Fuller, Fighting Irish to face unbeaten Temple
SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) — Notre Dame receiver Will Fuller can’t imagine returning to his hometown under much better circumstances than what’s coming up on Saturday.
The ninth-ranked Fighting Irish will be in Philadelphia to play undefeated and No. 21 Temple in what is being described as one of the biggest games in Owls’ history.
“It’s like a dream come true,” Fuller said. “It’s going to be real cool.”
Fuller, whose right arm has a tattoo of the Liberty Bell, the city skyline and the “Love” statue, estimates his mother is bringing more than a hundred people to the game to see him play. It’s not surprising his mother wants to show off her son, who has developed into one of the nation’s top receivers.
The 6-foot, 185-pound junior ranks sixth in the nation averaging 21.94 yards a catch. He caught a 75-yard touchdown pass on Notre Dame’s first offensive play against USC in the last game, racing behind cornerback Adoree Jackson, and also has touchdown catches of 66, 59 and 46 yards.
The highlight of the season, though, was a 39-yard touchdown catch from DeShone Kizer with 12 seconds left against Virginia to give the Irish a 34-27 victory after Malik Zaire sustained a broken ankle.
“I’m still looking at that play and being surprised. It was a great feeling,” Fuller said. “Just being in that atmosphere and shutting the crowd up in one second. It’s crazy.”
Fuller has surprised himself in how he’s developed into an elite receiver. Playing for Roman Catholic High School, he considered himself quick and a good route runner, but said he wasn’t a speed receiver. He got a scholarship offer from Temple and made a few visits, but never seriously considered going there. He committed to Penn State, but changed his mind after the NCAA sanctioned the school over its handling of the Jerry Sandusky scandal.
He said he improved after arriving at Notre Dame.
“There was a huge change in my speed,” he said.
He still struggled to get on the field, though, finishing his freshman season with six catches for 160 yards. Coach Brian Kelly said Fuller had to learn how to practice and had to get stronger, but he was aware of Fuller’s potential.
“I think any time you play a true freshman, you have high hopes that in a couple years, he’s going to be a potentially game-breaking player for you, or you wouldn’t play him as a true freshman,” he said.
Fuller said Kelly told him before his sophomore season he was expecting big things.
“Coach Kelly came up to me and said: ‘You’re my guy. You’re going to be the star receiver for us,”’ he said.
Fuller said that inspired him to work harder. He had a breakout season, leading the team with 76 catches for 1,094 yards and 15 touchdowns. He still had too many drops, although he’s doing a better this season.
Fuller is a soft-spoken player. Right tackle Mike McGlinchey, who also is from Philadelphia and frequently travels home with Fuller, said simply: “He just goes out and let’s his play do the talking.”
Kelly had a short talk with Fuller, McGlinchey and freshman running back Josh Adams, also from the Philadelphia area, about staying calm playing at home. Fuller said Kelly doesn’t have to worry.
“I know this game is not about me,” Fuller said. “It’s about the team. It’s whatever I have to do to get this win.”