State of the Nation: Volume II

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.

To be honest, I didn’t think that I was going to have to write this column. 

Not in the hotel before the game, when it seemed like nobody in the country was willing to give us a chance. 

Not in warmups, when — despite the tens of thousands of raucous fans in black and red — we proceeded as we would for any other game. 

Certainly not at halftime, when we led the No. 3 team in the country 10-7 in their own stadium — deep in the heart of SEC country. 

And even when we fell behind 23-10 and the odds began to look pretty long, I still had faith. All week during practice, we’d prepared for a situation like this one. We had taken plenty of punches, but yet we still found ourselves within striking distance. These were the moments that we’d worked since January for; all those early mornings, brutal workouts and practices in the hot sun at Culver were meant to prepare us for this moment. 

So when we scored to bring it to within a touchdown, everything made perfect sense. And when our defense got that critical stop to get us the ball back with two minutes left, there was no doubt in my mind that we were going to score a touchdown, win the game, shut up the crowd and head back to South Bend happy. 

I certainly wasn’t alone in thinking that. After the game, Coach Kelly stood before the team and verbalized what everyone in the room knew to be true — that until the bitter end, there was no doubt on our sideline or in our locker room about who was going to come out ahead. 

Admittedly, that’s really what makes this so hard. The silence in the locker room after the game spoke volumes about the investment — emotionally, mentally and physically — that each and every person in that locker room has made into this team and our mission. I looked around at a room full of guys that had given all they had — in every sense of the word — and had come up just short. It was painful, sobering, and not something I’ll soon forget.

Despite all that, I feel immeasurably better about this team today than I did before the game Saturday. It sounds strange, I grant you that. It doesn’t matter that we exceeded expectations or had gone toe-to-toe with one of the best teams in the country in a hostile road environment. At the University of Notre Dame, there are no moral victories. Any time the clock runs out and we aren’t ahead, it’s a failure. And though many guys did a lot of things they can be proud of yesterday, the fact remains that the game ended in a loss.

With that being said, I’ve found it to be true that you can learn far more from your failures than your successes. There are plenty of things to improve upon from this weekend’s performance, and I can assure you that the entire team is working harder than ever to be the best version of ourselves that we can be, day in and day out. 

Furthermore, all of our goals are still in front of us. There is plenty of season left, and there isn’t a group in the country I’d rather attack this challenge with than the guys we have. Ask anyone who has been around — it’s a special crew, and Irish Nation should be incredibly excited about the things that are to come these next few weeks. I know I am. I’m more grateful than ever to be a member of this team and the Notre Dame family, and can speak for the entire team in thanking Irish fans across the country for the incredible support you’ve shown us so far this season. We can’t wait to see you this Saturday. 

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