In this Sept. 6, 2014, photo, Michigan defensive back Delonte Hollowell, left, tackles Notre Dame wide receiver Amir Carlisle during the first half of an NCAA college football game in South Bend, Ind. Carlisle says his faith kept him going through the hard times last season when his playing time dropped sharply after a nearly costly fumble against Purdue. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)
FILE - In this Sept. 6, 2014, file photo, Notre Dame wide receiver Amir Carlisle, center, celebrates a touchdown against Michigan during the first half of an NCAA college football game in South Bend, Ind. Carlisle says his faith kept him going through the hard times last season when his playing time dropped sharply after a nearly costly fumble against Purdue. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy, file)
SOUTH BEND, Indiana — Faith has helped Notre Dame slot receiver Amir Carlisle get through the tough times.
It's what he leaned when a leg injury kept him from playing in 2012 as the Fighting Irish advanced to the national championship game and again when his confidence was shaken by a potentially costly fumble against Purdue last year.
"Throughout the injuries, there were times I could have gotten down and my season didn't go exactly as I planned it to go," he said. "But I really got on my Bible and prayed about things and talked with my mom."
The 5-10, 190-pound senior from Santa Clara, California, who played as a freshman at USC, appeared to be on the verge of claiming the job as Notre Dame's top running back early last season. He was leading the Irish with 19 carries for 132 yards through the first two games and was coming off a strong performance against Michigan, rushing for 64 yards on 12 carries.
Then against Purdue, he fumbled midway through the fourth quarter at his own 41-yard line immediately after the Boilermakers scored to cut the lead to 31-24. An unsportsmanlike conduct penalty pushed the Boilermakers back 15 yards and the Irish defense held. Carlisle, though, never recovered.
He carried the ball 30 times for 148 yards through the first three games and 17 times for 56 yards the rest of the season. Carlisle calls it a "learning experience."
"I put it in the past. All I can do is focus on the present and being the best I can on Saturday," he said.
Coaches approached him during winter workouts about switching from running back to slot receiver. He said he embraced the change quickly, saying he was grateful to the coaches for giving him another opportunity to help the team win.
"I really took a positive mind-set to the position change and really dug down deep in the offseason to prepare for the time now," he said.
There was a lot to learn about running routes, focusing on catching the ball with playing in space.
"Understanding and reading the coverage and getting a feel for how a defense is playing you to attack the soft spots has been my biggest adjustment," he said.
Kelly said he started to see Carlisle's confidence return in the spring. He had another big performance against the Wolverines, catching two touchdowns passes and finishing with seven catches for 61 yards.
"I thought he made some outstanding catches in traffic. Held on to the football, toe tapped one on the sideline, showed a really good skill set at that position in particular," Kelly said. "I thought this was a statement game for him."
Carlisle said he worked over the summer with Mike Johnson, a former NFL and college assistant coach, who now coaches at The King's Academy in Sunnyvale, California, with helping him learn the position.
"He really worked on the finer details of the game with me," Carlisle said.
He said he's focusing on continuing to improve as the 11th-ranked Irish play Saturday night against Purdue (1-1), where Carlisle's father, Duane, is director of sports performance. Carlisle said it was a bit odd for him playing against his father's team last year, but not this year. He said he's past that.
He said his talks with his father this week have been the same as any other week.
"The father-son connection comes before any football activity," he said.
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