Oct. 13, 2000
By Lisa Nelson
As the old Beach Boys tune says - catch a wave and you're sitting on top of the world.
No one knows that feeling better than Irish offensive lineman Kurt Vollers. He has been looking to catch the right wave since his arrival at Notre Dame. Now in his senior season, Vollers has found that wave and is riding it with no end in sight.
A native of Whittier, Calif., located in the southern part of the state, Vollers spent a lot of time playing sports, but football was just a pasttime for him. He had no serious aspirations to play college football.
Like many southern California boys, Vollers real passion was not on the football field, but on a waxed-up surfboard catching waves in the early morning hours. His dad, John, was a surfer and decided to take Kurt to the beach one day. As they were driving, a man was selling surfboards on the side of the road. Kurt talked his dad into buying a board for him (he now owns four) and Vollers started his surfin' safari.
"Surfing gives me such a thrill," Vollers says.
"The best time to surf is in the morning. You see the sun coming up and you stare into it as you are coming down the wave. You see everything from stingrays to big fish. When that wave catches you, and you are above everything, you feel like the king of the world."
In addition to football, Vollers also played basketball, baseball and was a member of the track and field team at Servite High School, winning the district shot put and discus crowns his junior year. But it was not until his junior year when the nation's top schools, including childhood favorite UCLA, finally noticed Vollers' gridiron graces causing him to take the sport a little more seriously.
He soon became king of the football recruiting world, having his heart set on attending UCLA. During Vollers' junior year, his high school football team played a game in Chicago. After the game, he traveled down the Indiana Toll Road to see the Irish play Northwestern at Notre Dame Stadium. While sitting in the end zone near where the offensive linemen warm up, his high school line coach Ed Drzanick hinted that only the best offensive linemen could play at Notre Dame.
That not-so-subtle hint was all the inspiration Vollers needed. He wanted to play with the best and Notre Dame was going to be the place for him. He put aside his surf board and dedicated himself to one day wearing the gold helmet. It also did not hurt that Vollers' father fell in love with Notre Dame
"After I came to Notre Dame, I wanted to be a part of the tradition," Kurt says.
Vollers' career, like a good wave, has been slow developing since his arrival at Notre Dame. While not playing at all his first season, the 6-7, 310-pounder bounced back and forth between the offensive and defensive line before finally making the switch to offense before his sophomore season. He saw action against Navy that year as a backup lineman. It was not until his junior season when Vollers finally got up on the board and started to really take his wave.
The addition of offensive line coach Steve Addazio last season produced tremendous results for Vollers as he played in all 12 games, starting the final three games at left tackle after an injury to starter Jordan Black. Vollers logged over 120 minutes of playing time and worked himself into the regular rotation. This season, he has stared all four games at right tackle already accumulating over 122 minutes.
"You can see by leaps and bounds the change in my game. From where I was to where I am now is because of Coach Addazio. The knowledge I have now in terms of assignments, footwork and technique is amazing. When I was in high school, everyone had terrible technique, but I was bigger than everyone else so I just pushed people around. In college, everyone is as big as me and technique is so important."
"Kurt has developed as a player. I like to call Kurt a work in progress," Addazio says.
"He is really trying hard right now and has brought himself a long way. Football is important to him, as well as fundamentals. He is conscious about having good footwork and good technique. He has come far both in and out of football, growing and maturing while he has been here."
Vollers' size and toughness runs in his family. His great-grandfather, who Kurt was named after, stood 7-5, while his great-grandmother was 6-4. His father, who grew up in Scotland, played rugby and was a teammate of Tony Blair, the current Prime Minister of Britain. Vollers' family on both sides is 100 percent German as his grandfathers fought for the German army under Adolf Hitler during World War II. One grandfather was a high-ranking officer, fighting against the Soviet Union, and has the battle scars to prove it.
"He used to show me the bullet holes and tell me all about the battles he fought," Vollers says.
"He still has bullets in him. I only wish I was as tough as he was."
Family is very important to Vollers as his mom, Lisa, and dad, although they lived apart, were within 30 miles of each other so Kurt was able to see both whenever he wanted. Both were very instrumental in his decision to attend Notre Dame, and they travel to South Bend as often as they can to see him play. Vollers also has five brothers and sisters, including a brother at Servite High School. Last week, Vollers flew home to see his brother play football for the very first time.
"My dad made my whole dream of college football a reality. My mom gives me my emotion. She is always looking out for me and is by my side. It is great to know that no matter what I have done - good or bad - I can have her complete support," Vollers says.
Vollers is positioned to graduate in May as a triple major in sociology, marketing and theology. He hopes to pursue a career in professional football, but if that does not work out, then there are plenty of other options for Vollers.
"When we went to the White House my freshman year, I got the business card of someone in security and thought that would be a cool job. The great thing about a Notre Dame degree is that a person has a ton of opportunities to make his mark on the world. I am exploring a lot of different things, but I believe if you take care of the things in front of you right now, it all works out."
As Vollers rides out his wave with the Irish this season, he is battling in the trenches like his grandfathers and taking care of what is in front of him, whether it is an opposing defender or life, knowing it will all work out.