Nov 16, 2012, 4:01 PM EDT
Yesterday, I wrote a rather lengthy post on the career and legacy of Manti Te’o. Manti is the Irish’s best player and the face of this team – but I would be remiss if I did not discuss the rest of this year’s departing class and the tremendous impact they have had on the resurgence of Notre Dame football.
29 student-athletes will be honored in a pre-game ceremony tomorrow afternoon. Each will have a chance to hear his name called, run out of the tunnel, and soak in what is sure to be a lifelong memory, as family, friends, classmates and fans applaud years of hard work and dedication to Notre Dame.
This class is comprised of seven graduate students and 22 seniors. Some of the seniors have another season of eligibility remaining, and will be back for a fifth year, but for most of them, Saturday will be their last game in the House That Rockne Built.
Notre Dame’s echoes have been awoken. From national award finalists and long-time starters to scout team players and first-year walk-ons, this class has been at the center of it.
The graduate students committed to Notre Dame in the wake of the 2007 season, one of the worst in the school’s 125-year football history. They put aside the 3-9 record, and they believed in the Fighting Irish, at a time when few others across the nation did. They cherished the opportunity to earn a degree from the University of Notre Dame.
The seniors arrived in South Bend in 2009, and after their freshman season, had to say goodbye to the coaches that recruited them.
Some transfered, most stayed. They recognized the opportunities here. They saw the chance to be a part of something special.
They welcomed a new staff, and bought in to a new culture. They’ve endured tragedies and had their share of triumphs, the greatest of which have come in this magical 2012 season, with hopefully a few more memories yet to be made.
I’ll never forget being a student two seasons ago, when the Fighting Irish beat #14 Utah, 28-3 – their first victory over a ranked opponent since 2006 – on “my” Senior Day. That win was a weight off the shoulders of the student body, and a fitting sendoff for the class of 2011.
But I didn’t feel any personal connection to the team or any of the players. It was tough to say goodbye, but mostly to that seat in the front of section 29, and the friends with whom I’d shared the joys and heartbreaks of being a Notre Dame football fan.
Tomorrow will be different. Over the past two seasons working closely with the team, I’ve gotten to know these guys.
I worked with Mike Golic Jr. (and his fellow film major buddy Brandon Newman) on the “Our Team, Our Story” series last year.
I grew up a Notre Dame football fan because I was Irish Catholic, and my dad and uncle had been cheering on the blue & gold since they were kids.
As a student, I was a fan because I loved the university and college football.
Now, I’m a fan because of guys like Kap, Braxston, Goody, Carlo, Robby, Jamoris, the Golic brothers, Cierre, and of course, T-Stock. I can understand why they’ve grown so much on the field, because they’re such a close bunch off of it.
There are so many personalities on this team. Each of them bringing something unique, each of them loving Notre Dame. Presented with challenges as underclassmen, there were plenty of opportunities to give up.
But they’ve done the opposite. Not only did they embrace a new identity, they took the lead on it. They’ve set the tone for the Fighting Irish to make a lot of noise on the national stage in the years to come.
Yep, seeing this class play its last game at Notre Dame Stadium will be tough.
But Notre Dame’s a family. These guys will be back, and when they return, we’ll tell those old stories of goal line stands, heart-stopping finishes, and probably even their trick shot shenanigans.
We’ll be able to thank them for being the ones that helped make Notre Dame football fun again.
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