Wynn's Leads Irish Defense By Example
It's like a cycle, constantly in motion.
It started some years back, with players like Chris Zorich and Jeff Alm.
Not much later, Junior Bryant and Devon McDonald continued the tradition.
The process carried through with Bryant Young and Jim Flanigan.
Most recently, Oliver Gibson and Paul Grasmanis filled the role.
Now it is Renaldo Wynn's turn.
The successful Notre Dame defensive linemen of the past paved the road for others to follow. They demanded more of their younger teammates, expecting them to exceed their potential, asking 120 percent effort and dedication.
It's the only road to follow for success. It's not an easy path, but it worked for Zorich, Young and Grasmanis. It is now working for Wynn.
"When I was coming up, the older guys expected a lot of me, and sometimes it just seemed like they were being mean," he recalls. "But the truth is, they were getting me ready. They were preparing me to get to a higher level. They saw potential in me, and they made sure I worked hard to achieve it.
"And now, when I ask the younger guys to do the same, it's because I've been in their shoes. I don't have a problem making sure people are doing their job as best they can; I know what needs to be done. And I don't ask any more of them than I ask of myself."
All he asks for is 120 percent. All the time.
"The guy's a beast out there; he plays every snap of the ball and never gets tired," evaluates Melvin Dansby, a fellow member of the cycle. "Even in practice, when things tend to get a little dry, he still manages to stay sharp. He's always working on technique, always trying to improve.
"He's quick as a cat and strong as an ox. When he decided to come back, it made our front seven one of the best in the country."
"He's the aircraft carrier of the defense," Holtz praises. "They know one thing -- when we go out there, there isn't anybody who's going to knock Renaldo Wynn off the line, nobody is going to be able to block him one on one.
"And when Renaldo says something people listen, including the coaches."
There must be some sort of drive that keeps this carrier full steam ahead. Maybe it's pressure that fuels the fire for the fifth-year senior. Pressure from trying to balance graduate work, marriage, and football every day. Pressure from trying to follow the path of those before him leading to the next level. Pressure from being the leader.
"I have a lot of pressures, a lot of roles. At home, I have to be a husband, and that's a job I enjoy. On the field, I have to be a leader, and I like to lead by example. But I'm tired at the end of a day."
But he earns respect. And some teasing.
"He's the grand-daddy of the offense," Dansby jokes. "He's like 50 years old."
"Yeah, I'm the grand-daddy," Wynn laughs. "I've got to be the oldest guy on the defense."
Actually, Joe Babey's got him beat by well over a year. But what's important isn't the age, it's the experience. Renaldo Wynn exudes experience.
"I've been around for a long time," he remembers. "But I've had a lot to learn. I think that this year with me and Alton (Maiden) and Melvin, we really have guys with experience."
However, he did not feel that he had enough experience to head to the next level after last season. Many an Irish fan wondered where Wynn would be after the 1995 season as a possible spot in the NFL seemed to be in his immediate future.
"I really thought hard about whether or not to stay," Wynn acknowledges. "I really didn't think that I had gotten as good as I felt I could here. I hadn't reached the edge where I felt I could move on."
Holtz recognizes that there may have been other factors involved.
"I really think his wife had a lot to do with (Wynn staying for a fifth year). He told everybody he was coming back. I think Alton Maiden was coming back, and he and Alton are pretty good friends. When I did talk to him, I told him (to do) whatever is in (Wynn's) best interest. He's a class young man, he's an excellent football player, and he's going to play football for a lot of years."
"He's one of my best friends a team leader," Maiden reports. "His presence in the defense gives us great chemistry. I'm very happy he's back."
In truth, Wynn's fifth year at Notre Dame is an opportunity for him to put up some numbers that will impress NFL scouts. There obviously were factors besides improving statistics that kept the lineman in South Bend, but getting some more sacks and tackles (2.5 sacks, 20 tackles in 1996) under his belt could only help his draft position. However, Wynn is reluctant to make statistical improvements a goal.
"Sure, numbers are important," he concedes. "But how you play with teammates, if you have good fundamentals, if you fill assignments, these things are important to scouts, too."
"You'd be surprised how thorough they are. They talk to your college coaches about you. They talk to teachers, they talk to your friends on campus. They go to your hometown and talk to your high school coach, and people you know back home. These guys find out a lot about you. So numbers aren't the only important thing, and they weren't the reason why I stayed at Notre Dame."
Like everyone else this season, and players from the past, Wynn wanted one thing: the National Championship.
"We really had a shot this year, and that was a big factor in deciding whether or not to stay. Our team is solid. There's nothing like the goal of winning it all to motivate you."
When the time comes for Wynn to make the jump, he has confidence that his time at Notre Dame will prove to be time well spent.
"I talk to guys in the NFL and they all say how easy it is to be there; they're all saying how difficult Notre Dame practices were in comparison.
I talked to Dusty Zeigler a couple of weeks ago, and he just kept saying how easy practices there are compared to the ones at Notre Dame. I'm sure that coming here will really help me in the future, no question."
What will also help Wynn is his own determination and natural abilities. The combination of strength (team high 485-pound bench, 705-pound squat), attitude, and tunnel vision on the field make him an attractive pick. "I try to do my job on the field at all times. I want to be reliable and fill the holes or whatever. But if it's my job to be aggressive and get through to the quarterback, I like the challenge of somebody trying to stop me."
A lot of players he knows felt the same way when they were here. Those players have travelled on, following their predecessors to the NFL.
Renaldo Wynn is on his way.