Sept. 8, 2006
By Katie Stuhldreher
If there’s one sure thing in college football, it’s that nothing ever goes quite as planned. But for fans, that’s the excitement of the game. It usually takes no more than a few weeks to dash highly touted preseason hopes or give rise to the latest Cinderella team sensation. Underestimated freshmen can rise to glory and poorly timed injuries can quickly sideline Heisman hopefuls.
The Fighting Irish of Notre Dame are certainly not immune to this phenomenon. And senior defensive lineman Victor Abiamiri has seen it all.
Since arriving in South Bend three years ago, the Irish have experienced coaching changes, injuries, thrilling victories and their share of tough defeats.
As Abiamiri enters his final season under the Golden Dome, predictions of national championships reverberate from all corners of the country.
“We just try not to read the press clippings and try to focus on what got us here which is hard work, fundamentals and playing together as a team. We just try to get out there every day and work as a team,” says Abiamiri.
Abiamiri knows better than anyone that the best strategy for success is to disregard the hype and prepare for the unknown. In fact, his football career began in just such a way.
A pass-rushing presence for the Irish defense, he has established himself as a holy terror in the minds of college quarterbacks after starting out as an awkward receiver, trying to follow in his brothers’ footsteps.
The youngest of three children of Nigerian immigrants, Abiamiri always looked up to his older brothers, Rob and Paschal. Both started out playing receiver at Mount St. Joseph High School in Maryland and it only seemed natural that he would follow suit.
“I started playing football my freshman year in high school, so I never really had the pee-wee football experience,” says Abiamiri.
“My brothers were big influences on me starting to play football. They both started their freshman years in high school, so I wanted to do that too.”
Abiamiri’s plans soon changed. He soon found himself on the same football field as his older brothers, but on the opposing team. Rather than following his brothers to Mount St. Joseph, he attended rival school Gilman instead at the urging of his parents.
The senior defensive end told the South Bend Tribune, “Gilman was a better fit for me academically. My parents wanted me to go there because of the different college opportunities. I had an older cousin who went there and suggested it to me.”
Abiamiri says he enjoyed playing against his brothers to whom he never lost a high school football game.
Additionally, Abiamiri’s plan to play wide receiver was also soon overturned. He quickly found that as the biggest of the three brothers, he was more suited for a role on the defensive side of the ball. He often jokes with his Irish teammates that watching him try to catch a football is “the funniest thing you’ll ever see.”
Abiamari finished his high school career ranked eighth on ESPN’s list of he top 100 players in the nation — outranking both Heisman winning running back Reggie Bush and current teammate Brady Quinn — and figured he was set to finally join his brothers at the University of Maryland.
Since his family always played a big role in his football career, staying close to home and close to his brothers was important to him.
“My family members are my biggest fans. I get tons of support from them. They are always cheering for me, telling me what I should or shouldn’t be doing,” Abiamiri says.
“Not only are they my biggest fans, but my brothers are my biggest critics,” he continues. “They’re always telling me when I’m doing something wrong or slipping. I always take seriously what they say. Their opinions of me are very important.”
However, the youngest Abiamiri’s plans changed on him yet again. Instead of settling close to home as intended, he packed up and left for Indiana.
Notre Dame’s defensive lineman of the year in 2005, Abiamiri reflected that Notre Dame was the right fit for him in more ways than one at the end of the day, regardless of his early ambitions to play for Maryland.
“I think being at Notre Dame has helped me to prepare for life after football. It kind of keeps me grounded and reminds me that football isn’t everything. I don’t want to just define myself as a football player and academics here really help with that,” says the finance major.
Abiamiri focused on contributing to the Irish defense as a freshman, starting five games. He became the fourth Notre Dame freshman to start on the defensive line since 1991, impressing new head coach Tyrone Willingham, who played him in every game as a sophomore.
However, after two seasons, Abiamiri’s situation changed unexpectedly again as Willingham’s tenure as head coach ended, ushering in a new coach and attitude for the team.
Although sad to see Willingham go, Abiamiri said he quickly came to like and respect his new coach.
“I think Coach [Charlie] Weis has brought so much to this program. And it’s not just a win-loss record, but just the air of confidence and expectations. He knows how to take advantage of the talent that this team has. We are definitely a more confident football team because of him. And he kind of brought some of that New Jersey attitude with him,” says Abiamiri.
Excited about the new attitude of his team and working to help teammates through the transition from one coach to another, Abiamiri was set to stand out as a leader in 2005 training camp.
However, events again took an unexpected turn as Abiamiri sustained a serious leg injury in April when he was kicked in the shin during practice.
Coach Weis told reporters after Abiamiri’s visit to the doctor: “At first, we thought there was a bone that was displaced and cracked, but fortunately that wasn’t the case. If it was a bone that was broken, he would be out six months.”
Coach Weis added confidently that knowing Abiamiri, he’d be ready to go come fall.
Living up to his reputation as an astute judge of his players’ abilities, Coach Weis was proven right when Abiamiri recorded 46 tackles, 15 tackles for loss, and eight sacks in 2005. He started every game and made 86 special teams appearances.
“I’ve learned a lot and grown over the past couple years. Just being a Notre Dame student athlete — let alone football player — helped me to really grow as a person. I think being here for four years with my friends and growing with them has been great. I look forward to even better experiences in my senior year,” Abiamiri says of his years at Notre Dame.
As his final season for donning the traditional blue and gold opens, there is only one thing on Abiamiri’s mind.
“This year I really just want to live up to my potential. I don’t want to leave any stone uncovered. I don’t want to look back on my senior year or my career and have any regrets. I want to play to the best of my abilities. This is one of my major goals,” he says.
Defensive Coordinator Rick Minter speaks highly of Abiamiri, “He has been around awhile. He has paid his dues in the weight room, on the field, techniques and fundamentals. He has had a couple different coaches as he has grown up through here. It is time for the fruits of his labor to pay off for our team and down the road for himself.”
As a senior on the defense, Abiamiri said he feels a particular responsibility to be a leader for the underclassmen on the team.
“I’m thinking of not only leading by example, but being more of a vocal leader, speaking up. When something isn’t right, try to give feedback. I’m trying to work on that. I’m a senior and this is my last time around, so I want everything to go right,” says Abiamari.
The speedy defensive end has his focus on each upcoming football game. But in regard to the big picture, he said he has given some thought to life after graduation. As always, Abiamiri is a man prepared for anything, describing his future plans in terms of a Plan A and Plan B.
He says, “Plan A is working towards going to the NFL if I can, but if that doesn’t work out, I’ll go to plan B and put this finance degree to good use and find a job. So, I’ve got my plan A and plan B, and I’ll go to a plan C if I need to.”
In order to beef up his Plan B, Abiamiri said he did his best to fit internships into his summer.
“I worked at a small investment firm back home called Brown Advisory. I did some work and research for them. You know, try to put some use to this finance degree and try to learn how things we learn in class apply to real world situations,” says Abiamiri.
In the long run, it all fits into his plan. At least for now.
“Twenty years from now, I see myself owning my own business. Not a major corporation, something small. Somewhere where I see myself controlling things, my brainchild, something I came up with,” he says with a grin.
He adds, “I thought about that a couple times. At least for a little bit I want to go back to Maryland, but I don’t know about for the rest of my life or anything. Home will always be home, whether for a few weeks or a few years. I always like going home.”
Knowing that it’s always hard to know how things will turn out for sure, Abiamiri says he’s ready for anything.
Looking ahead to this season, Abiamiri smiles when he says, “Lay it on me.”