss to Michigan with Notre Dame’s virtual elimination from the College Football Playoff, a number of bright spots remain clear on the field for the Irish (6-2). One of those bright spots is the defense, which has put on some elite performances this year. As of now, Notre Dame’s defensive efficiency rankings sits just outside the top 20 at no. 21, but prior to the loss at Michigan, the Irish were a staple in the Top 10.

Irish senior and captain defensive lineman Khalid Kareem rushes a passer during Notre Dame's 21-20 win over Virginia Tech on Nov. 2 at Notre Dame Stadium.
Irish senior and captain defensive lineman Khalid Kareem rushes a passer during Notre Dame's 21-20 win over Virginia Tech on Nov. 2 at Notre Dame Stadium.

An obvious leader of this defense is senior defensive lineman Khalid Kareem. Kareem, whom The Observer featured in an Irish Insider earlier this year, has been an important presence for this Irish defensive unit on the field and in the locker room. And if you ask Kareem about his own play and the play of his teammates on the unit, it’s easy to see why this defense has remained strong in spite of adversity.

Kareem was adamant about the leadership of his fellow teammate senior safety Jalen Elliott and the value of Elliot’s vocal leadership on and off the field.

“[Elliot] is more vocal. … He’s our safety, so he’s always giving out the strength calls and stuff, so you definitely hear [Elliot’s] voice a little bit more than anyone else, just because of his role in the defense,” Kareem said. “He’s almost like the quarterback of the defense … you can always look to him. If I need a little pick-me-up, I can look to [Elliot]. I really don’t have to say anything, we can just look at each other and say, ‘Alright, let’s go.’”

And for this defensive unit, leadership comes from a number of guys and in a number of different ways, an element which has been key to the unit’s cohesion and success all year long.

“Each guy leads in different ways. I don’t think I would necessarily give a speech. … I’m more in the locker room — I dap up every single person on the team, literally walk around like, ‘Let’s go.’ But, I don’t think I’m really like a bring-everyone-together guy, I’m more of a personal guy,” Kareem said.

After the victory over Virginia Tech, Kareem passed fellow senior defensive lineman Julian Okwara in sacks with 4.5. But when Kareem was asked if there is any competition about the matter among the lineman, he said the unit remains only concerned with each other’s success for the sake of the team.

“We just know that as long as we go out there and do our job, production will come,” he said. “No one is out there rushing selfishly, or being selfish. … We know we’re all capable pass rushers, so if one person is eating, we’re all eating. They see me making a play, I see them make a play, I’d treat it just as if I got the sack.”

And this element of cohesion came into play in a major way when the Notre Dame defense managed to get a crucial stop in the fourth quarter to give the Irish offense a chance to go down and score for the win. Kareem said the defense was calm and collected before that drive, knowing someone needed to step up and make a play to win the game.

“Someone has to make a play,” he said. “The whole defense was brought together, and we were like, ‘Okay, we’ve got to make a play. There’s more than enough time for our offense to score, so let’s do our job, get the ball back, and let our offense go to work.’”

But even beyond the defense, Kareem contributes as a leader in the locker room, along with his fellow seniors on defense, encouraging all to contribute to a good locker room atmosphere.

“Something I tell [junior] Jafar [Armstrong] and all the running backs before the game, just to get a little motivation, is just to keep the feet moving,” Kareem said. “Never let one person take you down, always keep your feet moving. And I feel like that’s what [Armstrong] is like. He’s never stopping. You saw him during the game — rolling people over. Obviously, I’m happy that he’s back on the field.”

Kareem’s comments here are indicative of a truly unselfish defensive unit, and one would have to imagine the attitudes expressed here are key to the defense’s success. As the Irish move on in an attempt to finish out the season on a strong note in the hopes of a solid bowl appearance, Kareem and the defense will continue to be the rock of this team.