Sept. 11, 2000
by Ken Kleppel
Personal faith sometimes can be a cornerstone for life.
Just ask fifth-year linebacker Anthony Brannan and the walk-on turned monogram winner surely will demonstrate how.
Making a giant leap onto the football roster in the summer of 1996 and an even larger leap onto scholarship status as linebacker and mainstay on special teams in the summer of 1999, a devotion to Christianity has been the difference for Brannan.
"My faith in God is everything to me, that's why I'm here. I believe God put me here for a reason and is doing everything for me," Brannan says.
He need not look any further than his own locker for motivation.
"I have a little rock with a plaque on it that reads: 'I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me (Phil. 4:13).' Every day before and after practice I look at that and it is just a huge boost. My mom gave it to me and it's been in my locker ever since sophomore year."
Junior outside linebacker Rocky Boiman is able to offer another perspective.
He is a real spiritual guy," says Boiman.
"He lets God and Jesus lead his life. Before the Texas A&M game he showed me a scripture passage that fit the theme of the day and what we were about to face. You come across all kinds of people in life but rarely people like him. He gives energy to all of us."
The last five years have provided Brannan an excellent opportunity to demonstrate such character.
After recruiting himself onto the Notre Dame roster in time for 1996 fall camp, the former standout at fullback and linebacker at New Jersey's Seton Hall Prep was immediately inserted into the Irish secondary as a reserve safety. He made the switch back to linebacker in time for the 1997 season.
Fortunately for Brannan, former linebackers Jimmy Friday and Bobbie Howard and defensive end Lamont Bryant facilitated the early transition process.
"The way they did things off and on the field, they were just men and I was definitely not on their level yet," says Brannan.
"Just watching them I had complete confidence that if they were doing something it was the right way to do it. I was this freshman going to be sophomore walk-on moving to linebacker weighing only 190 pounds, but they opened up to me and tried to help me over the summer to feel part of the group."
In that freshman season of 1997, Brannan worked in six games as a reserve inside linebacker while notching his first start in the Notre Dame Stadium dedication game victory over Georgia Tech.
"I'm still waiting for my top moment, but my first game against Georgia Tech was special," says Brannan.
"My first play was a third-and-long situation that resulted in an incomplete pass."
Brannan played twice in 1998, appearing 10 times versus Michigan State and Purdue as a specialist on the kickoff and kickoff return teams.
Following the 1999 Gator Bowl, Brannan's hard-working ethic and determined approach were recognized with an athletic scholarship.
"I was excited. It was always a goal of mine knowing that I could do something to help my parents after they have helped me for so many years. My freshman year Kevin Caretta was an unbelievable contributor and I knew that he was awarded a scholarship for his efforts. I always admired how he had done it and wanted to follow his lead," Brannan said.
Brannan's role expanded in 1999. Playing inside linebacker versus Michigan and Arizona State, he appeared another 28 times on special teams over six games.
A similar mix of contributions is expected in the 2000 campaign as Brannan's versatility enabled a switch to drop outside linebacker following the squad's first August scrimmage.
"It seemed like every practice he makes a big hit and shows up to play," says Boiman.
"If I wanted to play sports out in the backyard when I was little I had to play with my brother and his friends," responds Brannan.
"They were five years older and wouldn't take it easy on me. That definitely helped me. My brother would always try to toughen me up."
The genes for toughness and competitiveness can probably be traced somewhere far back in the Brannan family bloodlines, as both brother Billy and father Bill played linebacker at Villanova. Regardless, Anthony possesses that uncanny ability to carry his competitive edge from the practice field to the game.
It is definitely very mental in trying to stay focused and make sure you remember all your alignments, assignments, and checks. I think the key is confidence and knowing that you know what to do. It comes across in the way you act and the way you play."
Brannan's confidence comes across in the way he acts off the field as well.
An American studies and computer applications double major, Brannan somehow finds time to volunteer for South Bend's Center for the Homeless, works as a tutor to area children and actively participate in Iron Strengthens Iron, a campus Inter-Denominational Christian group, among other social causes.
"I room with him now and know he has read the Bible cover to cover and sometimes goes to Church more than just once a week," says former walk-on and specialist/wide receiver Johnathan Hebert.
"He is one of the most morally upstanding people I have ever met. I have never seen him do anything wrong."
"There is definitely a lot of fellowship among teammates and especially for me personally with my family," says Brannan.
"Every Friday before the game Coach (Desmond) Robinson does the Fellowship for Christian Athletes. I just love how you elevate the sport of football to a different level when you're doing it all for the Lord. We're on such a big stage that it is a great way to get that across to other people."
Such insight parallels Brannan's unique perspective on his college experience.
"What an opportunity it is to come here and have all these people wanting to give you information," says Brannan.
"Their purpose is to help you make yourself better in the classroom and on the field. I am constantly reminded to take full advantage of it while it is going on. I feel so blessed to be here. When I was little I was a big fan of Notre Dame, but then I really didn't think about where I was going to go to college too much. Now I know it is the perfect place for me. God sort of did all the work and it all came together."
"He is such a leader by example," says Hebert.
"He is one of a few walk-ons to play in games. That is a testament to how hard he works in a practices and what kind of a football player he is. During workouts he wouldn't just do the basics but he did everything he could, which is 100 percent evident to all the walk-ons. He has his accomplishments to back him up."
"I don't know if I have an influence," says Brannan.
"I just do everything in my power to be the best Christian and best football player. It goes back to the rock. I can do all things through Christ and I believe that in all my heart. Nothing is impossible."