Kelly, Irish seek fresh start this fall

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- The last time Notre Dame took its fall camp away from campus, the flames were rekindled.

Players gathered near Lake Maxinkuckee for a bonfire on the first night of the last ride of the Lou Holtz era, only the leader was nowhere to be found. Soon enough the Irish coach and his three captains were pulling up on a rowboat to talk about how the past was the past, how the previous year's Orange Bowl loss was the previous year's Orange Bowl loss, how there was nothing to go back on.

Quite literally.

Players then all joined in a conflagration of sorts, lighting the tiny wooden ship up in flames.

"What happened last year was behind us," former offensive lineman Jeff Kilburg remembers as the message. "We don't have a boat to go back; we're only going forward. It was a cool thing Coach did to fire us up that first day."

It's been 17 years since Notre Dame brought its preseason show on the road, and the parallels between that group at Culver Military Academy and the one that will commence activities Monday at the Shiloh Park Retreat and Conference Center are hardly linear. But by boxing the Irish in some two-plus hours away from home for their first four practices, Brian Kelly is sending a clear message:

The 2012 campaign, the program's most successful in nearly a quarter-century, is nothing but a memory.

"It's a collection of new personalities," Kelly said Friday during his camp-opening press conference. "You can't live in the past. We want to talk about this year. What we need to do is get prepared. The second part of that is no distractions, it's all football. Don't have to worry about getting to math class. We don't need to worry about guys off campus. We're all together. It's 100 percent being around each other and our football team. Both of those things in a combination I think come together with us going off‑site."

Players will be without cable. If Kelly has his way, they will be without wifi -- "my anticipation is that will crash within the first 20 minutes," he cracked. The fourth-year Irish coach had looked into a project like this earlier in his tenure, having taken on similar endeavors at Cincinnati, which would hold portions of its fall camp at Higher Ground in West Harrison, Ind.

"A lot of similarities," Kelly said of the Bearcats' camp and the Irish's. "We're still in the process of building infrastructure there. Shiloh Park has been great. [School facilities manager] Dan Brazo here has been very influential in helping put together the field situation there. We feel great about that. There's been some help, but there's still some work. We feel like it's got all the things necessary for it to be a very successful camp."

Holtz's 10-day Culver venture in 1996 was the second straight year he had opened camp there, with a six-day stint in 1995 helping his group move on from a 6-5-1 campaign that had ended with a Fiesta Bowl pummeling from Colorado.

The 28-point title-game loss to Alabama this past January has served as similar fuel for this year's team. On Friday, the 2013 schedule on the wall to Kelly's right inside the Isban Auditorium of the Guglielmino Athletic Complex was punctuated by "BCS Championship Game.”

"There's not a man that sat in this seat, when we met as an entire team that is not committed to that end," Kelly said. "That's why they're here. That's why there's such great excitement and anticipation. From our standpoint as coaches, we can feel that. So it's pretty clear that our players are committed to one goal, and that is to get back to a national championship, just as every other BCS school on Media Day is expecting the same thing."