State of the Nation: Volume I

By John Mahoney — Football '21

Each Wednesday prior to Notre Dame football home games, junior defensive back John Mahoney brings you State of the Nation, an inside look at the Irish from a walk-on’s perspective. A reference to the Walk-On Players’ Union and WOPU Nation, State of the Nation, will take you bring you inside the locker room and on the sidelines throughout the 2019 season. Mahoney, a native of West Des Moines, Iowa, is a finance major in the Mendoza College of Business with a minor in history.

Ask any football player and they’ll tell you — the month or so leading up to the first game of any season often feels like the longest month of your entire life. And though training camp is challenging in many ways, it can certainly be rewarding in its own right, and this year was no exception. Particularly since we had the final game of the opening weekend, it goes without saying that my teammates and I were more than ready to get the season started last Monday when we visited Louisville to open our season.

Notre Dame Fighting Irish - Official Athletics Website

You couldn’t have set the stage better if you had tried; it had been more than eight months since we had last played and we were the only game in college football that night. Opening the season on Monday night with the whole country watching is something that most football players can only dream of, and to a man, everyone in our locker room was unbelievably excited and grateful for the opportunity. Since January, every player on our roster had worked extremely hard in anticipation of this moment, and we were ecstatic to have the opportunity to give the world the first look at the 2019 Fighting Irish.

As one of our captains, Jalen Elliott, said just before kickoff, “Where else in the world would you rather be right now?”

Personally, I was excited for a number of reasons. Though there is nothing like playing at home in front of the best fans in America, this was my first experience on the road as a member of the travel roster. I’d been lucky enough to be able to travel to the bowl games during my freshman and sophomore seasons — and as a lifelong Yankees fan had made my way out to Yankee Stadium last year for the Shamrock Series game — but had never traveled with the team to a true road game before. I felt incredibly fortunate to be in the position that I was, and honestly, it didn’t really seem real until I was in my seat on the plane. 

However, I can’t say that there weren’t some nerves to go along with the excitement. Not only was it my first game as a member of the travel squad, but it was also my first game as a defensive signaler — one of the guys on the sideline responsible for getting the call from the press box and relaying it to the defense on the field. Though I felt completely prepared and was confident that I had the trust of my teammates and coaches, I knew things would be far different than they had been in practice in a hostile road environment with the entire nation watching. It was hard to know what to really expect, and despite what I told people, I was pretty anxious in the days and hours leading up to kickoff. 

Notre Dame Fighting Irish - Official Athletics Website

We arrived in Louisville on Sunday afternoon and immediately started preparing for the game. Between meetings, meals and walk-throughs, we stayed busy and remained focused on the task at hand. By the time we got to the stadium, I think I can speak for the team in saying that we felt prepared and completely ready to play. Furthermore, we were all inspired by the hundreds of Irish fans outside the stadium greeting us as we got off the buses — which was a true testament to the loyalty and passion of the Fighting Irish faithful.

If you’re reading this article, you know how the game went, so there’s no need for me to dive too deep into the details. Louisville is a solid, well-coached team with talented athletes, and a road win over a good team is always something worth celebrating. Obviously, we weren’t perfect — but first games rarely are. We have plenty to work on, and Irish Nation can rest assured knowing that we are doing just that. I’m very excited for what is to come this season and, as always, am incredibly grateful to be a part of this team and a member of the Notre Dame family. 


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