Oct. 6, 2011
By Maura Jones
One play can often define a football game or quite possibly a season, but in Notre Dame senior tight end Mike Ragone's case, one play perfectly defines one's true character.
It is 2009, the Irish and Ragone trot onto the field to line up for an extra-point after taking a 9-0 lead over Washington State. Snap goes off without incident, but Ragone hears a pop. The kick has been blocked and now is being returned up the field. Despite trailing the play by 20 yards, Ragone runs full tilt gaining on the ball carrier one stride at a time and ultimately tracks him down at the Irish six-yard line.
Fans cheer as Ragone gets up and walks off the field, head held high.
"Everyone loves that play," Ragone says. "It was a good feeling because I don't do this for myself. I do this for my guys. I want them to know forever that ¬- in good times or bad - I am going to be there. I'm not going to give up."
Notre Dame would cruise past Washington State, 40-14, but Ragone's play that night is only a small illustration of how his determination has permeated throughout the Irish locker room.
It is precisely Ragone's work ethic, positive attitude and tenacity that have defined his time at Notre Dame. He has dealt with three separate devastating ACL injuries - the first as a senior at Camden Catholic H.S., the second caused him to miss the entire 2008 season and the most recent (suffered at Michigan) likely ended his Irish playing career.
"I hate that I went down, but I love that these things are in front of me," the Cherry Hill, N.J., native says. "You're not invincible, and there are so many things in life that come in front of you, but you have to keep moving forward, and you can't stop. I truly love this game with all of my heart, and I love my teammates."
A fifth-year senior, Ragone will stay closely connected with the team throughout the remainder of his time at Notre Dame. Coach Kelly plans to use Ragone as a mentor for other players.
"He's been a warrior for us in a sense," Kelly says. "He's battled through a lot of injuries. He loves to play the game. He loves competition, and we're really going to miss him."
Although the team will miss his contributions on the field, Ragone still has a great deal to give to the program. Throughout the season, the team is likely to face many difficult situations, and Ragone will prove to be a solid leader through those times as he is no stranger to challenges.
"I came here for the challenge," Ragone remarks. "I thought that a degree from here would be amazing, and I always wanted to apply myself, and this place made me do that. It's what helped me develop into the man that I am."
Ragone says that he first learned the importance of diligence at home.
"I come from a middle-class, hard working, Italian family in New Jersey," Ragone says. "Hard work is all I know."
Ragone's father, also Michael, played football at Temple and was the one who encouraged his son to play football at a young age. Football has led to many opportunities, and Ragone has taken advantage of every one.
"Getting my degree is very important," says Ragone, who graduated in May 2011 with a degree in sociology from the College of Arts and Letters. "The friendships and respect that I have gained are really important as well. "I've loved coming out of the tunnel wearing a gold helmet in front of so many people. I've loved it all."
Ragone really values the community that Notre Dame and the team have provided for him.
"The brotherhood is very strong here, and I think that the University does a great job of instilling that here," he says. "We are the Notre Dame family, and they keep saying it and saying it, but after a while you just believe it because it's the truth. Everyone really cares. When you fall, they fall."
Ragone's appreciates the camaraderie and shared work ethic of the team. He has learned and grown more during his time on the team than during any other time in his life.
"I've learned that you never want to give up," Ragone remarks. "Always be hard working. Most importantly, when you're down you keep fighting and keep moving forward. Somewhere along the line if you keep sacrificing and working hard people will see that and they'll respect you and opportunities will arise."
Now, in his new position on the team, Ragone will look to share some of his wisdom with the younger players. His positive attitude and work ethic will be an inspiration for the rest of the team as he looks to overcome his most recent injury.
"I'm still going to chase my dream," Ragone says. "I'm not done yet. This little ACL injury is just a minor setback. I'm going to have surgery, and I'm going to get ready for a shot at the NFL. I'm not done playing this game yet. It means way too much to me."