The Lone Survivor, Marcus Luttrell, spoke to the Notre Dame football team on Monday.

Preseason Practice Update - August 10

Aug. 10, 2015

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CULVER, Ind. – Like most elite programs, it’s easy for Notre Dame to say its goal for the 2015 season is to hoist the national championship trophy come January 11 as the lone survivor of college football season.

The lone survivor tale that left the Irish awestruck on Monday afternoon will assuredly make whatever challenges the team will encounter en route to Glendale, Arizona pale in comparison.

Navy Cross recipient Marcus Luttrell, author of the New York Times bestseller Lone Survivor and inspiration for the movie of the same title, visited the team’s practice and spoke to Notre Dame after lunch. While a muggy morning workout may have taxed some on Monday, they were quickly assured that nothing at Camp Culver is remotely as harrowing as what happened on a tour in Afghanistan.

Luttrell’s adventure began when his four-member Navy SEAL unit was ambushed on three flanks by over a hundred Taliban fighters. The other three SEALS were killed, including one fatally shot in the head while Luttrell tended to his teammate’s wounds. Luttrell was left alone, surrounded, wounded, pressing onward through the mud with broken bones and suffering from spells of unconsciousness. A rescue team of 16 SEALs was dispatched but their helicopter was shot down by the Taliban, killing all aboard. Eventually saved by friendly villagers and extradited back to safety by the Army, Luttrell would be the lone survivor of 20 Navy SEALs involved in Operation Redwing.

The Irish walked out of Culver Academies’ Eppley Auditorium in stunned silence an hour later digesting all they had heard with a new perspective on life.

“I got hurt simply playing a sport,” said graduate student linebacker Jarrett Grace who lost 14 months to a severely broken leg in 2013 which required multiple surgeries. “There’s a lot more going on in the world beyond my existence. Hearing his story is so humbling. It makes me never want to slow down for anything. It really is a privilege just to be able to go out and play football. I can look back at something I overcame that becomes something even greater in the future.”

“People always ask me if it hurt when I broke my leg and what was surgery and recovery like,” Joe Schmidt said. “If you look at it in a broader lens, it’s really nothing relative to what could have happened. He talked about pulling shrapnel out of his shinbone. He had a broken back, broken pelvis, bullet holes all over his body, and I’m complaining about a broken ankle?”

While extraordinarily unlikely that any member of the team, or any human being for that matter, will be in a situation similar to Luttrell’s, his message included some components that resonated with the 2015 Irish.

Luttrell spoke of the deep bonds within Navy SEAL units. He recalled attending the funeral of one of his teammates (fellow SEALs were invariably termed “teammates” by Luttrell) and internally realizing that he knew the fallen hero perhaps deeper than even his widowed wife through their experiences in training and combat.

“Friendship and teamwork doesn’t come when everything’s good and you’re just sitting around laughing and joking,” he said. “You become a team when chaos comes – when pain comes. The more pain, the closer you’ll be.”

Although a correlation can be drawn to numerous Notre Dame team-building activities, including the Luttrell-approved lack of names on the Irish uniforms, the stakes SEALs face are, of course, significantly higher than even beating Texas or USC.

“The end result is failure if you don’t come together as a team,” Luttrell told the Irish. “For us, the end result is death.”

Thus, whether the focal point was forgetting the past to move forward, making good upon your word, staying positive, surrounding yourself with good people or other subtexts, the importance of team unity became the central relatable point for the Irish.

“Certain circumstances bring you closer and, obviously, they went through more stuff, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t bond similarly,” Isaac Rochell said. “We are a unit. We need to treat each other like they treated each other.”

“I spend a lot of time dwelling on my relationship with a lot of these guys,” Grace said of his teammates with the perspective of five years at Notre Dame. “I think about when my time at Notre Dame is done. It will be sad for me personally, but, at the same time, I’ll be so happy that I have gotten to know these guys so well.

“I was sitting between (Sheldon Day and Elijah Shumate) in there and I realized that we’ve been through a lot together. We came from such different backgrounds but it doesn’t matter — you’re teammates. You’d do anything for them. I know so much about Eiljah and Sheldon that it’s crazy. I never thought you could be friends like that. I care about them so much and I know that it’s reciprocated. It’s incredible the power that being a team can bring yourself and also the group as a whole.”

The notion of teamwork resonated with the 105 Irish student-athletes captivated by Luttrell’s story. It may not saves lives like Luttrell’s teammates, but, at some point, Notre Dame’s unity could save a game and, with it, a championship season.

“Team for them is everything,” said Schmidt. “It’s how they live their life. They do everything for the guy next to them. You don’t quit not because you don’t want to quit but because you won’t quit on your brothers. It’s a special bond.”

Schmidt, and all around him, hope the bonds the Irish enhanced this weekend at Culver fortify the eventual lone survivor of college football season as the sport’s national champion.

MONDAY AT CULVER: The final full day on the shores of Lake Maxinkuckee saw a full two-hour practice session for the Irish followed by a Mexican-themed lunch. Mesmerized by Lutrell’s speech, the team split up into offensive and defensive units for lifting sessions and meetings. After dinner came positional meetings followed by one last night in the barracks that have nurtured many of our country’s great leaders.

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— written and compiled by Leigh Torbin, athletic communications assistant director, and Michael Bertsch, director of football media relations