Being a walk-on all I really wanted was a chance. That chance finally came last season. I knew things would be different when Coach Willingham was hired. When he got here, we all had meetings with him. A lot of times if you are not on scholarship you get pushed aside, but Coach assured me, as he assured everyone on the team, that he does not care if you are a walk-on or scholarship player or what you did in high school. If you can play, you play. He opened it up to everyone and we all got a fair shot going into last season. He gave me a chance to show that I could play here.
Notre Dame was really the only school that showed interest in me. I came to the Notre Dame football camp and former quarterback coach Kevin Rogers liked me as a player. Coach Rogers gave me an opportunity to come here as a walk-on. They brought me here on an official visit, and I mean, its Notre Dame… there was really no question in determining where I was going to go to college after I visited.
One day during summer school after my freshman year, I was taking a nap when the football office secretary called my room. She told me Coach Willingham had left scholarship papers for me to sign. I was like, “What! I’ll be there in 30 seconds.”
The thing was Coach was not even there as he was gone for the fourth of July weekend, so it was not ceremonial and I did not even get to thank him for almost two weeks after that. It was nice that it helped out my family financially, but more importantly, it showed that Coach Willingham had faith in me and was giving me an opportunity. That was more important to me than any amount of money being saved.
I had been given a few opportunities late in the Maryland game last year so when the Michigan State game rolled around two weeks later and Carlyle (Holiday) got hurt, playing was not completely new for me. It all happened really quickly and I didn’t have time to think. All I remember is it was the third quarter, but I can’t tell you how much time was left on the clock.
I didn’t do much the first possession. I then found Carlyle before I went out on the field the second time and asked him for some advice. He told me just to play within myself and do what I could do. He told me to remember I had 10 other guys out there and that I would be fine. That meant a lot to me because coaches can reassure you all you want, but it means a lot more when a teammate, especially someone who has been out there before, says that they have confidence in you. I will always remember that.
Then (former All-America center and current Cleveland Browns player) Jeff Faine pulled me aside and said “Let’s get this done.” That really makes you believe in yourself and the team.
Though I threw an interception once I got in there, we came out ready right after Michigan State scored making the game 17-14 in favor of the Spartans.
We were working the two-minute drill. It was just like we do in practice which made everything a lot easier and helped me relax more. The play was called and Arnaz (Battle) and I communicated because we saw that the safety was blitzing. In our offense, we have built-in adjustments for when the safety comes, and I just hit Arnaz. The rest is history. We won 21-17. It was something I will always remember.
You cannot take anything for granted. Every time you come out of the tunnel and run out on that field you just have to take a step back and realize where you are playing. This is not any college football program. This is the best program. This is what everyone strives for.
If someone had told me coming in here as a freshman that I would have started a game here, thrown a touchdown pass or even played one play, I would have said you were insane. Last year exceeded any expectations I had for myself, but now I have to set the bar a little higher and always be ready. The Michigan State game taught me that. It was a good moment, a good game, but you always have to be ready for the next opportunity. That might be today, and if so, I am ready.