Humble Finke Ups His GameBy Denise Skwarcan
Editor’s Note: This story will appear in Saturday’s edition of Gameday Magazine, the official game program of Notre Dame football. Programs are available for purchase throughout campus and feature all you need to know about Notre Dame student-athletes, coaches, history and opponents.
It would be hard to blame Irish wide receiver Chris Finke if he wanted to gloat a little bit. After all, there were more than a few people, including a distant relative, who scoffed at the idea that the undersized Finke could handle being a walk-on with the Notre Dame football team.
The Dayton, Ohio, native had played football for years but it wasn’t until his senior year in high school that playing at the next level even started to invade his thoughts. After head coach Brian Kelly extended the invitation, Finke arrived in South Bend in 2015, earned a scholarship a year later, became a regular contributor and was named one of seven captains for the 2019 season.
So, the fifth-year senior could say ‘I told you so’ to his doubters. But that’s not who he is.
“It’s just the way I was brought up,” Finke noted. “With anything that you accomplish there’s a lot of people that made it possible and I’m grateful to them. So I just work hard, keep my head down and let my work do the talking. I never really felt the need to gloat. … There’s really not a lot to gloat about. There’s a lot of things that I want to accomplish that I still haven’t, and to blow my mouth and talk about how great I am … anybody can point out a lot of things that are the opposite. It’s always best to let other people say good things about you.”
That list of people is much longer than his detractors, and at the top you’ll find parents Jim and Suzanne Finke. Together they raised four kids who have given them plenty of reasons to gloat. Chris, who earned his finance degree with a minor in innovation and entrepreneurship and is currently enrolled in an accelerated master’s program in finance, is sandwiched between two older sisters and a younger brother, and they’re an accomplished group of siblings.
Alex, the oldest, and her husband live in New York where they are Broadway actors. Alex is currently appearing in the hit “Come From Away” while past work has included “Les Miserables” and “Sweeney Todd.” Sarah earned a civil engineering degree and MBA from Notre Dame and now lives in Houston where she works for Exxon. And little brother Jimmy is a junior finance major who attends Miami of Ohio on an Evans Scholarship, given to kids who caddie in high school.
“Thank you for saying that,” Finke said when it was pointed out how successful he and his siblings are. “I’m definitely proud of all of them, and with Alex in her shows … that’s something I have a real appreciation for knowing how bad I would be at it.”
Finke wasn’t always the greatest athlete in the family either, at least early on, and that sparked some competitiveness among the Finke kids when it came to backyard ballgames.
“Sarah, Jimmy and I played sports and, even though theater was Alex’s thing, she would (play with us) and it could get pretty competitive. Especially when we were still little and our sisters were bigger and stronger and faster than us because they were older. They would be hitting home runs and outrunning us, and that drove us crazy. But now we get along really well, and we’re all just really supportive of each other.”
For Chris, that competitiveness drove his desire to join the football team. He had begged his parents for several years as he watched his friends compete, and eventually they relented by about the fifth grade.
“I just always loved watching football and I always just loved playing it in the backyard,” Finke noted. “All my friends started playing earlier than me, but you probably don’t need to be playing football in second grade because it’s probably not good for your body. So I’m glad (my parents) made me wait a little bit. But I was just itching to play competitively.”
As a senior in 2014 at Archbishop Alter High School, Finke scored 10 touchdowns, including six as a punt returner, and accounted for 1,516 all-purpose yards. By then, the idea of playing collegiately was more than just a fleeting thought for Finke who also received walk-on offers from Pittsburgh, Wisconsin and Miami of Ohio.
“Even going into (my senior) season I didn’t think I would get any attention from any schools or do anything that warranted any attention,” Finke explained. “I was confident enough to think that I could but my team didn’t pass a lot so I didn’t get a lot of action. But then I had a pretty successful season, had some help getting in touch with coaches and some coaches visited the school and then it kind of became more of a reality.
“(The Notre Dame offer) was just kind of check-all-the-boxes for me. I wanted to be at a place I would go to even if football wasn’t a part of it. So Notre Dame — great school, only four-hour drive from home, my sister was going here at the time and then you add football on top of it. It was pretty tough to say no.”
"(The Notre Dame offer) was just kind of check-all-the-boxes for me. I wanted to be at a place I would go to even if football wasn’t a part of it. So Notre Dame — great school, only four-hour drive from home, my sister was going here at the time and then you add football on top of it. It was pretty tough to say no."
That isn’t to say that it was smooth sailing for Finke once he arrived on campus because it wasn’t. Coupled with the academic load and his football responsibilities was an early disdain for the comparison to that other famous Notre Dame walk-on. But over time, Finke learned to adapt to — and accept — all aspects of the commitment he made.
“It was hard but I don’t think I ever thought I couldn’t handle it,” Finke remembered. “You come as a walk-on and you’re not the priority on the team and people assume you’re not up to par when it comes to competing athletically on the field. There were a lot of people who (made that comparison to Rudy) and, probably at first, I resented it a little bit. Then throw the college workload on top of that and there were some stressful times.
“But I’ve come to realize the Rudy story is about determination and great success in the face of a lot of adversity. So being compared to someone like that is kind of an honor, but I’ve also been able to individualize my journey a little bit to separate myself from that. I think I’ve gotten a lot better as a football player, and I’m just a little more well-rounded in terms of managing my time with academics and football and a social life and spirituality and all the things that come with trying to succeed at Notre Dame. And I would like to say I’ve become a better person since I’ve been here. So I’m really grateful for my time here and not taking anything for granted because my time here is running out a little bit.”
Finke’s also not taking his newly anointed captaincy for granted either.
“It is quite an honor especially when you look at all the impressive names of some of the other people who have been captains here. Just knowing that my teammates and coaches thought of me in that way and put that responsibility on my shoulders is a great honor and a great responsibility. So I’m not taking it lightly and I’m trying to be a humble worker, lead the best way I can and be open to any way that I can get better.”
And Finke’s humble demeanor was quickly displayed when asked what his most memorable moment has been in an Irish uniform thus far. Instead of recalling his first touchdown or some other big personal play, Finke pauses for a second and then recalls the effort of two of his teammates during the USC contest last season.
“It has to be just watching Tony Jones run down the sideline (to score with 3:09 remaining) after catching a block from Miles Boykin to solidify the 12-0 season and put us in the playoffs,” Finke stated. “I mean it. The play gives me chills whenever I see a highlight of it — just the energy that was there on the field and I like to see the sideline reaction of everybody.”
At some point down the road, Finke thinks it would be “cool” to be a venture capitalist. But if college football was in his cards, maybe professional football is, too.
“That’s my dream and that’s my goal,” Finke stated. “I’m focused on the season and winning a national championship with this team, but once that’s over I’d like to keep playing the game I love for as long as possible.”