Kory Minor says he had always dreamed of playing for the Irish. "When I was a little kid I was a big Notre Dame fan," said Minor. "All you saw on Saturday mornings was the golden dome helmets—that's all you saw. I didn't know where Notre Dame was, I didn't know what state Notre Dame was in, I didn't know anything about it. I was just a big fan. I always told myself, if I had the opportunity to go there, I'd take advantage of it. It was just a blessing from above that I had the opportunity to go there and I had a wonderful career there."
Minor enrolled at Notre Dame as the reigning USA Today Defensive Player of the Year after a stellar career at Bishop Amat high school in La Puente, Calif. The star defensive end found out about the award right before a playoff game. "I actually had a playoff game that day against Fontana high school," said Minor. "I'd usually call my Mom once we had the pre-game meal and she'd give me a pep talk. She didn't want to tell me that because she didn't want it to affect my game. But, she ended up telling me that I had been named the USA Today Defensive Player of the Year."
Being honored by USA Today shocked Minor "I just couldn't believe it. There are so many great high school players nation-wide. For them to choose me, I was just speechless. I was very honored."
While Minor had said he would go to Notre Dame if given the chance; he still had to see if he could handle the weather on his official visit to South Bend. "I went on the trip with my Mom. The plan was to go when it was very, very cold. I felt if I could handle it during the winter time, the summer, spring and fall would be no problem. I think I went on January 20th. It was just freezing and snowing. I had a wonderful time. I didn't do a whole lot. I just had a good time. The guys were really neat guys. They all got along real well and I kind of fit right in."
Another person impressed him a great deal on his visit. "I loved Coach Holtz. We're still close to this day, and he's a big reason why I went there."
Minor says Holtz still remains one of his biggest mentors. "He's a genuine person. He's very thoughtful, he's very understanding and a caring person. I love him to death. He's a heck of a coach, he's a great motivator and he's got ways to make you rise to the occasion."
Minor didn't miss a beat when he reported to Notre Dame. The young freshman was impressive enough to start for the Irish and record 48 tackles, eight tackles for loss and six sacks during his freshman season. "My first year that I came in I was actually a defensive end and my responsibility was to rush the quarterback and I really enjoyed that. My sophomore, junior and senior year is when I moved to more of a true outside linebacker. I had to play in space and read coverages. I wish I could've stayed at the rush end. I really believe that's where I could be more effective, but coaches make decisions as to where you can help the team out."
The move to outside linebacker didn't seem to slow Minor down as he recorded 53 tackles, seven tackles for loss and eight sacks during his sophomore season. "I've always been a team player. Whatever the team needed, I was going to do. I wanted to stay at rush end but they had Bert Berry there and that is his natural position. I still was able to rush the quarterback a lot. When the coach calls you to do something, that is your first priority and that is what I did."
Minor suffered through some difficult seasons while at Notre Dame. His recruiting class was ranked No. 1 in the country, but the best he and his teammates could do was to finish 9-3 during two seasons. "It was really hard. I thought that every year we were there that we had a great team. We had great players, we had some good coaches, I just don't know why things didn't come together like they should have. I was disappointed and with myself as well. I thought we had some great talent and could've done a lot more, especially with my class being ranked No.1."
"I had some great times," Minor continued about his experience at Notre Dame. "I had great relationships with guys from the team, my roommate, guys in the dorms—I had a wonderful time. I played in some big-time games. I played against some big-time competitors. I would not trade my experience for the world. I enjoyed every minute of it. I wish I could've been there longer."
With his college career over, it was time for Minor to try his hand at professional football. Minor was drafted in the seventh round by the San Francisco 49ers. "Basically I got a phone call from the 49ers on draft day and they wanted to sign me so I went down to the 49ers, down to San Francisco."
Minor recalls getting the phone call. "It is a great feeling. You have so many kids that dream of playing in the NFL. For me, it was never really a dream of mine. By the grace of God it just happened to work out. I've been playing in the NFL for four years, but it was never really a dream of mine."
Minor quickly learned what life in the NFL would be like as he didn't stick around with the 49ers for long. "You know I really couldn't tell," said Minor when asked what happened with the 49ers. "I really didn't get a feeling for what they wanted to do. I never really had a clear-cut feeling on how many linebackers they wanted to keep or which direction they wanted to go. I guess some days I felt good and some days I felt like this wasn't going to work out."
With the San Francisco door closed, Minor went looking for a new team and found it in the Carolina Panthers. "The first three years I played under Coach Siefert and I really enjoyed Coach Siefert. I enjoyed the staff we had and the team in general. I just had a great time my first three years. It was a real neat experience."
Minor would stay with the Panthers for three years before becoming a free agent. He recorded 32 tackles and four assists in his three years with the Panthers. "I'm a free agent now. I played for the Panthers from 99 until early 2003. I didn't play this year. I had some workouts but nothing paned out. I'm still a free agent and seeing where that might go. My wife and I have an insurance/financial service business as well as entrepreneurial investment stuff."
Minor says he's not ready to give up his NFL hopes just yet, but hinted he might be ready to start focusing on a family life. "If it works out that I can get going again I'd like to. There comes a day where you've got to tackle real life, move on and leave a legacy in the world."
As for the Irish, Minor said he was back in South Bend last spring. "I was actually back for this past Blue/Gold game. I got a phone call from the University and I was actually on the back of the shirt this past year. Coach Willingham has a thing for the players coming back. I went back and met a lot of the players and hung around for the Blue/Gold game. It was the first time back in years. Hopefully the wife and I can make it back this year."
On his return to Notre Dame, Minor was once again impressed by an Irish coach. "I think Coach Willingham is a phenomenal man. I had the opportunity to meet him and sit down and talk with him. What I like most about him is what he said to me. He said ‘Kory, I know my job is to win football games here first and foremost. But if I can help these guys mature physically, socially, in the classroom and spiritually, as well as on the field, then I've done my job.' He knows football is important, but it's not just about football."
Minor firmly believes Coach Willingham is building a winner at Notre Dame. "You have to build a team. You have to restock a team and you need time. When things aren't going well you need time to get your players in there and working in your system. We've got to give him a chance to get everyone on his game plan. I think once that happens, Notre Dame fans will see the talent he has, and the talent he can produce on the football field."
Just the thought of Kory Minor brought back some fond memories for me while doing this interview—like the day I heard he committed to Notre Dame. Minor was one of my all-time favorite Irish players and speaking with him cemented that even more. Best of luck to Kory and his wife. Hopefully they'll be sending a Kory Jr. to South Bend in the near future.