<
>

Tuitt responds to Kelly's discipline

Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly left Stephon Tuitt (7) off the travel squad to Purdue after the freshman defender missed a class. Chris Williams/Icon SMI

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Stephon Tuitt slept through his alarm clock two weeks ago, and with it came a harsh lesson in growing up fast.

That No. 7 jersey he wears, the one that represents working hard every day of the week, looked compromised.

A missed Friday morning calculus class resulted in his name being wiped off Notre Dame's travel roster the following day for Purdue, and he was forced to watch the 38-10 Irish victory from a friend's house with the guilt of letting his teammates down hanging over his head.

"A lot happened in that week," Tuitt said. "It was just like it hit me. It was one of those — you sat down and you watched the game and you say, 'Oh, I'm not there.' It hit me. I grew up a lot and I learned from my mistakes and it won't happen again."

The freshman quickly made amends. With more time to think than usual, given his football-free weekend, he thought about what he did.

Then he asked himself: What kind of person would he be if he didn't apologize? What would his teammates think of his character, one that could be up in the air given his status as a first-year player?

"I wanted to make sure the team knows that I'm not better than anybody else," Tuitt said, and with that came a Monday apology to the entire team.

He quickly won back his peers, and he showed his character to the man who sat him down, coach Brian Kelly.

"Each situation is different. As it relates to Stephon, I just told him that we expect a lot out of him," Kelly said. "We got a high bar for him. We expect him to be a leader here some day, and this is gonna hurt right now but it's gonna be something that you're gonna be able to build off in the future.

"He was obviously disappointed but understood the decision that had been made. But it was a very mature decision and mature reaction based upon the decision that was made."

Even worse, Kelly brought Tuitt's mother into the conversation, and she threatened to come to campus, which Tuitt, only half-joking, said "would be the worst situation ever."

"I did come up here for two reasons: to get a degree and play football at the same time, and [the staff] promised her that," Tuitt said. "She was gonna be involved in most of my success or some of the mistakes that I make here at college as a college student. So she was involved and she helped me get my head back on straight and stay focused on what my goals are: getting a degree and playing football."

The first goal will take some time. The second has already been on display in four of the Irish's first six games, as the 6-foot-6.5, 295-pound Tuitt has fluctuated between nose guard and end, amassing nine tackles.

And after absorbing a valuable early lesson, he hopes to restore the validity in the jersey number he tries to live by.

"College football is seven days a week you gotta do," Tuitt said. "You gotta grind seven days, if it's classes or football, and one day out of the seven days you mess up, you never know what could happen. And I already had to deal with that. So everything, you gotta take it a day at a time. A day at time. … That's how I live. That's my motto."