Nov. 21, 2014
By Todd Burlage
Talk about a big decision and yet an easy one for University of Notre Dame women’s swimmer Sydney Golic.
Let’s see here — her father played football at Notre Dame, her mother went to Saint Mary’s College (across the street from Notre Dame), both her big brothers played football for the Irish, and her uncle was also an All-America football player at Notre Dame. So when it came time for Sydney to make a college choice and pick the best place to continue her swimming career?
“It was a no-brainer,” Sydney says with a laugh. “But not because I felt pressured to come to Notre Dame. I just fell in love with the school years ago coming here with my family. I joke that I pretty much committed when I was about 8 years old because it was always a dream of mine to go to school here.”
Sydney Golic is the daughter of Mike and Christine Golic, the little sister of Mike Jr. and Jake Golic, and the niece of legendary Irish linebacker Bob Golic. The Notre Dame tradition has in many ways helped to define the course and legacy of the Golic family, and it still does.
Mike parlayed a successful Notre Dame and National Football League football career into a co-hosting gig alongside Mike Greenberg on Mike & Mike, a popular syndicated sports talk show on ESPN Radio. Now Sydney is following in her family and famous father’s footsteps as a student and an athlete, not because she had to, but because she wanted to.
“The most important thing for me was that it was her dream to come to Notre Dame, not mine,” Mike Golic says of his daughter’s college choice. “If she decided to go somewhere else, I would’ve been just as happy. Now, it happened to be Notre Dame she wanted to go to. So, when it’s your own school, your alma mater and where your family has gone, that certainly adds to it.”
Sydney Golic may share the richest father-daughter heritage among all the Notre Dame student-athletes. But she is not the only Irish athlete with a very well-known father, not hardly. In fact, whether it’s Irish swimming, baseball, volleyball or especially football, Notre Dame has remarkably become the University of choice for several standout athletes with famous fathers.
On the football team, sophomore receiver Corey Robinson is the son of legendary NBA Hall of Famer David Robinson. Sophomore receiver Torii Hunter Jr. is the son of nine-time gold glove winner and future Major League Baseball Hall of Famer Torii Hunter Sr.
Senior Austin Collinsworth is the son of former Pro Bowl wide receiver and Emmy-winning NFL commentator Cris Collinsworth. Senior cornerback Josh Atkinson is the son of former Oakland Raiders all-pro defensive back George Atkinson, and sophomore cornerback Jesse Bongiovi is the son of legendary singer-songwriter Jon Bon Jovi.
And in addition to all of the famous football father-son pairings, former NFL quarterback and ESPN analyst Trent Dilfer’s daughter, Maddie, is a freshman setter on the Irish volleyball team, and former Houston Astros great Craig Biggio’s two sons, Conor, a senior outfielder, and Cavan, a sophomore infielder, are Irish baseball players.
With so many influential fathers wanting the best for their children — and after many of those dads went through their own intense and stressful high school recruiting process years ago — the logical assumption is that these famous fathers pushed Notre Dame on their kids, when nothing could be further from the truth.
All of these fathers stayed very involved in recruiting and tried to provide all the necessary data to make an informed college choice, but they actually tried to stay neutral during the decision process, as difficult as that often became.
Cris Collinsworth knows all about high school recruiting after becoming a three-time All-America wide receiver at Florida. In a story for Comcast Sportsnet Chicago, Collinsworth said it wasn’t easy to keep his mouth shut during a campus recruiting visit and tour of Notre Dame Stadium when his son asked, “What do you think?”
“And I wanted to say, `What do I think? What, are you nuts? This is Notre Dame!'” Cris Collinsworth recalled. “`The greatest players in the history of the world have walked through this tunnel and onto this field, and this is where you should go and this is awesome.’ But I said, `I don’t know, Austin, what do you think?'”
Ask any of these student-athletes about the recruiting process and they share similar stories about how their well-known fathers stayed involved in the process as a resource, but not overly involved when a final decision needed to be made.
“My father wanted me to make my decision as a grown man and live with the decision I made,” Hunter Jr. says of his recruitment. “That was just him treating me as a man rather than having me just follow him and what he directed.
“Dad was always there to give advice when I needed it but then he could step away when he thought I needed to learn something on my own,” says Maddie Dilfer, who came to Notre Dame from Saratoga, California after touring schools all over the country with her father, Trent. “Not a lot of kids are able to have a dad that has been through so much competitively and I am really thankful I can always turn to him.”
Craig Biggio and his wife, Patty, both attended Seton Hall University and had no direct ties to Notre Dame while their sons were being recruiting out of St. Thomas High School in Houston. As two of the top prep baseball players in Texas, the college options were many for Conor and Cavan, so the decision process, at times, proved to be somewhat overwhelming.
“Walk with them, not for them,” Craig Biggio says of the role he took with his two sons. “You have to let your kids figure out what they want to do with their lives and I think that is what is exciting. You are there to help and guide. But you don’t want to try and be a soothsayer in telling your kids what they have to do their whole life because sooner or later they have to make decisions on their own.”
From no-nonsense recruiting visits to a steadying parental influence, Irish head football coach Brian Kelly outlined some advantages of pursuing players whose fathers understand what it takes to be a high-profile and successful student-athlete.
“[The fathers] have seen it and know that going on and [playing professional sports] is great,” Kelly says, “yet you have to do something after, and they are sending their sons to a University where they can be in an environment where they can grow, mature, get their degrees and be taken care of for the rest of their lives.”
Perhaps the best example of Kelly’s point is David Robinson. Not only was Corey’s father an All-America basketball player at the Naval Academy, he was also a math major, an accomplished musician, a civil engineer and a terrific resource for his son during recruitment.
“Dad and I sat down and listed the pros and cons of all the schools we were considering,” Corey says. “And the only cons I could come up with at Notre Dame were that it was cold and the benches are uncomfortable in the stadium. So if those are the only two cons, then the decision became easy.”
Career and travel demands make it difficult for many of these mothers and fathers to attend all of their children’s games, meets and events. Yet they are always just a phone call or text message away and remain very much an influence and support network as their kids move through their college years.
FATHER KNOWS BEST
SENIOR Josh Atkinson
Like Father: George Atkinson was an All-Pro defensive back with the Oakland Raiders and a member of their 1977 Super Bowl championship team. He currently works as a pre- and post-game broadcaster for his former NFL franchise.
Like Son: A standout running back and defensive back in high school, Josh, a reserve cornerback at Notre Dame, has been used primarily as a special teams player during his Irish career, recording 10 total tackles during his first three years here, with 26 game appearances.
Quotable: “My whole thing was to impart on [my sons] what it takes to be successful, in any endeavor. My influence was not more than any other father, except for my experience. The credit goes to them.” — George Atkinson
SENIOR CONOR BIGGIO AND SOPHOMORE CAVAN BIGGIO
Like Father: Craig Biggio spent his entire Major League Baseball career with the Houston Astros from 1988 through 2007. He recorded 3,060 career hits and had his No. 7 jersey retired by the team in 2008.
Like Son: A versatile outfielder who runs and throws well enough to play any of the three positions, Conor finished 2014 with one of the highest on-base percentages on the Irish (.381) and tied with a team-high seven stolen bases.
Like Son: Already an MLB Draft pick of the Philadelphia Phillies, Cavan came to Notre Dame ranked as the No. 1 prep second baseman in the country. He appeared in all 56 Irish games last season, finishing fourth on the team with 46 hits.
Quotable: “We guided our children. We supported them. We were there for them. But once you start going through your list of schools that present a potential opportunity, a young man or a young woman has to be happy with their decision. If they are unhappy, then their whole four years of college are going to be some of the most miserable memories of their lifetime.” — Craig Biggio
SOPHOMORE Jesse Bongiovi
Like Father: A Songwriters Hall of Fame inductee in 2009, Jon’s namesake band, Bon Jovi, is one of the most popular rock groups of all time, having sold more than 100 million albums worldwide and performed live for more than 34 million fans.
Like Son: An accomplished lacrosse player in high school, Jesse made his mark on Irish football scout teams after joining Notre Dame as a walk-on player in 2013. Poised to compete for some time on special teams, Jesse was forced to miss the 2014 season with a torn ACL.
Quotable: “I know that without my dad’s guidance and insistence through everything, I would not have been able to come to Notre Dame. He always made sure I was doing enough to get here because that was my dream. He always explained that Notre Dame would open a door for me that no other place could so he played a key role in all of that.” — Jesse Bongiovi
SENIOR Austin Collinsworth
Like Father: Currently working as a color-commentator on Monday Night Footall alongside legendary broadcaster Al Michaels, Cris was a first-team team All-America wide receiver at Florida before enjoying three All-Pro seasons with the Cincinnati Bengals.
Like Son: Injuries have limited Austin’s playing time during his senior season in 2014. But, as a team captain, the standout safety has stayed involved in practices and games to help improve his position group. Austin had 43 tackles and three interceptions as a junior in 2013.
Quotable: “Actually, my dad had very little to do with me coming to Notre Dame. I respected that he stayed involved in the process, but he completely stayed out of the decision. He was always there when I needed him, but he also let me find my own way, which I truly appreciated.” — Austin Collinsworth
FRESHMAN MADDIE DILFER
Like Father: Selected with the sixth overall pick by Tampa Bay in the 1994 NFL Draft, Trent was a Pro Bowl selection with the Buccaneers in 1997 and he earned a Super Bowl title with the Baltimore Ravens in 2001.
Like Daughter: Named an honorable mention Under Armour All-American as a setter after both her junior and senior high school seasons, Maddie led the USA Volleyball Youth National Team as a captain to a bronze medal. She is also an accomplished beach volleyball player and a four-year honor student in high school.
Quotable: “With Maddie, I definitely think I helped to guide her through the process. She leaned on me a lot with recruiting questions and prioritizing. I tried to help her wrestle with the best way to make her decision, but we don’t want to make the mistake of using that influence to force decisions on people.” — Trent Dilfer
JUNIOR SYDNEY GOLIC
Like Father: Before enjoying a successful career as a television and radio personality upon his retirement from football, Mike had an eight-year NFL run as a defensive tackle with the Houston Oilers, Philadelphia Eagles and Miami Dolphins.
Like Daughter: A versatile swimmer who competed in free, back, breast, fly, individual medley and free relay during her sophomore season last year, Sydney is expected to concentrate on the breaststroke and backstroke this year. A three-time finalist in national meets while in high school, she narrowly missed a qualifying chance for the 2012 Olympic Trials in the breaststroke.
Quotable: “Swimming is so hard physically and mentally that because my dad has been through competition at a high level and with everything he has gone through, anytime I had a bad day at practice I would automatically go to him and he just had the right things to say every single time, and that would just keep me motivated.” — Sydney Golic
SOPHOMORE Torii Hunter Jr.
Like Father: A five-time MLB All-Star, Torii Sr., won nine consecutive Gold Glove Awards as an outfielder and two Silver Slugger Awards. During his 17-year career to date, Hunter has 2,327 hits, 331 home runs and 193 stolen bases.
Like Son: A long recovery from a broken leg forced Torii Jr. to take a redshirt year in 2013 and has him easing his way back into the receiver rotation this season. Showing some steady improvement and increasing playing time, Torii Jr. has the rare accomplishment this year of scoring on his first career reception, a 13-yard touchdown catch in his collegiate debut against Syracuse.
Quotable: “My father had an idea on where he wanted me to end up at school, but he never told me until after I committed to Notre Dame. He always left it in my hands to make the decision. He didn’t want me to be upset with him over my choice. He didn’t want me to have any regrets or hold any resentment for going somewhere he felt like he wanted me to go but I didn’t really want to.” — Torii Hunter Jr.
SOPHOMORE Corey Robinson
Like Father: One of just six players in NBA history to amass 20,000 points, 10,000 rebounds and 2,500 blocks, David Robinson is considered one of best centers in league history. He also retired as a two-time NBA champion and the 1995 league MVP.
Like Son: Emerging as one of the best wide receivers on the team, Corey has become a go-to target around the end zone and in critical situations as he continues to improve with every game. As a high school senior at San Antonio Christian High School in Texas, Robinson caught 67 passes for 1,414 yards and 20 touchdowns while also earning a place on the Texas academic all-state team.
Quotable: “My dad is a great competitor, a great athlete, and he knows what it takes to get to the highest level. One of the things he hammered into me growing up was the value of an education, so that was the No. 1 thing for me. What are the best schools I can go to where I can also succeed on a large football scale?” — Corey Robinson