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Sunday, April 21, 2024
The Observer

Angeli ready to emerge in first career start

Irish sophomore quarterback Steve Angeli releases a pass during Notre Dame's 42-3 defeat of Navy at Aviva Stadium on Aug. 26.

Few players in Notre Dame history have made a better first impression than sophomore Steve Angeli — if you count exhibition. Angeli first suited up in an Irish uniform for the 2022 Blue-Gold game as an early enrollee just happy to get reps at Notre Dame Stadium. The last of those reps came with 11 seconds left in the fourth quarter and Angeli's gold team trailing by 3 points. Angeli rolled to his left, and when his receivers failed to get open, took off and beat three defenders to the pylon as the clock hit 0.

It was a feel-good moment for the then-freshman and the perfect way to cap off the afternoon. Of course, that play didn't truly count for much. And though the Sun Bowl won't feature a Notre Dame or Oregon State team at full strength, it's quite the opportunity for Angeli to shine in a game that will go down in the record books, even if it probably won't be headlining them.

“I'm excited. You know, it's a great opportunity,” Angeli said ahead of his first collegiate start. “You know, just preparing the best where I can, getting these guys ready to go, we're looking forward to being down in El Paso.”

Angeli has already seen a decent bit of playing time in 2023. The three-star recruit from Westfield, New Jersey, appeared in 2 games in 2022 but didn't attempt a pass. As a sophomore, Angeli was cut loose a bit more. He threw 25 passes and completed 19, including 4 touchdowns to 1 interception. Those included a couple of head-turning throws that showed Angeli's development was progressing in the right direction.

While those statistics were put up in an environment more competitive than the Blue-Gold game, Friday will easily be the biggest stage of Angeli's Irish career. When graduate student Sam Hartman transferred from Wake Forest, Angeli knew he was likely heading for a season on the bench. All of his playing time came with the Irish up handily and opposing teams shifting to their second-teamers. Facing a quality Oregon State defense for 60 minutes will be a much harder challenge.

“I think [the opportunity to start] is tremendously important,” Angeli said. “You know, Coach Free[man] has another big message about this ball game is grasping the opportunity. I think personally, I have a great opportunity in this game and as a team, I think we have a tremendous opportunity to go home with 10 wins and put a cap on the season.”

Just in case the quality of opponent and pressure wasn't enough of a leap in difficulty, the Irish offense around Angeli will look different than it has at any point this season. Notre Dame's top-four receivers won't be around. Chris Tyree, Rico Flores Jr. and Tobias Merriweather all entered the transfer portal. Junior tight end Mitchell Evans remains out with a torn ACL. Top rusher Audric Estimé and offensive linemen Joe Alt and Blake Fisher opted out ahead of the NFL Draft. Starting center Zeke Correll also entered the portal. The guy calling the plays will be different too, with offensive coordinator Gerad Parker departing to become Troy's head coach. Angeli isn't phased.

“I'm totally comfortable. I'm fully confident [in] those guys up front. You know, I think they've been doing a great job throughout bowl prep. And like I said, I'm excited to see them out there,” Angeli said.

It's not all bad news, as junior wide receivers Jayden Thomas and Deion Colzie are back from injury. And quarterbacks coach Gino Guidugli will be standing in as interim OC, someone Angeli is very familiar with.

“I'm literally in his office 24/7 throughout the week, so it definitely does give me some comfort to know that he'll be up there calling me, putting me in a good position to succeed,” Angeli said.

What the future holds for the Irish at quarterback is anyone's guess. The Irish have already added a transfer at the position in dual-threat quarterback Riley Leonard from Duke. Highly touted incoming freshman C.J. Carr is already participating in bowl prep and it likely won't be long before fans are clamoring to see him. But for at least one game, the Irish offense belongs to Angeli, who is embracing the rapid transition from understudy to leader and mentor.

“If you had told me that a couple of months ago or a year ago I'd say, 'I don't know about that,'” Angeli said with a laugh when asked how it feels to be the oldest member of the Irish quarterback room. “But it's good you know, it's helped me grow into the position more of a leader and more as a mentor these guys like Sam [Hartman] were for me, like the guys that were here before. You know to do the right thing and teach them the right way of how to be a Notre Dame quarterback.”

He may not be the biggest name in this race. But in recent years, that hasn't mattered all that much. Lesser-known prospects like Tommy Rees and Ian Book emerged as some of the most successful signal callers in Irish history. Angeli has 60 minutes to give himself a head start in the race to be Notre Dame's quarterback of the future.

“I'm gonna be the guy, you know, I'm ready, let's go,” Angeli said. “And I'm going to accept that challenge and seize this opportunity.”

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