By TOM COYNE
AP Sports Writer
SOUTH BEND -- Notre Dame strong safety Kyle McCarthy might lead the nation in backhanded compliments.
"He's not Jim Thorpe, but at the same time he'll make some plays," defensive coordinator Corwin Brown said. Coach Charlie Weis described McCarthy as "probably one of the most -- I wouldn't call it a pleasant surprise."
Probably not the typical descriptions of a player leading his team in tackles. McCarthy doesn't care. He's just happy to be on the field after three seasons of waiting patiently for his chance to play.
"It definitely motivated me," McCarthy said. "Even coming in as a recruit, I wasn't really hyped at all through my first three years here. I wouldn't say I didn't get any respect from other people, but everyone on the team kind of knew what I could do and knew that I could play. Once my time came I was excited to get out there and show people what I could do."
He's done that. He led the Irish with 14 tackles against San Diego State in the opener, including 10 solos, and followed that up with 10 tackles against Michigan and nine last week against Michigan State. He is tied for seventh in the nation in tackles -- third among defensive backs -- and tied with Irish free safety David Bruton for 16th in the nation in solo tackles with 18.
Struggles early last season helped McCarthy become a better player, Brown said. The key was learning to do what he was coached, Brown said. McCarthy said knowing the job is his allows him to play with more confidence -- something he doesn't seem to lack.
Asked what he would have done if Purdue's Kory Sheets used the same stutter step move on him that he used last week to freeze a Central Michigan defender, McCarthy said: "I would have tackled him, that's for sure."
McCarthy, grew up in Youngstown, Ohio, a die-hard Notre Dame fan. His grandfather, Jack Mayo, was captain of the 1947 Irish baseball team, his older brother is a Notre Dame graduate and also is attending law school there and his younger brother, Dan, is a freshman on the football team.
"The McCarthys are pretty Irish," McCarthy said.
Defensive end Pat Kuntz, who shares a house with McCarthy, said it's fun to see his friend having success after seeing him work so hard to get on the field.
"I'm happy for him. He has some big shoes to fill," Kuntz said.
That's because McCarthy is taking the place of the much-publicized Tom Zbikowski, a hard-hitting safety who finished college with 300 tackles -- eighth-most in school history -- and holds the career record for tackles by a Notre Dame defensive back. He also shares the Irish record for career fumble returns for touchdowns, career punt returns for touchdowns and single-season interceptions returned for touchdowns.
McCarthy doesn't return punts and he has one career interception against Purdue last year.
"He doesn't get all the flash and the flair, and everybody isn't calling his name. But at the end of the day, when you look at the film and you look at the stat sheets, he's doing his job. He's helping the defense," Brown said. "Sometimes a lot of people miss that."
Brown also explained why he's so stingy with praise for McCarthy and other Irish defenders, saying when he played under Michigan coach Bo Schembechler he always said "when a guy starts talking nice about you, punch them in the face. Because they're going to make you soft. Because if you're constantly telling someone how good they're doing, sooner or later they're going to start believing that."
So McCarthy may be no Jim Thorpe, maybe not even Tom Zbikowski, but he's doing fine for the Irish being Kyle McCarthy.