Blue and Gold Illustrated

Dec 19, 2020

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

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52 DEC. 19, 2020 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED WHERE HAVE YOU GONE? Special teams ace still savors every memory and lesson BY TODD D. BURLAGE C harlie Weis had finally seen enough during one particular practice early in the fall of 2007. Before that day, Weis had never given much thought to Mike Anello. After that day, the former Irish head coach never forgot him. Anello, all 5-10 and 170 pounds of him, spent that one particular prac- tice as a walk-on and scout-team player embarrassing all of the three- and four-star recruits who dared to try to keep this annoying pain in the keister from blowing up every one of their punt return attempts. "The kid made every play that he was on the field for — every one," Weis brashly recalled of Anello's fate- ful first impression. "I'm all over the [scholarship] guys for getting domi- nated by this little kid from Chicago." Intrigued and ticked off — and presumably Jersey loud — Weis, on the spot, ascended Anello from prac- tice squad to active roster duty. "From that day forward, Mike was not only on special teams," Weis said, "he became a mainstay and one of the best players on the team." From there, Anello evolved into a gracious philanthropist, a successful Boston-based business owner, and a case study in perseverance and self- belief. "Everyone knew that Mike was going to be a success in business be- cause he was so intelligent and so hard-working," Weis said. "Mike has earned everything he's made." THE ROAD TO NOTRE DAME A standout wrestler who helped Carl Sandburg High School near Chi- cago to its first-ever Illinois team state championship in 2005 — and himself to a third-place individual state finish at 140 pounds — Anello paid no mind to any football aspirations during his one season starting as a senior defen- sive back for the Eagles. Opportunities to wrestle colle- giately at Illinois and Michigan were on the table, but Anello was already disenchanted with the prospect and demands of cutting weight for four more years. And so, wanting a new chapter and fresh challenges, Anello applied to Notre Dame. Never satisfied and forever cu- rious, he conjured this grand plan upon his acceptance. "Why not try walking on the Notre Dame football team? That's what I'll do," Anello shared with a laugh. "I had no idea what it entailed but let's give it a shot. In the worst case, I'll keep my- self in shape for another nine months, and then we'll see what happens." What happened was Anello made the team as a freshman walk-on in 2006, bided his time as an anony- mous player that season, caught the attention of Weis during that one particular practice early in 2007, ex- celled in his expanded role, and then became the leading man on a kickoff coverage unit that ranked as the na- tion's best in 2008. "You're not counting on him being a frontline player at Notre Dame at his size," Weis admitted, "but he was better than almost any guy out there." Anello's first shot and start came at Michigan on Sept. 15, 2007. Admitting later of being paranoid during the bus trip to and his arrival in Ann Arbor as to whether the Irish coaches might change their minds and flip him from starter to sub on the depth chart, Anello remained in- cognito by sprinting onto the field seconds ahead of his teammates be- fore Notre Dame's first kickoff play. "They were going to have to come and get me to take me out," joked Anello, who recorded seven tackles on special teams in 2007 before his fabulous season in 2008. Punt and kickoff coverage teams typically provide as much entertain- ment as drying paint. But Anello's presence on these units brought an anticipatory buzz inside Notre Dame Stadium each time he took the field. While working only as a special teams specialist, Anello tied for 10th on the Irish in 2008 with 23 total tack- les, 14 of them solo, for a 32-percent hit rate on his 72 opportunities (22 on punt coverage, 50 on kickoff coverage). "You sure as hell wouldn't know it by looking at him," Weis empha- sized, again, "but on special teams, he was just one of those guys that absolutely excelled." While Anello was becoming a cult figure on the field in the fall of 2008, he was also becoming an Academic All-American off it, carrying nearly a perfect 4.0 GPA while completing his finance degree in less than three years. "Because of the opportunity I was given, I couldn't waste any of it," Anello said. "I owed it to myself and everyone around me to leave Notre Dame knowing that I put everything into my time there." A broken leg that Anello suffered in November 2008 during what he still calls "that damn USC game" diminished his foot speed and cov- erage skills. But intense rehab and recovery never deterred Anello from returning in 2009 for a last go-around and eight more special teams tackles. That 6-6 season in 2009, the final one for both Anello and Weis, will remain forgettable in Notre Dame an- nals. But the moments and memories — and the triumphs and trials — the player and coach shared will not. "I owe so much in life to Coach [Weis] taking a chance on me," Anello Anello was only 5-10 and 170 pounds, but became a cult hero and special teams standout for Notre Dame, racking up 23 tackles to rank 10th on the squad in 2008, despite appearing only on special teams. PHOTO COURTESY NOTRE DAME ATHLETICS Mike Anello, 2006-09

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