While college football stars and Heisman hopefuls cannot even go to the grocery store without being stopped, walk-ons are typically out of the limelight - putting in much of the same time and effort, with little or no recognition in return. Still, it is an important role that hundreds of Notre Dame athletes have played and one that fifth-year running back Pat Coughlin has embraced. Coughlin hails from Oak Lawn, Ill., and attended Brother Rice High School where in addition to football, he played basketball and ran track. He followed his brother Brian's footsteps and decided to attend Notre Dame, beginning as a sprinter on the Irish track team. Brian, a 2010 graduate, walked on to the football team prior to spring 2008, which triggered the younger Coughlin to try out as a sophomore. His tryout experience, consisting of agility and conditioning drills, was similar to that of fellow fifth-year Nick Lezynski. After surviving six to eight strenuous weeks and making it through spring practice, Coughlin earned a spot on the roster as a receiver. When head coach Brian Kelly took over following the 2009 season, he was moved to his current position. Coughlin's position coach, Tim Hinton, has enjoyed the opportunity to work with him and other walk-ons because they take a different approach to the game than the average player. "You have the 85 guys here everyday on scholarship ... and then you have guys like Pat Coughlin," Hinton says. "That's someone who pays his way, mom and dad are probably scraping everyday I'm sure. Coming here, he did not have all the recruiting interest and everything, but he has a passion for the game of football and a love for the University of Notre Dame. "He goes out every day, does everything that everyone else does, and he does it with great passion. And those kind of young men you love being around." Coughlin saw significant action in each of the last two Blue-Gold games. In 2010, he tallied 11 carries for 80 yards - including a 34-yard run - while running for 42 yards on 11 rushes while competing for both squads this past spring. "I pretty much played on both teams for the entire last three quarters, so that was a lot of fun, getting back to just playing football, like I was used to in high school," Coughlin says. However, intersquad contests are not the only game time Coughlin has seen during his career at Notre Dame. "Last year I think I started 10 games on the kickoff team and then during Navy week I got put on the kick return team and I played that for the rest of the year. I ended up playing in 90 or 100 plays and earning a Monogram, which was pretty cool." As a 2011 graduate, most of Coughlin's friends have moved on to full-time jobs or pursued graduate school opportunities, so the WOPU brotherhood is an especially significant part of his social life. "I would say the walk-ons are my best friends at the school," he says. An accounting major, Coughlin is now enrolled in the University's M.S.A. program, where he and fifth-year cornerback Ryan Sheehan work together to balance school and football. Often, this means making sacrifices both academically and athletically. "I have a class during practice on Tuesdays and Thursdays that gets taped. I don't want to miss football, so they're allowing me to tape it and watch it later." On the other side, being a graduate student also means there are some classes that simply cannot be adjusted. "We have class from 1:30-2:45 p.m. on Monday and Wednesday, so I usually miss the special teams meeting and then I get over just in time, maybe a little later for scout team meetings." As one of the team's veteran players, Coughlin is aware of the importance of his role for the Irish. "When I walked on, I had Mike Anello, my brother, [Chris] Bathon and some of the seniors that really showed me the way on how to act and what to expect. I think it's huge to show that to the younger guys." Specifically, Coughlin finds he can help shorten the learning curve and mental transition for the freshmen adjusting to college football. After graduating (again) in May, Coughlin will begin his accounting career working for PricewaterhouseCoopers in Chicago. Like many 22-year-olds, he's not quite sure where he will end up for the long-term. Wherever his career takes him, Hinton has no doubt that No. 29 will do well. "In the reality of what we do, you know he's going to be successful when he leaves here because he understands teamwork, commitment, passion and all the other things that it takes to be successful and he's doing it everyday," Hinton says.
Getting to know Pat Coughlin Dorm ... Knott, then Dillon. "My brother and uncle were Dillon guys." Now off campus. Favorite place on campus ... LaFortune Favorite dining hall food ... Betsy Flanagan chicken Favorite television show ... Modern Family Favorite pro team ... I'm a Bears, Bulls, White Sox kind of guy Favorite athlete as a kid ... Obviously Michael Jordan was like an idol. I always wanted to be a receiver, so Jerry Rice was my favorite football player. Baseball player was Cal Ripken Jr. for sure. Favorite sport other than football ... Basketball Hobbies ... Pick-up sports. Sand volleyball is one I really enjoy. I listen to a lot of music and I like to read. Favorite book ... Devil in the White City by Erik Larson (a Chicago book) Favorite music ... In football mode, I would say my favorite song is probably 'Cinderella Man' by Eminem. I listen to a lot of older music too though. I like the Stones and the Doors. 'L.A. Woman' is a big song of mine. Favorite part of playing for Notre Dame ... The walk to the stadium, being part of a team and getting to play football everyday. I didn't think I would get that chance again after high school.