Blue and Gold Illustrated

Sept. 17, 2018

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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Page 15 of 55

16 SEPT. 17, 2018 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED BY LOU SOMOGYI H ow peculiar that in a mar- quee Notre Dame-Michigan matchup replete with four-star players — and even a few five- star figures (namely Notre Dame's Daelin Hayes and Michigan's Rashan Gary and Shea Patterson) — a two- star and zero-star would help make the difference for the Fighting Irish. The two-star was junior safety Alohi Gilman (see page 18), whose offers came from the likes of Weber State and South Dakota before he opted to enroll in the Naval Prep Academy in 2015 and start for the Midshipmen in 2016. He recorded a career-high 12 tackles in a win over Notre Dame before his aspirations to play football at a higher level brought him to South Bend. Similar objectives also morphed for zero-star senior wide receiver Chris Finke, who was offered walk- on spots at in-state Miami (Ohio), Wisconsin and Pitt. He also had the option to star at either Dayton in the Football Championship Subdivision or Division III power Mount Union. "Heading into my senior year [of high school], I didn't really expect that I'd be playing college football," admitted the now more physically matured 5-9½, 180-pound Finke. "I didn't have anybody knocking on my door." Fortunately, Kettering (Ohio) Arch- bishop Alter classmate Nick Coleman possessed the skills to attract the atten- tion of the Notre Dame coaching staff, who had also signed quarterback Ma- lik Zaire from the same school in 2013. After Finke scored six of his 10 touchdowns on punt returns as a se- nior, a surprise awaited one day when longtime Archbishop Alter head coach Ed Domsitz introduced him to Brian Kelly. The Notre Dame head coach in- formed Finke that the Irish would like him to walk on to the program with a chance to earn a scholarship. A stunned Finke did not know how to answer, which took Kelly aback to the point where he wondered if the prospect's heart was into it. "That's one of the biggest regrets of my life — that I didn't respond with the enthusiasm that I should have," noted Finke, whose sensational 43- yard touchdown catch in tight cover- age gave Notre Dame a 14-0 cushion over Michigan in the 24-17 victory. "I thought it was just going to be a hello type thing, and all of a sudden he said, 'How do you feel about walking on?' I was just shocked and a little speechless. You could tell he was a little underwhelmed with my answer. "He had an in-home visit with Nick that night, so at basketball practice I said, 'Nick, I blew it! You've got to tell Coach that I'm excited about this.'" In his first preseason camp that August, Finke began to believe his nonchalance to Kelly's offer would become his second biggest regret. When freshman Shaun Crawford, the designated starting nickel back, suffered a torn ACL during one of those practices, Finke was shifted to defense to provide an extra body. "I'm not a comfortable defensive player at all," Finke said. "I didn't think I had the skill set to play de- fense at the college level, especially as a freshman. I just got inside my head thinking about it. Will I ever go back to receiver? "I started projecting that in the fu- STILL CLIMBING Former walk-on wideout Chris Finke's dedication and playmaking has made him quite the catch Walk-On Wonders Will Chris Finke be the next prominent former walk-on to start at Notre Dame on a premier team? Here are some past standards on offense or defense since 1964: • Safety/return man Nick Rassas (1964-65) — The former running back earned consensus All- America notice under head coach Ara Parseghian. • Center Mike Oriard (1967-69) — A co-captain as a senior on a team that finished No. 5 nationally. • Running back Ed Gulyas (1969-71) — The leading rusher on 1970 team that finished 10-1 and No. 2 in the country. • Cornerback Tim Rudnick (1971-73) — He started every game at cornerback for the 1973 national champs. • Flanker Pat Eilers and tackle Mike Brennan (1987-89) — Both were mainstays during a school- record 23-game winning streak and national title, and both played in the NFL multiple years. • Cornerback Shane Walton (1999-2002) — The former soccer player was a consensus All-American for the 2002 team that started 10-1. • Linebacker Joe Schmidt (2011-15) — Selected as the team MVP in 2014 and served as a captain on 2015 team that started 10-1. — Lou Somogyi

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