Blue and Gold Illustrated

Oct. 1, 2018

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

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6 OCT. 1, 2018 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED S am Mustipher realizes that his biggest fan is gone in body, but the Notre Dame fifth-year senior and Irish football team cap- tain won't even entertain the notion that she'll ever leave him in spirit. Tragically late last month, but not unexpectedly, Notre Dame's three-year starting center and preseason All- American lost his grand- mother to cancer, five days be- fore the season-opening game against Michigan. Linda Heatherman died at the age of 70, only about six months after she was diag- nosed with Stage 4 liver cancer. "She was going to get her last treatment," Mustipher ex- plained, "then decided against it and let nature take its course, which I understand." Going all the way back to Pee-Wee football, and then through Good Counsel High School back home in Olney, Md., and then beyond, Heatherman logged mucho miles to attend as many games as possible to support Sam and his younger brother PJ, a fresh- man defensive tackle at Penn State. Today, the way Sam sees it, grandma has an aerial view to watch both of her grandsons play at the same time. "She knew she was going to pass before the football season," Sam said. "She didn't want any distractions for us. That's just the way I like to think about it." Joseph Heatherman survives his wife and is left to carry on the tra- dition of taking in as many Notre Dame and Penn State games as his schedule allows. From the Stanford and USC rival- ries in the West; to the Hurricane Matthew game in 2016 against North Carolina State, and the 100-plus de- gree heat game at North Carolina in 2017 in the East; to Notre Dame at Wake Forest last weekend, nei- ther distance, nor elements, nor cir- cumstance ever interrupt game-day competition without grandparental representation. "They've been there every step of the way," Mustipher said. Sam shared a story about how every summer he and his brother would stay for at least a week with their grandparents, and the beefy lineman theorizes that those visits helped turn the Mustipher broth- ers into the football players they are today. "I attribute the reason I play offen- sive line to every time I went to their house, I would gain 10 pounds," chuckled Sam, who checks in at 6-2 and 306 pounds, with PJ right there at 6-4 and 300 pounds. Linda was not only proud of Sam the player, but proud of Sam the stu- dent, and proud of Sam the maturing young man. Even as her body failed, grandma insisted on making the long drive from Maryland to South Bend for her grandson's graduation. Mustipher walked off that com- mencement stage with a computer science degree. He's considering work in cyber security after his col- lege and potential NFL career is finished. Always carrying calm and control, Mustipher in hindsight admits his five-year journey through Notre Dame has been far from easy, especially during his freshman fall semester when he juggled 17 credit hours in a difficult major along with football and the other pres- sures that come with being a first-year college student- athlete. "It's really just sticking to a day-to-day grind," Mustipher said, with the poise that made him a clear choice as a team captain. "It is easy to get stressed out, but you have to do everything in your power not to let that happen." Mustipher survived, and ul- timately thrived, pulling a 3.6 GPA and a spot on the Dean's List last school year. He's taking three gradu- ate classes this fall semes- ter for a total of nine credit hours — Cybercrime In The Law, Music and Worship, and Digital Technology — a lighter schedule but one that will still keep Mustipher plenty busy but not overwhelmed, knowing full well that somebody special is looking over him in times of need. Linda Heatherman made a living as a social worker, and it's her giving spirit and selflessness that Mustipher said was passed through his mother down to him and his brother, a trait that makes for a better teammate, a stronger young man and what Irish head coach Brian Kelly calls an ex- emplary team captain at a university that asks so much from its student- athletes. "You have to be a guy that cares about his teammates, is not self-cen- tered and just thinks about himself. He thinks about others," Kelly said. "The laundry list of things that hit Sam also hit the players here at Notre Dame. "And I'm not saying he'd be a cap- tain everywhere, but he's a perfect captain here." ✦ Inspiration From Loss Fuels Sam Mustipher UPON FURTHER REVIEW TODD D. BURLAGE Todd D. Burlage has been a writer for Blue & Gold Illustrated since July 2005. He can be reached at In late August, Mustipher lost his grandmother, Linda Heatherman, one of his biggest fans. PHOTO BY BILL PANZICA

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