Nov. 16, 2012
By Patrick Hansen -
The University of Notre Dame continues to impress with an inspiring 2012 football season. Four of its nine victories have come against teams ranked in the top 25, including an intense overtime triumph over Stanford.
While the Irish running game has been explosive on the offensive side of the ball, it is Notre Dame’s defense that stands out among the best in all of college football. Senior inside linebacker Manti Te’o has been an integral part of that defense, leading the squad in tackles and interceptions, even after a family tragedy that occurred just a few days before the Irish faced Michigan State.
Yet, there is so much more to the Notre Dame defense than Te’o. One player with an interesting and inspiring story is fifth-year senior safety Dan McCarthy.
McCarthy, the third youngest of four boys (Brian, Kyle and Michael), was surrounded by sports as a youngster in the athletic hot bed of Youngstown, Ohio. He played football, baseball, and basketball and even ran track, but football and specifically Notre Dame football was always his chief interest.
“When you grow up in Youngstown, Ohio, you are just surrounded by football,” McCarthy says. “It’s just develops a blue collar, hard working attitude. It was how I was raised.
“Plus, I’m from a large Irish, Catholic family and everyone loved Notre Dame. It was a dream for me going back to flag football in kindergarten to play here.”
Dan’s love of Notre Dame was passed down through the family. His grandfather, John Mayo, who Dan honors by wearing the No. 15, was an outfielder on the Notre Dame baseball team in the 1940s.
“It started when I was about seven years old,” McCarthy says. “My family used to give me $10 for every time I’d sing the Notre Dame fight song. So, as a young kid, I was pretty much brainwashed into being an Irish fan. Notre Dame was the only team that was ever on the television in my house as far back as I can remember.”
Needless to say, the older brothers took after their grandfather and attended Notre Dame.
Brian, the oldest brother, graduated from Notre Dame in 2006. The second-oldest brother, Kyle, graduated in 2009 and played four years as a safety on the Irish football team. Kyle served as team captain in 2008 and now plays in the National Football League for the Kansas City Chiefs.
Meanwhile, Dan was in the midst of a stellar scholastic career at Cardinal Mooney High School. He was a two-way star for Cardinal Mooney, playing both quarterback and defensive back. Dan was named Ohio Gatorade Player of the Year and finalist for Ohio’s Mr. Football. He even earned second team All-America honors.
Dan’s dream to play football at Notre Dame became a reality, but not before a major run-in with adversity that occurred in the state tournament semifinal game during his senior year at Cardinal Mooney. He had to leave the game following a helmet-to-helmet hit with what doctors determined was a broken neck.
It was a scary moment for Dan, his family and his friends, but the injury did not pose a serious threat to his long-term health. It sidelined him for the remainder of his high school season, but it definitely added another perspective to his life.
“Injuries are really tough, but that’s part of the game,” McCarthy says. “Being on the sidelines and having to watch is difficult, because you want to help out, but I tried to do whatever I could to help our team win games.”
Dan did not see any game action as a freshman, which offered him more time to fully recover from his neck injury. Unfortunately, he has been limited to just 26 games because of a wide array of injuries.
“It is easy to get down when things aren’t going the way you want, but you can’t keep looking in the past,” McCarthy says. “You have to continue forward and work toward the best.
McCarthy, who owns a finance degree from Notre Dame’s prestigious Mendoza College of Business, has always kept a positive attitude and made the best of an otherwise difficult situation.
“Nothing is ever handed to you in life,” McCarthy says. “You just have to keep plugging away when things don’t go your way. That’s always been my mindset and those values were instilled in me at a young age.”
Now, that young boy’s dream of playing football at Notre Dame is winding down. While the journey hasn’t always been smooth, Dan wouldn’t change it for the world.
I couldn’t picture myself anywhere else,” McCarthy says. “This has truly been a dream come true and totally exceeded my expectations. It’s been an incredible ride and I couldn’t be more thankful to be part of it.
“The relationships you build at Notre Dame are truly unique. The people you meet are just incredible. We’ve always looked at it as a brotherhood. Obviously, I don’t know what it is like in other college locker rooms but everyone is a friend with everyone here. It is amazing to be a part of it and yet so difficult to really put everything into words.”
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