Nov. 13, 2014
As the University of Notre Dame men’s soccer team was in the first act of last year’s run to the national title, midfielder Brendan Lesch found himself starring in his own version of Groundhog Day.
Lesch tore his left ACL in the team’s first exhibition match at Creighton. It was the second time he tore that ligament during his college career and in between those setbacks he broke the tibia in the same leg.
“I remember sitting on the field right when they told me it was torn and the realization of looking at another eight months with hours of rehab a day,” Lesch says. “I was thinking, `Man, this is going to be a long junior year,’ but that thought passed by the time I was off the field and from then I knew I had to just drive and chip away every day to get better.”
The path that was in front of Lesch had, unfortunately, become one that he was used to traveling. After playing in two games during the early stages of his freshman campaign, he suffered his first ACL injury that kept him out the remainder of the season. In the summer prior to his sophomore year, the Westport, Conn., native broke his tibia. The broken leg forced him to miss the first seven contests of his second season and he returned to the field just over a year after his last game appearance. He wound up playing in eight matches that season and helped the Fighting Irish claim the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA tournament.
“I thought the first injury was probably the scariest because I’d never gone through anything like that before,” Lesch states. “There was that obvious doubt of if I’d ever heal or be the same player that I was before the injury. That was a little bit frightening. By the time the third injury came around I knew it was something I just had to deal with. I’d get through it and come back. It would be eight months to a year of hard work and discomfort, but I knew at that time it would heal and I would be back.”
Lesch’s focus and determination wasn’t limited to his rehab. He accelerated his classroom load so that he could graduate in three years and enroll in Notre Dame’s one-year MBA program. He finished his undergraduate studies with a 3.256 cumulative GPA and a degree in finance from Notre Dame’s nationally renowned Mendoza College of Business.
“Originally I had planned to graduate in three-and-a-half years and hope to be ready for the MLS Draft in January of my senior year,” Lesch says. “I was on pace to do that, but when I realized I wouldn’t be playing my junior season I looked into doing a one-year MBA and because that was only offered starting in June, I knew I had to get done in three years. Looking at rehab and being away from soccer for a little while, I figured I could push it and get done one semester earlier and apply for the one-year MBA program.”
While his classroom schedule kept him quite busy, he still had the void of not being able to play the game he loves. Lesch was around the team, but he couldn’t practice or play, so he found another way to stay involved on game days: he grabbed a microphone and became an analyst for home matches streamed on WatchND.
“Doing some of the color commentary for the team was incredible,” Lesch says. “It gave me a bit of a purpose and it gave me something to look forward to every game. Instead of struggling with the fact of sitting on the bench and watching everybody do their thing and feel like I wasn’t contributing, it really felt great to be in the booth and kind of grow the Notre Dame soccer brand. Hopefully I gave a little insight to the audience of what the team was doing and what the coaches were thinking and some of the human interest stories behind some of the pretty incredible guys that we have on our team.”
Lesch was able to leave the booth and rejoin his teammates on the field this season. He has played in 12 games, including five starts, for the ACC Coastal Division champion Fighting Irish.
“For Brendan to have fought back the way he has is quite amazing,” Notre Dame head coach Bobby Clark says. “One of the great things about Brendan is that each time, especially after the second ACL injury, he always said he was doing great. Most other guys would have really been feeling sorry for themselves, and I’m sure Brendan was, but you never got that impression. His reaction always was very, very positive. He has a tremendous attitude and obviously he has a great work ethic and he’s also a pretty smart kid. You throw the whole thing together and he’s done superbly well.”
The college journey has not been smooth for the high school All-American, but Lesch isn’t spending time looking back at what could have been.
“I learned that you can get through anything with a great support network,” Lesch says. “It puts things into perspective. I remember when I first got hurt I thought my world was ending. Then you get through it and you realize you get through the setback and things happen for a reason and good things come from it. I definitely learned that no matter what hand you’ve been dealt you just have to put your head down and get through it.
“Sitting here now, it’s really exciting because my knee is healed as I knew it would be and I’m more than halfway done with an MBA. Now with my body feeling great and being back on the field and the way the injuries have positioned me for a very successful career moving forward is exciting. When you first get dealt a blown-out knee, maybe you say, `Do I really need this?’ But in hindsight, it’s probably one of the best things that’s ever happened to me and I think it’ll really pay dividends moving forward.”
Lesch is grateful that the game has taken him to some incredible places and he feels he still has some good soccer left in him before he hangs up the cleats for good. He isn’t completely certain what his future will hold, but his immediate focus is on helping the Fighting Irish make another postseason run.
“Everybody is really hungry for another shot,” Lesch states. “We did well last year and were pleased, but it almost just fuels the fire to know it’s possible and we want to do it again. For me, being able to be a part of it this year in a way I always wanted to be is really something special. I’m just trying to enjoy the ride.”
— Sean Carroll, Assistant Athletic Media Relations Director