Nov. 12, 2002
By Peter J. Stuhldreher
Next weekend when the football team takes on Rutgers at Notre Dame Stadium represents a chance for the Irish to move their record to 10-1 and become eligible for a Bowl Championships Series game. However, for the seniors, it will mark the last home game of their career. This bye week has perhaps given some of those seniors some time to reflect on their years under the dome with one of those being cornerback and Thorpe Award semifinalist Shane Walton.
“If you asked me six years ago if I would be at Notre Dame and be one of the leading cornerbacks in the nation, I would have told you definitely not,” said Walton.
“It has been a dream come true and a blessing for me to be here.”
Next weekend will be the last time that the Irish seniors run through the tunnel at Notre Dame Stadium and play in front of the home crowd and student body. Just as the rest of his teammates, Walton wants to go out on a winning note.
“No one wants to be looked at as a loser,” says Walton.
“But the way that society is, people look at you for what you did last, so I would love to get a win in our last game in the Stadium.”
To do that, Notre Dame will have to come together in the next two weeks and refocus from a loss to Boston College and a scare at Navy where the Irish won by seven points on a late Carlyle Holiday touchdown pass to Omar Jenkins.
“We will just do what we have done all year and just focus on one team without looking forward,” said Walton.
However, visions of the future are hard to keep out of the minds of Irish fans on this bye week. The future is still very much up in the air for Notre Dame as they stand ninth in both the Associated Press and the ESPN/USA Today Coaches Poll and seventh in the BCS rankings. If the Irish win one more game, they become eligible for a BCS bid, however, after Rutgers next weekend, the team will have to travel to USC to take on the eighth-ranked Trojans.
With such a tough game looming, Irish players talk about staying focused on winning the last two games of the year and letting the BCS sort itself out. But have the players given up on their chances of playing in the title game in Tempe? Walton hasn’t.
“I would love to play for the national championship,” says Walton.
“Who knows what will happen. Teams have been falling out (of the top BCS rankings), but I would love to go out and play for a national championship and have the number one lit up on Grace Hall.”