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Brian Kelly showed Wednesday night that he not only knows how to immerse himself in the South Bend community, he can make big ripples while doing so.

Near the end of his roughly six-minute speech at the Moose Krause Memorial 36th Annual Scholar-Athlete Dinner at St. Hedwig’s Hall, the first-year Notre Dame head football coach dropped the sound bite certain to reverberate around the country.

“From my standpoint, being the head football coach at Notre Dame, there’s nothing better than being an independent football school,” he said, eliciting a roar from the gathering of roughly 300 people.

“I know you’re hearing all these rumors about the Big Ten and all these other things, but let me tell you one thing, the history … the tradition of Notre Dame football is steeped in that independence.”

And unsubstantiated reports from Kansas City radio stations aside, it still appears independence is where Notre Dame’s football future will be steeped as well.

WHB-AM 810 in Kansas City, citing anonymous sources Monday, reported the Big Ten Conference has extended invitations to Notre Dame, Missouri, Nebraska and Rutgers to defect from their current arrangements and help the Big Ten evolve into a Bigger Ten.

The 48 hours that followed that report have been filled with nothing but denials from the schools and conferences supposedly involved, and not a shred of corroboration from anyone remotely credible.

Still, it feeds the loud runaway story that may very likely settle in the same quiet cul-de-sac it’s been fermenting in for the past half a decade.

Kelly also told the crowd Wednesday night that Notre Dame would win all 13 games in 2010 – but made it clear in his next breath he was exposing his sense of humor, not his prognostication skills.

He was dead serious, though, about the Big Ten, although he admitted those kinds of decisions were made far higher on the administrative food chain than his station in it.

Kelly is also serious about community service, which is why his May schedule might have his head feeling like a piñata.

“I don’t think the head football coach at Notre Dame should sit in an ivory tower,” he said. “I’ll try to work on my golf game a little bit later. It’s not very good right now.”

Not a bad sign for an ambitious football coach.

Kelly also has his team more community-minded, by design. When the Irish arrive for summer school on June 7 – two weeks earlier than most of the summer student population, they’ll be taking a community service class for credit.

“It’s through our Center for Social Concerns,” Kelly said of the class.

Most of the community service they’ve been doing, though, isn’t for credit. It’s from the heart.

“I think it’s so important in the development of our players,” Kelly said. “We all talk about player development all the time, but there’s so many aspects there. There’s skill development, but there’s also spiritual development.

“It’s our kids being others-centered. It’s our kids thinking about not just themselves, but thinking about how they can help. Notre Dame should be part of this community. I’ve always thought that wherever I’ve been. The more the student-athletes do, the more they receive. It’s a pretty powerful thing.”

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