Shaun Williams knew it was coming, but he still got sticker shock from his grocery bill in the days after son Ishaq arrived home from Notre Dame for what was supposed to be a brief three-week break in May.
"I definitely had to adjust my shopping," said the Brooklyn, N.Y., resident and father of ND's most intriguing untapped football talent, a raw 6-foot-5, 255-pound outside linebacker/defensive end hybrid.
"He eats everything that's not nailed to the floor, and then a lot of his buddies come by and do the same thing."
It wasn't much different, with the possible exception of a subtle increase in volume, when Ishaq was suiting up for Abraham Lincoln High and attracting football recruiters to Brooklyn in staggering numbers and frequency.
New York City as a whole -- in fact New York state -- is a can-miss destination when geography and recruiting budgets call for it. Since 1988, the nation's third-most populous state has produced only the 44th most NFL players, per capita.
Only West Virginia, New Mexico, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Maine and Vermont lose to New York in state's bragging rights.
Most kids in New York City haven't played organized tackle football before their freshman year in high school, and the ones who do -- as Ishaq did -- usually do so against uneven competition. That puts even the most talented players in a chronic state of catch-up.
That's where Ishaq spent most of his freshman season at ND, amassing a modest six tackles and accumulating growing pains in exponential amounts along the way. Which is why what happened in Brooklyn in May could prove transformative.
The break, per se, never materialized. Ishaq got into yoga to work on his flexibility. He worked on his speed. He went beyond dabbling in the details of his playbook. Every one of the extra grocery dollars appeared to be burned doing something that was going to make a difference on the football field in the fall of 2012.
This is beyond what Shaun Williams was promised he would see when he called his son in March upon hearing the news that Ishaq's classmate, Aaron Lynch, had announced he was transferring in the midst of spring practice and after a freshman All-America season.
Lynch, Stephon Tuitt, Chase Hounshell, Troy Niklas, Tony Springmann, Jarrett Grace, Ben Councell, Anthony Rabasa and Ishaq were all part of a defensive front-seven haul of historic proportions the winter of 2011.
These were the missing pieces, recruiting analysts projected, that would someday soon enable the Irish to wiggle their way back into the national title discussion.
Lynch, Tuitt and Ishaq in particular were hyped together, fought through culture shock together, dreamed big together. And when Shaun Williams received the news from the papers, and not from his son directly, his mind began to race.
"I said, 'Where is your head in all of this right now?' " Shaun recounted of the phone call. "He said, 'Daddy, I'm focused, don't worry about me. I'm focused. Coach has always given me a fair opportunity. He never lied to me as it relates to promises of playing time, promises of position. I'm just going to go do what I have to do and see where the chips fall.' "
It was the same theme Ishaq had been telling his father since winter break, when a heart to heart with Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly after ND's Champs Sports Bowl loss to Florida State on Dec. 29 prompted Ishaq to change both his number (he went from 1 to 11) and his attitude.
"I don't know what turned the light on," the normally soft-spoken Ishaq said. "I just knew I had to change the way I was doing stuff."
"What I think it boiled down to," Shaun said, "was the adjustment to the college speed and working on his craft at the college level was just a little overwhelming for him.
"In New York City, we don't have the greatest football competition in the world. Ishaq was never a lazy guy. I think in four years of playing football, he was never late to a practice or never missed a practice. But to go to practice at the university level, you have to practice at 100 miles an hour every single play. It was an adjustment for him.
"So he came home over the winter break, you could see that the seed that coach Kelly put in his mind was germinating at the end of the break. When it was time to go back to school, I kind of saw a little bit of the Eye of the Tiger in him. He was pretty much determined to grab this thing by the horns."
Notre Dame football: Williams primed for breakout season
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