Sept. 20, 2016
By Denise Skwarcan
Tyler Newsome is hardly a wallflower, and he wears his passions on his sleeve–and on his shorts with his choice of bright colors and bold patterns. Beyond his fashion statements, among other things, are his love for family and a quintet of non-athlete roommates who hail from all over the country, an eclectic taste in music that includes everything from country to rap and a desire to learn.
And underneath Newsome’s flashy wardrobe is a powerful leg that matches his personality. The University of Notre Dame sophomore won the starting punting duties last season and hasn’t looked back. His desire to continue honing his skills, combined with a love for lifting weights and setting goals, could make him one of the best punters to ever wear an Irish uniform. It’s just who Newsome is, and he wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I always like to say if I wasn’t myself who would I be?” Newsome says. “I just don’t want to be another version of someone else. I’d always rather be the first-rate version of myself.”
That wasn’t hard for the 6-3, 210-pound Newsome who grew up in Carrollton, Georgia, surrounded by a large, supportive extended family. He fished. He played soccer. He knew nothing about Notre Dame. But a suggestion about a scholarship, coupled with a series of incidents that seemed to signal his fate, eventually brought Newsome north to the South Bend campus.
“A couple of coaches mentioned that if I pursued kicking that I could get a scholarship, so at the end of my junior year in high school I started to take it seriously,” Newsome offers. “That’s how it started–just realizing there were opportunities out there and trying to use the talent God gave me.”
About 10 days prior to Notre Dame’s special teams camp, Newsome received an invitation. But, after having already visited a handful of other schools, Newsome’s mom told him if he wanted to go it would have to be on his own dime. So, with the $150 he had earned from his summer job as a lifeguard and a plane ticket bought with miles from an aunt who worked for Southwest Airlines, Newsome and his dad flew to Indiana. At his dad’s urging, the duo toured the campus the day before the camp, where walk-up registration ended up taking every dollar Newsome had in his pocket. But things went well and Notre Dame extended Newsome a scholarship offer.
“I’ll never forget when we got to campus the day before. I just got that feeling that this was a very special place,” Newsome remembers. “I told myself that if I got the opportunity to go here I was going 100 percent. So I gave it everything I had at the camp. The coaches said they were going to take a risk on me and then I called (Irish head) coach (Brian) Kelly from the Atlanta airport on the way home and told him he had me 100 percent.”
Despite arriving on the kicking scene late, Newsome had a successful senior campaign at Carrollton High School. He helped the Trojans to the Georgia Class AAAA title game in 2013 and a final record of 13-2–and he was named to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution all-state squad. That did not, however, turn into playing time for Newsome as a freshman at Notre Dame. Nonetheless he described his first year on campus as “magical.” It was a little bit of a struggle, though, adjusting to new roommates. And not because of differing personalities or levels of cleanliness but because, well, none of Newsome’s roommates is named Trevor Newsome.
“He’s my twin brother and my best friend and we shared a room for 18 years,” explains Newsome of Trevor who is a nursing major at LaGrange College in Georgia. “So it was kind of weird having another roommate. We actually had that conversation about me being here and him being there. But he’s out chasing his dreams and I’m out chasing mine, and we’re okay with that because we both know life is going to take you crazy places.”
When Newsome eventually did make it onto the field for the 2015 season opener versus Texas, Newsome remembers the moment vividly.
“Oh my gosh, I just got chills thinking about it,” Newsome says. “And it’s almost like that feeling is replicated each home game when we do the player walk and we run out of the tunnel. I’m just grinning from ear to ear. I’m getting the chance to do something I worked so hard for. I’m living the dream.”
Newsome’s effort on the field during the 2015 season resulted in a place in Notre Dame’s record books — for single-game punt average (52.4 yards against Massachusetts) and career punt average (44.5). He was named a Ray Guy Award candidate for the honor given to the best punter in the country. But the dream was shattered briefly this past summer by the news that former Michigan State punter Mike Sadler had been killed in a car crash along with Nebraska punter Sam Foltz. Newsome’s exuberance for appreciating every opportunity was heightened even further.
“That was really tough because I really enjoyed being around (Sadler),” notes Newsome who felt the loss again when the Spartans visited Notre Dame Stadium last weekend. “I spent my freshman spring break with him down in the Dallas area. He was very funny and would joke with you, but when it came time to work he was all about the work. He once told me if you wet your hands a little it will help you catch the ball better when it’s raining. That’s something I still do to this day when it’s wet outside.
“It really just shows you to never take a day for granted and to live each day to the fullest. You never know when God is going to call you home.”
Realistically, Newsome’s opportunities on the field are few and far between, particularly with an Irish offense that is capable of scoring points in bunches. But Newsome holds what could be isolated or boring moments at bay by taking his job seriously and knowing the importance of his role.
“Sometimes I only have two punts a game and I’ve had as many as 10, but I always have to be ready to go,” Newsome explains. “I know a punt on fourth down is technically an offensive play, but I consider it the first play of the defense and doing it well gives them the confidence to go out there and stop the other team. So what drives me the most is not letting the team down.
“I don’t ever want to waste a moment during practice. If you waste a moment every day during practice that adds up. I take that to heart.”
By most accounts, including his own, Newsome is a fun-loving, free spirit who has the ability to blend into most crowds without being noticed despite a mop of curly blond hair pulled up into a bun on his head. But he is a stickler for goals. He writes them down everywhere. On his mirror. In his locker. One-day goals. One-week goals. Monthly goals. Five-year goals. They drive his focus and his desire to commit the least amount of critical errors during his limited amount of time on the field.
“I want to beat my average from last season and have a higher net punt average,” Newsome states. “I’d also like to have a higher percentage of my punts land inside the 20. If I strive to be the best punter I can be, hopefully one day I’ll be known as one of the top punters in the country.
“One of the reasons I came to Notre Dame is that everything up here is a challenge, and it’s rewarding to see your hard work pay off. You know, the Texas game (this year) wasn’t my best game and definitely not how I wanted to start the season. But I know that everything I want to accomplish is still out there. I just need to focus on becoming a master of my craft.”
And whether he’s on the field or in the classroom, Newsome loves everything about his decision to call Notre Dame home for this brief period in his life.
“The people here are so passionate, whether it’s the professors and the way they teach or the students and the way they learn or the team and the way they play,” Newsome says. “It rubs off on you and truly makes you want to be the best you can be. There’s just this never-ending desire to accomplish what you want, and it’s something I’m so grateful for.
“During the recruiting pitch you always hear about becoming a Notre Dame man and, through my journey of almost three years now, I can truly see it.”
Denise Skwarcan is a freelance writer in South Bend.