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Irish Memories: Ryan Leahy and the Game of the Century

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Next up on your St. Patrick’s Day retrospective is a look back at the epic 1993 battle against Bobby Bowden’s Florida State Seminoles. And who better to look back than a man who’s spent a lifetime following the Fighting Irish.

Ryan Leahy was an offensive lineman on the ’93 squad and a two-time captain of the Irish in 1994 and 1995. He also comes from a family steeped in Irish tradition, as a third generation football player, each playing in their own version of the “Game of the Century.”

His grandfather, the legendary Frank Leahy played and coached for Notre Dame, guiding the Irish in the 1946 Army vs. Notre Dame game that was billed the Game of the Century. Leahy won four national championships, compiled a ridiculous 107-13-9 record as a head coach, a winning percentage that’s the second best in the history of college football, and was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1970. His father James graduated from Notre Dame in 1969, and was a member of the 1966 National Championship team, taking part in another Game of the Century, the 10-10 tie against Michigan State. In his first game back from injury, Ryan had the opportunity to take part in the 1993 game, filling out a unique family trilogy that’s got to be unparalleled in all of sports.

Here are some of Ryan’s memories of that fateful Saturday in early November 1993, when the No. 2 Irish beat the No. 1 Seminoles 31-24.

“It was mayhem. There were RVs showing up on Tuesday and Wednesday of that week and just parking. You could feel the excitement start happening. As players you were more worried about keeping the task at hand, getting your school work done and that’s never going to let off. There were kids printing t-shirts, handing out hats. For me, the game was a big deal as I was coming off a knee injury and that was my first game back…

“The entire team had a sense of winning. We can beat anybody. We’re going to beat up anybody that we’re going to line up against. Holtz, in terms of preparation was the best big game coach I’ve ever seen. But he stays on top of the same things. We’re not going to change things depending on who we play. He went over the game plan. He’s got an outlined board and that’s the exact same thing we did for every game. By the time we got up to that game we didn’t change…

“Tickets were in very short supply. My dad and my grandfather came back. My brother who played baseball and wasn’t able to sign up for student tickets couldn’t get a seat. I only got two tickets, but I knew one of the ushers. So I talked to him. He knew my brother, knew we were honest and above board. So he let my brother sit down on the field..

“We were really close and the best part is that after the game, in all the mayhem he saw me and a couple of my teammates that were all his friends. He came up to the locker room with us and he sang the fight song. Winning a big game like that there’s nothing better than screaming the fight son at the top of your lungs. Father Reilly looked at me and said, ‘What’s he doing here?’ I just told him, ‘That’s okay father, he knows the fight song.'”

Special thanks to Ryan for relaying such a great story, all from right next to the trading desk at William Blair in Chicago, where he now works in fixed income and municipal bonds.

Sheldon Day drafted in 4th round by Jaguars

North Carolina v Notre Dame
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Former Notre Dame captain Sheldon Day didn’t have to wait long on Saturday to hear his name called. The Indianapolis native, All-American, and the Irish’s two-time defensive lineman of the year was pick number 103, the fourth pick of the fourth round on Saturday afternoon.

Day was the seventh Irish player drafted, following first rounders Ronnie Stanley and Will Fuller, second round selections Jaylon Smith and Nick Martin, and third rounders KeiVarae Russell and C.J. Prosise.

Day has a chance to contribute as he joins the 24th-ranked defense in the league. Joining a draft class heavy on defensive players—Jalen Ramsey, Myles Jack and Yannick Ngakoue already picked ahead of him—the front seven will also include last year’s No. 3 overall pick Dante Fowler, who missed the entire season with a knee injury.

Scouted by the Jaguars at the Senior Bowl, Day doesn’t necessarily have the size to be a traditional defensive tackle. But under Gus Bradley’s attacking system (Bradley coordinated the Seahawks defense for four seasons), Day will find a niche and a role in a young defense that’s seen a heavy investment the past two years.

Smith, Martin, Russell and Prosise all drafted Friday night

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - SEPTEMBER 13: William Fuller #7 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and Nick Martin #72 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish celebrate a touchdown during the game against the Purdue Boilermakers at Lucas Oil Stadium on September 13, 2014 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)
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Jaylon Smith, Nick Martin, KeiVarae Russell and C.J. Prosise were all selected on Friday, with four Irish teammates taken on the second night of the NFL Draft. As mentioned, Smith came off the board at pick 34, with the Cowboys gambling on the injured knee of the Butkus Award winner. Nick Martin was selected at pick 50, joining former teammate Will Fuller in Houston.

The third round saw Russell and Prosise come off the board, with Kansas City jumping on the confident cornerback and the Seahawks taking Notre Dame’s breakout running back. It capped off a huge night for the Irish with Sheldon Day, one of the more productive football players in college football, still on the board for teams to pick.

Here’s a smattering of instant reactions from the immediate aftermath.

 

 

Jaylon Smith goes to Dallas with 34th pick

PITTSBURGH, PA - NOVEMBER 07:  Jaylon Smith #9 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish celebrates by wearing the hat of team mascot, Lucky The Leprechaun, following their 42-30 win against the Pittsburgh Panthers at Heinz Field on November 7, 2015 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
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Jaylon Smith’s nightmare is over.

After watching his football life thrown into chaos with a career-altering knee injury, Smith came off the board after just two picks in the second round, selected by the Dallas Cowboys with the 34th pick. His selection ended the most challenging months of Smith’s young life, and come after cashing in a significant tax-free, loss-of-value insurance policy that’ll end up being just shy of a million dollars.

No, it’s not top-five money like Smith could’ve expected if he didn’t get hurt. But Smith isn’t expected to play in 2016.

And while there was a pre-draft fascination that focused on the doom and gloom more than the time-consuming recovery, it’s worth pointing out that Dallas’ medical evaluation comes from the source—literally. After all, it was the Cowboys team doctor, Dr. Dan Cooper, who performed the surgery to repair Smith’s knee.

Smith joins Ezekiel Elliott with the Cowboys, arguably the two best position players in the draft. While he might not be available in 2016, Smith will be under the supervision of the Cowboys’ medical staff, paid a seven-figure salary to get healthy with the hopes that he’ll be back to his All-American self sooner than later, especially as the nerve in his knee returns to full functionality.

Will Fuller brings his game-changing skills to the Texans offense

PITTSBURGH, PA - NOVEMBER 07: Will Fuller #7 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish catches a pass before running into the endzone for a touchdown in the second quarter in front of Avonte Maddox #14 of the Pittsburgh Panthers during the game at Heinz Field on November 7, 2015 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
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In all the weeks and months leading up to the NFL Draft, one key tidbit linking Will Fuller to the Houston Texans never seemed to come up. The relationship between Brian Kelly and Bill O’Brien.

The two coaches share a high school alma mater, a friendship that made the due diligence on Notre Dame’s prolific playmaker easy. And it was clear that after all their research, Houston was aggressive in their pursuit of Fuller, trading up to make Notre Dame’s All-American the second receiver off the board, triggered a run at the position.

“He was a guy that we felt strongly about,” Texans general manager Rick Smith told the team’s official website. “We didn’t want to take a chance on not getting him. We were aggressive. We went and made the move.”

That move made Fuller’s decision to leave Notre Dame after three seasons a good one. While it’ll require the Irish to rebuild at a position where Fuller served as one of college football’s best home run hitters, it gives Houston a vertical threat that can extend the top of a defense for a Texans offense that was serious about finding some solutions for a team already in the playoff mix.

Yes, Fuller has work to do. Completing the easy catch is one big area. But for all the pre-draft talk about his limitations, Brian Kelly took on some of the criticism head-on when talking with the Texans’ media reporter.

“Some people have compared him to Teddy Ginn, that’s not fair. He can catch the ball vertically like nobody I’ve coached in 25 years,” Kelly said (a sentiment some hack also laid out). Teddy Ginn is a very good player, but this is a different kind of player. If you throw the ball deep, he’s going to catch the football.”

Fuller is never going to be the biggest receiver on the field. But while most of the banter on his game focused on the negative or his deep ball skills, expect Fuller to find a role not just running deep but unleashed in the screen game as well. After the Texans spent huge on quarterback Brock Osweiler and have invested in fellow Philadelphia native and 2015 third-round pick Jaelen Strong, Fuller wasn’t selected for the future but rather expected to be a day-one piece of the puzzle.

“This will change the speed on offense immediately,” Kelly said. “It was not ‘Hey, let’s wait a couple of years’. It was ‘Let’s go get this right now’ and I think Will will do that for them.”