Kelly: 2012 a season of faith 'restored'

Brian Kelly sees Notre Dame's 2012 renaissance campaign as validation the football program can succeed at the highest level on the field and in the classroom.

Speaking Tuesday in Chicago at an IMG luncheon featuring connected sponsors and ad executives, Kelly said he saw last fall as a season of "faith restored," according to quotes provided by Notre Dame.

The luncheon apparently lacked the bravado of a certain opposing coach's in Grand Rapids, Mich., earlier in the week.

“If this past season proved anything, it’s that we can do it at Notre Dame — we can graduate our players and demand excellence on the football field," Kelly said. "In that sense it was kind of a story of faith restored — our football team had the No. 1 graduation rate and we proved we could be No. 1 on the field as well. We work at all that every day, and that’s the path Notre Dame will continue to follow.”

And it's a path the Irish must re-create this fall, not simply pick up from last season.

"What we’re saying to our players now is that you don’t climb into the water with everything in place," the fourth-year Irish coach said. "You don’t get dropped on top of the mountain. You’ve got to work and build and scratch and recreate that team again. You’ve got new leaders, new voices in the locker room.”

Kelly mentioned George Atkinson III, Elijah Shumate, Ishaq Williams and Jarrett Grace as some of those new faces who have stepped up in the offseason.

Whether that matches the leadership of last year's 12-1 group remains to be seen.

"The sum of this team may be greater than its parts," Kelly said. "We may not have an individual player like a Manti Te’o or a Tyler Eifert, but we’ve got a lot of really good football players. We have to find leaders — we have to have peer accountability. So we’re right in the middle of constructing the 2013 team. We have a chance as long as our guys understand we have to climb that mountain again."