Last Saturday, while our football team was at Virginia and I was watching the game at home, I had the opportunity to sit back and witness the obsession with college football that takes over the Twitterverse every weekend.
On my timeline, specifically, I had a first row seat to the obsession with Notre Dame football.
From an outsider's perspective, it's exactly that - obsessive. And if you really think about it, it is weird; why do people care so much about Notre Dame football?
It's really a question that could be asked about diehard fans of any sport. The simple, and true, answer is that sports are just innately emotional. They provide fans a sense of identity and pride. Not to mention, sports are just simply entertaining. But, all of these generic reasons really don't suffice when trying to answer the question, why Notre Dame football?
People might say it's the tradition, the legacy, or the rich history. Yet, it's so much more than that. It's extremely personal for every person.
When you're a freshman at Notre Dame and you start making friends, you find that there is this scale of students and how strong their connection is to Notre Dame football. On one extreme are the students whose great great grandfather, great grandfather, grandfather, and father all played football at Notre Dame. On the other end are those students who never identified as a Notre Dame football fan until they were forced into it after receiving their acceptance letter.
Wherever you may fall on the scale, or if you're one of the loud and proud subway alumni, everyone has their own personal reason for loving (and obsessing) over Notre Dame football. It is so much deeper and bigger than just a sense of pride and an emotional connection.
For me, above all else, Notre Dame football has been a huge part of the strong relationship I have with my dad. While our Notre Dame degrees are a commonality that we are both immensely proud of, Notre Dame football has played a large role in forming the bond that exists between us long before I received my degree.
It started when I was young and we would watch the games together every Saturday. I didn't know much in kindergarten but I knew I was going to Notre Dame for college. Did I know how hard it was to get into? No, but I knew there was Notre Dame football and I knew that Ruth Riley was awesome.
When I finally achieved my dream and enrolled at Notre Dame, my dad and I had a rule that if he wasn't in town for a game or if the team was away, I would call him after the game to talk about it, even if we lost and neither of us had much to say.
Our bond, I'll admit, is more than just Notre Dame football. Growing up, I played AAU basketball and for a good 4 years, our summers consisted of traveling to different basketball tournaments all over the midwest and beyond. My dad was always there on those trips, from Chicago to Atlanta to Tennessee, and he was there in Cincinnati when I shattered my ankle and needed surgery.
AAU tournaments don't exist in my life anymore but I like to think Notre Dame football has allowed us to keep that tradition of traveling the country together alive. We went to Oklahoma during my sophomore year to see our team take down the Sooners. Of course, that year, we also traveled to Miami for the National Championship. Last year, my senior year, we went down to Florida State together and this year, we will go to Clemson (let's pray for a W in South Carolina because our road record is currently a disappointing 1-2).
I guess my point is that Notre Dame football is so much more to us than just a team. Of course, all of that emotional pride stuff is a huge part of it but, to put it simply, it's been a way for me to hang out with my dad.
Of course, we talk about more than just Notre Dame football but I think about 90% of our conversations, at least during the fall, include something about Notre Dame football.
I think I'm writing all of this now because I never truly realized what Notre Dame football meant to me until I wasn't a student anymore. When you are a student and you try to think about why it means so much to you, it's kind of an obvious answer. It's your school; you're surrounded by it constantly and it's just a part of you.
Of course, Notre Dame is still a part of me and always will be. It's still my school, but it's not the same. The student goggles are off now and, even though I work in athletics and am still surrounded by it, I finally have a different point of view. I can see how huge this tradition really is and see how much it really means to people. Not only to fans across the country but to me and my life.
It seems kind of silly to make such a big deal out of one college football team. But, it becomes special when we can look past the flair and hooplah of college football and remember why we care so much in the first place. Because, whether or not we like to admit it, we care a whole lot. And that's okay.
My stories don't even begin to compare to the countless I've heard from so many fans about why Notre Dame is so special to them. If you'd like to share, I'd love to hear your story. After all, everyone has one.
Tuesday was Brian Kelly's first game week press conference of the season. He answered some questions that you might have had going into Texas weekend.
Who will replace Jarron Jones?
While many people figured true freshman Jerry Tillery would replace Jarron Jones at starting nose guard after a strong camp performance, sophomore Daniel Cage will get the nod instead. When asked if there was a hesitation to start Tillery because of his inexperience as a freshman, Kelly said that was not a factor. Rather, he emphasized that Cage has shown, based on an improved physical condition and his understanding of the defense, that he deserves the starting spot.
Despite what the depth chart says, though, expect to see both Cage and Tillery rotating in and out of the position.
"You will not know as you watch the game," said Kelly. "You won't be able to count up, 'Well, Cage played more than Tillery.' It's going to be pretty seamless."
What can we expect from Malik?
Kelly described today's Malik as a "totally different Malik" than the one who started against LSU at the end of last season.
"[We] saw that he was capable of excellence but, now, he is much more developed in all phases of the game," said Kelly.
Coach added that throughout last spring and the entirety of camp, Malik has become a lot more confident and 'in tune' with both the receivers and the offensive line.
"We know that he's going to come in there and be poised," said Kelly.
How many tight ends did you say?
As camp has progressed, there really doesn't seem to be a definitive frontrunner at the tight end position. Of course, junior Durham Smythe is the veteran and has earned the starting spot. But, when asked if the tight end position is a job to be won on the field on Saturdays, Kelly answered simply, "Yes, it is.
There's a lot of depth at tight end and Kelly says we will see them all play. While some, of course, may play more than others, Kelly emphasizes that they will all get a chance to be in the rotation and earn reps.
So, yes, we should be seeing more of this:
Who's calling the plays?
It seems like this is one of those questions media members like to ask Kelly A LOT. And Kelly answers the same way each time: It's all about collaboration.
Coach Kelly, Coach Sanford, and Coach Denbrock will all be working together to call the plays. Sanford will be upstairs in the box, focusing on the overall structure of the Texas defense, while Denbrock will be on the field where, Kelly says, he can "zero in" on more specific elements of the Irish offense. At the end of the day, it's all about working together.
"We're all in unison as to how we want the game to unfold," said Kelly.
Though, when asked, Kelly said he does have the final veto, not surprisingly.
Can special teams step up this year?
Matthias Farley, Avery Sebastian, and Jarrett Grace are just a few of the names that should make you hopeful for a successful special teams this season.
Throw in rookie kicker Justin Yoon and it looks like we've got a package deal. Kelly said that Yoon is kicking in the high 70 percent range from the 40-49 yard distance.
"I was thinking that as camp wore on, with a tired leg, we'd see a drop in that area," said Kelly. "But, he's been solid. He is so focused on just doing his job. There's not a lot of things that distract him."
With these veterans and a promising kicker, Kelly says, there's "no reason why we can't dictate terms in special teams."
Some sure signs that summer is over in South Bend? Longer lines at Chipotle and fewer parking spots available on campus.
Yes, students are back in town and on Monday, student-athletes were officially welcomed back to campus with a BBQ hosted by Student Welfare and Development (SWD).
The inaugural Welcome Back BBQ gave student-athletes the opportunity to mingle with athletes from other teams, play some ladder toss and cornhole, and enjoy pulled pork and corn on the cob before classes start up on Tuesday.
"[The idea] came from conversations with the student-athletes about what things we can do that are just fun," said Mike Harrity, Senior Associate Athletics Director for Student-Athlete Services. "It's just a chance to get together and hang out, play some games, have some good food and kick off the whole semester."
The Student-Athlete Advisory Council (SAAC) also helped to organize the Welcome Back BBQ. In her first year as the president of the group, senior women's lacrosse player Katherine McManus was pleased with the turnout.
"I'm happy to see everyone, meet the freshmen and welcome the teams back," said McManus. "We have such a good turnout so I'm excited for this year."
Women's lacrosse player Katherine McManus is the president of SAAC and football player Corey Robinson is the vice president
The SAAC is a group of student-athlete leaders who, with SWD, work to improve communication with the administration and the student-athletes, encourage the involvement of student-athletes in campus and community service projects, and improve relationships between and among teams and individual student-athletes.
The BBQ is just one of several SAAC/SWD organized events that are meant to strengthen the relationships across teams and athletes.
"We try to create intentional opportunities for them to get together without a strict format or structure so they can really socialize and connect with groups outside their immediate sport," said Harrity.
Through a branch of SAAC called SAAC Forums, athletes are given the opportunity to build a community with other student-athletes. So far, these forums have been pretty successful.
"[SAAC Forums] are really fun events that are basically a way for athletes to kind of let off steam," said McManus. "Last year, we did a fencing forum. The fencing team really helped us out; they taught everyone about fencing and how to fence. Then, we did a bracket of teams versus teams, single fencing. We got to dress up in all the fencing gear and a lot of teams showed up."
The Welcome Back BBQ was also a chance to promote the Irish on 3 campaign, a movement created by student-athletes about three years ago to encourage and reward student-athletes for supporting other student-athletes by attending their games.
When student-athletes attend a sporting event, they can take a selfie and post it on twitter with the hashtag Irishon3. An established point system based on the sizes of different teams is used throughout the year. At the end of the school year, teams and individuals with the most points are rewarded.
"The athletes have really expressed an interest in building a cross-team camaraderie, community among the athletes, and connecting with the rest of campus, as well," said Harrity. "The Irish on 3 campaign has been strong."
A few soccer games are in the books and the points are already racking up.
"I think it's so important because each athlete is specific to their own sport and they train really, really hard," said McManus. "Whether we play the same sport or not, we understand how much time goes into something. So, it's really important to show up and support your fellow classmates and teammates. Plus, it's also really fun to watch such a high caliber athletic program."
In addition to the community service that all student-athletes already have the opportunity to engage in, the SAAC also spearheads a larger community service project. Last year, they partnered with Habitat for Humanity to build a new home for a local family.
With the stress of school and sports lingering in the near future, a little corn hole and barbecue is not a bad way to relax and kick off the semester.
Johnathan Franklin grew up in South Central Los Angeles with his mother and sister. A star at Dorsey High School in Los Angeles, Franklin always dreamed of playing in the NFL. When he received a scholarship to play for UCLA, he was one step closer to living that dream.
While at UCLA, he set a school record with 4,369 career rushing yards. In 2013, Franklin was drafted in the fourth round by the Green Bay Packers and his dreams of playing professionally had finally come true. Then, a career-ending injury in his rookie season forced Franklin to give up the game he loved and pursue a new career path.
His LinkedIn profile landed him a job here at Notre Dame in Student Welfare and Development. While the journey to Notre Dame hasn't been without heartbreak, Franklin has remained unbelievably positive throughout.
Johnathan shared his story with me.
Tell us about the play that caused your career-ending injury.
We were playing the Minnesota Vikings at home and I was at kick return. It was the first play of the game and they kicked me the ball. I was running with it and pretty much got hit on the crown of my helmet. I didn't know I got hit, I mean he smacked me. I was out on the ground and then when I finally woke up, I remember the ball had come out and I saw the ball moving around but I couldn't move at all to go and grab the ball. Eventually, when the play was over I got my feeling back and jogged to the sideline. After that, it was just a journey of seeing doctors and trying to get cleared to be able to play. Unfortunately, in June of 2014, I had to medically retire.
When you got hit, did you know it was that serious? Or did you think you would just be out for a couple of games?
I got hit and we just thought it was a concussion. We were playing the Lions the following week and they just said you won't be able to play, you have a concussion. But I talked to the doctor a bit about how I couldn't move or couldn't feel anything from my neck down and he had me go get an MRI. So, I went to go get an MRI a week after the Lions game and they saw a bruise around my spinal cord. He didn't know what it was at the time so he asked me to go get another MRI a week later. When we went to go get another MRI, they saw the same bruise so I ended up being on injured reserve. Injured reserve is when you're still on the team but you just aren't able to play for the rest of the season.
So I was on IR and I was like, "Okay, probably God just put me here. It's a learning experience and I'll be back next year." So, I kept getting MRIs and we kept seeing a bruise so he sent me to go see some other doctors. The first doctor told me, "You know, you probably won't be able to play football again." In my head I thought, "This dude is crazy, I'll be back." I went to go see three, four more doctors throughout the country and they all said the same thing. Then, I just had to come to the decision where I had to just retire. I wasn't able to play due to the risk of being paralyzed and not being able to move on my own. I just had to make a life decision.
How tough was it to make that decision to stop playing?
It was tough. A couple of weeks before, we played the Cincinnati Bengals. I was playing kick return the whole season and I was about third string for running backs. The week before the Bengals game, Eddie Lacy, he was our starter, got hurt. James Starks was starting that game and he ended up getting hurt. So, at halftime, coach came in and was like, "Alright, it's time for guys to step up." So, I went in at the half and I was able to rush for 100 yards and score a touchdown. I thought, "Man, this is my moment. I went out, had a great game and I'm gonna be in the league forever."
So, to have that high and a couple weeks later, suffer that injury... It was a humbling moment. It was a life-changing moment. I started playing when I was 10 years old and it was hard to let go - emotionally, the transition financially, and just the group of people around me. Life has been the greatest teacher for me these past couple of months. We all have a purpose, which I realize. I've been blessed to just be drafted and to score and to play in a football game. Don't get me wrong, I miss it and I'm in love with it but my purpose is just to be somewhere else and I'm happy I'm here.
After you made the decision to medically retire, you transitioned from being a player to working in the front office of the Green Bay Packers. How did that job at the Packers come about?
Man, we talk about a purpose. It was about two weeks after I ended up medically retiring. I went on a trip and the president of the Packers randomly e-mailed me. I looked at the e-mail and he asked me to call him. I'm like, he probably just wants to say sorry and, don't get me wrong, I appreciate it but when you hear that so many times, the meaning just isn't as powerful. So, I just called him, I mean it's the president of the Packers, can't ignore that one. So, I gave him a call and he said, "You know we'd love for you to stay around for a year." I thought about it and was like, absolutely. The internship was absolutely amazing. I bounced around to different departments throughout the whole season. From marketing, to human resources, to PR, to community outreach, and really just seeing how the Packers organization was run. So I started there in June and left in the beginning of January of this year.
I read somewhere that during that time you took up tennis lessons and playing the saxophone. Is that true?
Absolutely! I did tennis lessons and started to learn the alto saxophone. I'm pretty good, I'll have to play sometime.
How did you eventually end up working here at Notre Dame?
I'm so thankful. When I was interning at the Packers, I was advised to create a LinkedIn. So I created a LinkedIn in October of 2014 and I didn't have a picture up. I just had my name, no resume or anything. Mike Harrity, the Senior Associate Athletic Director here at Notre Dame, messaged me on LinkedIn. He said, "I read about you, asked around about you, and I would love for you to come to Notre Dame and check it out." So, I ended up coming to Notre Dame a couple weeks after. I came on a Friday and by Sunday, he offered me the job I have now.
Some things are just meant to happen. I just believe that the injury, while I would've loved to play football for 10,15 years or do other things, you know, I'm supposed to be here and it's been a journey. It's no coincidence that the Packers president just e-mailed me and created that position or that Mike Harrity reached out to me on LinkedIn. You know, we all have a journey and I'm happy where I am. It's not the easiest thing, the 9 to 5 and not playing and learning that language and learning how to dress in this business world but I know there's a purpose for where I am today.
What was your initial reaction when Mike Harrity reached out to you and said Notre Dame? Did you have any impressions of Notre Dame at the time?
Growing up in California, you definitely hear about Notre Dame as this prestigious school. I didn't know what to think too much. But I definitely didn't have any second thoughts about hopping on the airplane to come out here and visit. I was excited and it surprised me, the town and the people. It's been great.
Let's talk about your role here at Notre Dame, Community Relations Coordinator for Student-Athlete Welfare and Development. What does your job entail?
I plan and create community outreach programs for all of our student-athletes here on campus. That's just pretty much getting them out into the community and breaking that barrier between the community and Notre Dame. These outreach programs could consist of getting the student-athletes to hang out at the Boys and Girls Club, visiting hospitals and sitting with the patients, going to the homeless shelter, hanging out with kids that might have disabilities, whatever it might be. The goal is to really build relationships with the community and speak life into those kids but also allow our student-athletes to grow, become better people and know their worth and take advantage of the platform they have.
What has been your favorite thing about this position so far?
I really enjoy everything. I think that it's so powerful going out into the community and seeing people that might be less fortunate and might not have what we have. Seeing the student-athletes go out into the community, their faces just light up. It might be at the homeless shelter, where these residents might not know where the next meal will come from or where they might stay the next day. You know, we come over there and they just completely forget where they are or what's going on in their life. I think that's very meaningful. I mean, that's what life is all about. Regardless of the money, who you are, what your name is, who you know... Changing people's lives is one of the most important things and it's one of those things money can't buy.
In the future, where do you see yourself? Would you ever consider trying to get back into football as a coach?
Honestly, I was just having this conversation earlier. Whatever life has for me. I'm about living life to the fullest. I think getting hurt so suddenly in football has allowed me to just live moment by moment and take it day by day. Don't get me wrong, I have dreams and aspirations but you just never know what life has for you. I guess my dream and my goal is to just get everything I can out of today and change as many lives and make the biggest impact. If I'm blessed to live another day tomorrow, then I'll do that and when the time comes to move on somewhere else, if that's needed, then I'll do that.
Have you ever been to a Notre Dame football game?
No, never in my life.
So your first one will be this season?
I can't wait. Everyone's been talking about football season and how crazy it gets.
What are you expecting from the football scene at Notre Dame?
I'm excited for some wins definitely, as everyone else is. I'm excited to tailgate, I've never tailgated before in my life. You know, just that atmosphere. Football season is a good time regardless of where you are. People have been talking about some high expectations just enjoyment and entertainment-wise. You know, it starts on Thursday night and goes until the end of Sunday. So, I'm just excited to really see what it's all about.
You just saw the all-green Shamrock Series uniforms. What do you think?
They're amazing, I like them. I want to get out there and play in them!
When you work at Fighting Irish Media, you never know who you might run into on any given day. It's common for notable athletes, musicians, and actors to visit campus, and sometimes we're lucky enough to meet them.
On Thursday, that notable person on campus was Eddie George. George was an All-American running back at Ohio State and won the Heisman Trophy in 1995. He was taken in the first round of the 1996 NFL Draft by the Houston Oilers (now the Tennessee Titans) and was with the Oilers/Titans for 8 years. In that time, George was named Rookie of the Year, appeared in four consecutive Pro Bowls and won a Super Bowl. Following a brief stint with the Dallas Cowboys, George retired from the game in 2005 with 10,441 career rushing yards under his belt.
George is pretty familiar with South Bend. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2011, back when the Hall used to be in downtown SB.
So, you could say he's kind of a big deal.
While George didn't have time to stop by the FIM office, he was nice enough to chat with me for about 3 minutes while he walked from the Gug to his car, rushing off to catch a flight to his next destination.
George was on campus with Sirius XM as a host for their College Football Camp Tour alongside former NFL coach, scout, and executive Phil Savage and Mark "The Packman" Packer.
"We go around to all the top teams in the country in college football and we figure out what they're up to, what they're doing," said George. "It's a great chance to promote the program."
George and the Sirius XM crew drove in on Wednesday from Columbus, Ohio, where they were visiting George's alma mater Ohio State.
Throughout the day, they met with Notre Dame coaches and players and watched the Irish practice, getting a feel for the team.
"I've only seen one practice but, based off what I've seen, I know that they're a team that definitely believes in competitive excellence," said George. "What I mean by that is they're always competing against one another, trying to make everyone around them better."
One day isn't a lot of time to get to know a team. But, it was enough time for George to pick up on some key aspects of the Notre Dame culture.
"Just talking to everybody around here, the culture is that they truly believe they can go to the next level and really compete for a national championship this year," he said. "This could be a really special year for them because of the closeness of this football team."
So, does George think that Notre Dame can make it to the playoff?
"Notre Dame is returning so many starters this year, 17 starters, and there's some expectations that they could be one of the four teams in the playoff," he said. "They have the players to do it, the schedule to do it, and they certainly have the brand to do it. So, I'm really impressed with what I've seen from them so far."
While George believes Notre Dame has everything in place to make it to the College Football Playoff, when I asked him who would win between Ohio State and Notre Dame, his answer was not surprising.
"There's only one choice. Scarlet and grey runs through my blood, so that's about it."
Training camp at Culver Academies wraps up for Notre Dame football on Tuesday. I went down for most of the day on Friday and Saturday to check out the grounds and get a glimpse of camp life at Culver.
Brian Kelly is the second Notre Dame coach to kick off training camp at Culver, Lou Holtz being the first. Running Backs Coach Autry Denson and Director of Player Development Ron Powlus were at Culver as players under Lou Holtz and we caught up with them to see what, if anything, has changed since they were at Culver in the 90′s.
One thing that has remained the same: no AC in the dorms. When Ron and Autry were at camp, it was brutally hot. Ron told us that the upperclassmen would bring their pillows into the hockey rink at night to sleep on the cement bleachers, a slightly cooler option than the dorms. Apparently they didn't tell the underclassmen, which included Autry. In fact, Autry only found out the upperclassmen did this just last week.
Another notable anecdote from Holtz's time at Culver was when he burned a small boat on the lake. Here's the story told by former linebacker Kory Minor ('99):
"There are so many memorable stories that I can share about my time at Culver, but I think the funniest and most enjoyable would be when coach Holtz burned a small boat on the lake. It reminded me of something General Patton would do to ensure his men were in the battle for the long run. I don't recall if it was the first night we arrived in Culver or a day or two later, but it was a sight I have never seen and the inspirational and motivational message was on point, accurate and precisely delivered.
Imagine coach Holtz and his less than large stature standing in front of each and every player and coach and basically gave his sermon on the mount. He talked about the mission and what it would take to be successful that season. Coach shared stories of past seasons, the successes and failures and what that team needed to do to win. I remember him scanning the audience with his eyes as though he was looking and talking to each one of us directly, giving you the official guidelines and strategies that we needed to hear as a team so we could unleash our true greatness.
When coach lit the boat on fire and pushed it out to sea the underlying message was clear, there would be no retreating. If you were on that team you must totally by into the message and the philosophy that coach Holtz envisioned. There would be no middle ground. Coach knew how to win and he was very proficient at that. His job was now to fundamentally transform our minds, hearts and beliefs and to have us all on the same page. I must admit Coach did an excellent job conveying his message. I have never been in awe of anything in my life, but to see the boat on fire behind coach Holtz set against the starry night was the most breathtaking sight I have ever seen. That moment was when I knew I had arrived at the University of Notre Dame and there would be no turning back now."
The Culver campus is a busy place during the summer, and not just because of Notre Dame football. On Saturday, there was a triathlon in the morning and three weddings throughout the day. Then, once Notre Dame was done on the field, Culver Academies had their own football team that had to practice in the afternoon.
Luckily, the grounds are huge and there's plenty of space for everyone.
After lunch, the players have some free time before meetings. They can go boating, horseback riding, or fishing but, as you might expect, most choose to just sleep... Or, if you're Romeo Okwara and Corey Robinson, play the ukulele.
This morning, I woke up to what seemed like a million retweets from One Direction fan accounts on my twitter feed.
At first, I thought I was being spammed. But, I quickly realized it was former Notre Dame swimmer Emma Reaney who was responsible for the retweets.
Not only was she retweeting a bunch of tweets about 1D but she was actually MENTIONED in these tweets.
Turns out, Emma went to a One Direction concert last night dressed up as a caterpillar.
What? Yeah, I know. It sounds odd and sweaty but what happened next was awesome.
At some point, Emma decided to throw her caterpillar costume on stage. Band member and British heartthrob Liam Payne then decided to put the costume on and perform the rest of the night in the caterpillar suit.
If you are ever blessed with the opportunity to spend some quality time in our office here at Fighting Irish Media, you might experience that I like to talk. A lot. To whoever will listen, which is usually not that many people.
Today, I was telling a story about the trip I took last week to Glacier, Montana. My "boss", aka NDSportsBlogger emeritus Aaron Horvath, was surprisingly listening, or at least pretending to, and told me I should write it down. In hindsight, he was probably just trying to get me to shut up.
Either way, here is my story of the day:
It actually begins at my graduation from Notre Dame a little over two months ago (insert sobbing emoji here).
I once heard the joke, "I didn't graduate Summa Cum Laude, Magna Cum Laude, or Cum Laude. I graduated Thank the Laude." This definitely applied to me.
I was a fine student who was involved in several activities, always had a job and internships, and studied for most of my tests in college. While I feel pretty good about my accomplishments at Notre Dame, my graduation outfit didn't consist of any ropes or sashes for any honors or societies. Nope, I stuck to the basics: cap and gown.
See here: Cap and gown (shoutout to my roommate and good friend Liz on the right)
But, this wasn't the case for a lot of my fellow classmates. Notre Dame students have a tendency to excel in many aspects of life: academics, athletics, service - you name it.
This excellence that I saw from so many of my classmates was exuded most of all by our valedictorian, Anna Kottkamp. Anna was a 4.0 environmental science major who has done research in Bolivia, an internship in Peru, was a member of the Voices of Faith Gospel Choir, was very active in the South Bend community, and was an accomplished varsity rower who plans to do service after graduation before going to grad school. I've never been lucky enough to personally meet Anna but, judging by her presence on stage and her valedictorian speech, she seems like the nicest, most humble, down-to-earth person ever.
And there I was, just happy to have graduated and have a job lined up.
To be completely honest with you all, I definitely felt a little inferior to Anna after her amazing speech. I think everyone in the crowd was certainly wowed by her achievements and overall persona. I couldn't help thinking, "She is really outdoing me in life right now." Anna was, simply put, an awesome human.
So, how does this relate to my recent vacation?
Last week, I spent seven days hiking in Glacier with my dad, an avid backpacker/hiker/crazy outdoorsman. This vacation was sort of a pre-football season getaway where I could enjoy some time in the wilderness with my dad before the craziness of Notre Dame football starts picking up in August.
On our first day of hiking, my dad decided we were going to do a hike where we had to climb 2,300 feet.
I've been in these situations with my father before. He takes us on these hikes that the guidebooks call "moderately strenuous to strenuous", which is basically a less dramatic way of saying VERY HARD. The entire time, I usually have to pretend I'm not cursing him under my breath. I generally just keep quiet and try not to say something I'll regret. In his defense, though, if you want to see the best views, you have to climb a bit.
My dad fueling up mid-hike
Anyway, as I'm huffing and puffing my way up this mountain and wondering why on earth my dad couldn't have taken up less "strenuous" hobbies like golfing or fishing, I heard two people coming up the trail behind us. We paused and stepped off the trail to let the two faster hikers go by. But, these people weren't just hiking; they were running. Yes, they were RUNNING up this mountain that I was just trying to survive walking up.
As they got closer, I saw one woman was wearing a "Notre Dame Rowing" shirt. I immediately looked at her face to see if I knew this fellow Domer passing me on the trail. Sure enough, I did.
The woman running up the mountain was none other than Anna Kottkamp. She was, yet again, surpassing me in life.
"Out of all people to run past me on this mountain, it had to be our class valedictorian," was my first thought.
"She did college better than me and now she's climbing this mountain better than me," was my next thought.
(Anna, by the way, gave us a big smile and graciously thanked us as we let her pass - proving, again, what a nice person she is.)
So, I'm not sure what the moral of this story is or why I even felt compelled to share. If I was a pessimist, I'd probably say that this experience shows that no matter what I do in life, someone will always do it better.
Thankfully, I'm not that negative.
In all honesty, I thought it was pretty awesome that someone who I initially thought was living such a different life than I was, ended up on this same mountain to accomplish this same goal, even though she was doing it a lot quicker.
At the end of the day, Anna was not just our valedictorian. She was a classmate of mine. And how cool is it that I ran into a classmate on this specific trail in this specific national park? Of all the places we could've been on this one summer day, we chose the same one.
And I thought that was pretty cool.
Notre Dame truly is everywhere and while Anna passed me too fast for me to ask for a picture, leaving me no proof that this actually happened, hopefully you take my word for it.
When you're on top of a mountain, it's always comforting to know you have some fellow Notre Dame fans up there with you. Because you never know when you might run into a USC fan...