State of the Nation: Volume IV

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 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.

If you’re like most Irish fans, you probably don’t know a ton about WOPU Nation. After a little thinking, you can probably intuit that WOPU is an acronym for Walk-On Players Union.  And sure, you may see our tweets from time to time, or hear us mentioned by a reporter when they interview Chris Finke, but I’m guessing that is largely the extent of your understanding of who and what we are. 

We get it — we usually aren’t as easy to find on Saturdays (last weekend being the exception), and the vast majority of us will be going pro in something other than sports. With that being said, ask anyone around the program — I’m certain that they’d be the first to say that the men of WOPU Nation play an integral role in the ultimate success of the team. 

So, if you’ll indulge me, I’d like to devote this week’s column to showing all of you a little bit of who we are, what we do, and why you should care about the guys you don’t often hear about in the preseason magazines or post-game news reports. 

Though you probably can’t tell by looking at us, we come from a variety of backgrounds, upbringings and locales. Some of us are natives of South Bend, while others come from across the country. Some of us have been playing football since we were young, while others picked up the sport later on — sometimes taking on an unfamiliar position to fill an area of need for the team. Many of us were born into diehard Notre Dame families and grew up dreaming of one day taking the field for the Irish. Some others — myself included — grew up rooting for other schools, discovering our love for Notre Dame as we looked for a place that we could grow in all facets of our lives without having to hang up the cleats. 

Among our ranks, we boast engineers, business owners, musicians, and even an actor who, in the middle of spring practice, had a starring role in the on-campus production of The Great Gatsby. For a group of between 30-35 guys, we are well represented across campus, whether that be in clubs, dorm leadership or otherwise. The beauty of a place like Notre Dame is that you can truly take advantage of having “the best of both worlds,” and the men of WOPU are a true testament to that. 

What truly makes WOPU unique, however, is the commitment that each of our members demonstrates, day in and day out, to the betterment of the team. Many of us could have gone to different schools and likely had a much easier path to playing time. Despite that, we chose to come to Notre Dame, knowing full well that our hard work and dedication may never be rewarded on Saturday. This decision — and the decision to stick with things when times get challenging — demonstrates a level of fortitude and mental toughness that is increasingly rare in today’s world. It’s a special group of guys, and I feel incredibly grateful to be a part of a fraternity that has these traits as their core values. 

So next time you’re at a game, take a look at the sideline. We’ll be there — many of us doing whatever we can to help the team win, whether that be signaling in calls from the booth, charting plays, or simply being supportive of our teammates on the field. And as you cheer the Irish on to victory, take a minute to think about the guys behind the scenes, who get up early, go to bed late, and work their tails off on the scout team during the week to make victories on Saturday a reality. It’s not an easy or glamorous job, but I speak for all of us in saying that there’s nothing else we’d rather do, day in and day out, than exactly what we’re doing now. And, as always, we thank you for the support and are eternally grateful to be a part of the Notre Dame family.

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