SOUTH BEND – Steve Elmer had a new kind of pressure when he made his first start for Notre Dame against Air Force last week.
The freshman had worried about where his helmet was and whether or when he would play in the first seven games.
But in game eight, he knew he was needed at right guard in place of senior Christian Lombard, who was lost for the season after back surgery.
"It's definitely different," said Elmer, who will make his second start when Notre Dame (6-2) plays host to Navy (4-3) on Saturday. "You go out and you are not waiting for someone else to get warmed up for you. You are the guy, and you got to get it done right away. But it's just focusing on making that block right ahead of you and just moving on after that play."
The 6-foot-5, 317-pounder had to move on from a mistake that stopped the Irish's first drive against the Falcons.
He was called for a false start with the Irish going for it on fourth-and-2 at Air Force's 24. Notre Dame kicker Kyle Brindza then had his 46-yard field goal attempt blocked.
Elmer settled in after the mistake and showed his versatility when he had to switch positions when starting right tackle Ronnie Stanley came out with an injury against the Falcons.
"He did a nice job," left tackle Zack Martin said. "To make your first start and have to play multiple positions in your first start, that says a lot about him and how he has grown since the spring, and the confidence that this coaching staff and the players have in him."
Elmer enrolled early at Notre Dame and participated in spring practice. The extra time to learn has helped the 2012 Anthony Munoz Award winner, given to the top high school offensive lineman, as he has played both left and right guard and tackle.
Elmer didn't play in the opener against Temple and saw spot duty against Michigan, Purdue and Michigan State. After not playing against Oklahoma, his playing time increased against Arizona State and USC.
"I'd say the plus is that he's a very smart kid," coach Brian Kelly said of using the freshman lineman more as the season enters its final month. "He's not going to have a lot of missed assignments, very conscientious kid. The other plus is he's long. I mean, he's a long athletic kid. He can make up for some deficiencies in terms of some of his techniques, because of his athleticism.
"He's still just a freshman, a true freshman, so that physical strength needs to continue to come along and develop. And he needs to play with a consistent technique. He has a tendency to get out in front of himself a little bit, if you know what I mean. He just needs to slow down a little bit. But all in all, if you're asking about a true freshman playing, the pluses definitely outweigh the minuses."