What It Feels Like: The First Time

Tonight nearly a dozen Notre Dame players will make their college debuts. Based on the recollections of six Irish veterans, those freshmen are in for a mind-bending experience. This is how it feels.

A funny thing happens when you ask a Notre Dame football player about his first snap.

He remembers the seconds before and the seconds after. He doesn’t remember much about the seconds during. There’s even debate about what constitutes first. Is it the literal first snap, the one that came opening weekend at the business end of a blowout? Or is it the first start, the one that came in November when that snap actually mattered?

Irish Illustrated polled six upperclassmen to not only understand what it feels like to see the field for the first time but to get a grip on what will hit nearly a dozen freshmen and sophomores tonight inside Darrell K Royal Memorial Stadium.

Tarean Folston

Matt Cashore /

Just going on the field for stretching, watching the stadium fill gradually, it was amazing. Then running out of the tunnel and hearing the song and seeing that full crowd. It was Temple and I didn’t play until the end. You watch the game unfold and then when you get in, it’s like if you were playing a video game and you’re stepping into your TV screen. That’s the perfect example, just stepping into your TV.

When I got in, I just looked around for a little bit. Amazing. Definitely amazing. I ran an outside zone or an inside zone and bounced it outside. I felt like everything was moving super fast. I didn’t necessarily black out, I’m glad I didn’t. I know I got the ball and I did something, side stepped and pushed off and ran to the sideline, hit somebody and ran out of bounds My heart was just like this (rapidly pats chests) I wasn’t scared. It was anxiety.

Isaac Rochell
Matt Cashore /

I just remember getting thrown in against Temple and not understanding what college tempo was like and they ran like eight plays, which is not that big of a deal. Now I’ve played like 80-plus plays. I just remember being <I>so</I> tired. Everything was moving so fast. But I did get in on a tackle on my first play. This is my pride and joy. It was just really fast.

You go from high school, playing in front of max 10,000, and that’s like crazy high school, to playing in front of 90,000 people. There’s just an added intensity.

Nyles Morgan
USA Today Sports Images

My first start was Arizona State. I remember it was hot. It was blazing hot. At first I kind of got lost in the crowd but after the first two or three plays I got settled in. I was just playing ball from there. I remember Jaylon (Smith) telling me, don’t let the crowd get to you. Look around, but once you’re into the game lock into your assignments. With that many people and it being that hot, I’m not even trying to look around.

I’d just tell (the young guys), just keep your head where it should be. Don’t fade out into the crowd. Do your job and then go find the football. That’s how you play defense. Do your job. Go find the football. Keep it simple.

Mike McGlinchey
Matt Cashore /

At USC. Your first action with the ones is the real memorable kind of time. It wasn’t anything really that I thought about because the only thing you have to worry about is your job out there. If you let anything else get in the way of that, you’re probably not gonna have a good day. It doesn’t mater if it’s Leonard Williams or the Little Sisters of the Poor, you still gotta do the same thing. Getting out of your own way and locking in on what’s important is probably the biggest key.

(McGlinchey replaced Christian Lombard in the first half at USC but had played in the previous 11 games on special teams)

I really didn’t get those butterfly feelings because when you come in in relief, it’s kind of like just thrown in there. You don’t have any time to think about it. The month leading up to the bowl game, I knew I was gonna be the starter. You get a little bit more butterflies, a little bit more excited. It’s your first one.

It’s a special thing to be able to start in college football. I had an SEC defense and these guys are gonna have a 106,000 fans and a good Texas football team.

Torii Hunter Jr.
Matt Cashore /

I was kind of nervous (against Syracuse at MetLife Stadium). I was just trying to make sure I got the play right. I think my first play was a jet sweep. I was kind of nervous. Didn’t know what to expect. Didn’t know how fast the game was gonna be. I got out there, I forgot what I did. I remember just getting the ball, it went all black, and I just started running. It was a mix of excitement, anxiety, kind of scared. I knew what I could do.

There’s definitely a different preparation for me (when you might play). I was more locked it. Before I was injured. Less talking before the game. Just focused on what I had to do and just try to visualize the game. One thing I do is try to visualize. Visualize myself making plays. I think told somebody I was gonna score. I said my first catch, I’m scoring. I did. It was pretty cool.

James Onwualu
Matt Cashore /

Definitely nervous. We were home (against Temple) which was different than (going to Texas). Better, but at the same time you know some people in the stands, right?
Some of these guys will be at Texas, won’t know anybody, they’ll be able to block all that out. I was definitely nervous for my family in the stands. Could see them up there. Pregame jitters are good. Everybody’s gonna be nervous. Older guys are even gonna be nervous. Go over your red alerts and just do your job. Top Stories