"The Warrior"

Living in the deep south, most players dream of winning SEC Championships and playing for "State U." Former Irish great and Alabama native Melvin Dansby thought that would be his destiny, too, but that all changed with one conversation and one visit to Notre Dame.

"In high school I didn't know too much about Notre Dame being from the south," Dansby admitted. "You used to catch a couple of really good games like the ND/USC or Notre Dame/Penn State every year.

"You look and say ‘it's snowing there.' I never really gave it much of a thought. I didn't know anything about their tradition. I didn't know anything about Touchdown Jesus, Knute Rockne, nothing. I think my first introduction to all of that was my first visit."

The idea of going to school at Notre Dame didn't really seem like a possibility for Dansby until one day an Irish coach happened to be in the right place at the right time.

"I was waiting for a coach from Penn State to show up at my high school. Instead, a coach from Notre Dame showed up," Dansby explained. "He just showed up and we started talking about the school. We started talking about my future. He kind of sold me on taking a trip up there. I was really glad I did.

"The week before, I went to Tennessee on a visit. It was a big party school. I had a great time; don't get me wrong, but there were a number of things that happened during the visit that kind of soured me. One of the football players actually shot a gun in the air after a party to break up a fight....things like that. My mom got wind of it, and it really didn't help the fact that there were some really wild parties going on and my mom found out about that as well and she said ‘no, you're not going there.'"

Dansby then made the fateful trip to South Bend.

"When I came up for my trip, there was a huge blizzard at Notre Dame," Dansby explained. "I think it started around Indianapolis. We're driving through and it just got worse and worse and worse. We were really getting nervous because we could only see about 15 feet in front of us. All of the sudden we see this thing glowing through the snow. We got off on the exit and it happened to be the Golden Dome. It was like a big lighthouse leading us to the way.

"We went to Notre Dame the next weekend after the Tennessee visit and that's all (mom) needed to see. There were priests and nuns. Everyone was studying. It was the total opposite of Tennessee. They just had a totally different mentality towards academics and school. From there on she was sold."

It was also on this trip that Dansby met his future coach, Lou Holtz, for the first time.

"I didn't know much about coach Holtz before I met him. All I knew was he was the guy who walked the sidelines during the game….always pacing back and forth," Dansby said. "I was sitting in a team meeting with coach Holtz. I was sitting in the back and they were doing the whole changing of the guard thing. The seniors were leaving and the juniors stepped forward and were going to be the new seniors. Just hearing his motivational speech, I was fired up. I was ready to strap on the pads right then and there.

"I got to sit down with coach Holtz one-on-one. He was a great individual. You really would jump off a cliff for the guy. I really thought it was so odd that he was so personable during the off-season and such a tyrant during the season. His whole demeanor just changed. You didn't even want to walk down the same hallway the guy was walking down. You tried to avoid him as much as you could."

Dansby's mom was 100 percent sold on the official visit, but it was Lou's vision for the future, both in football and in life, that finally sold Dansby on attending Notre Dame.

"I was looking at a lot of the schools in the south and I really looked at their graduation rates," Dansby said. "I was a pretty good student. I figured that at least some of these guys had to be at least average students, and I couldn't figure out why none of them graduated. Something had to be happening there and I didn't want any part of that.

"When he came down to my house and talked to me about Notre Dame, and he told me what he was about and what he wanted us to accomplish, and what he saw in me, I was sold. I just knew that was where I wanted to be."

Spurning the state schools wasn't overly popular in Birmingham, Alabama, Dansby said. He recalls one conversation in particular that stands out as a prime example of how people reacted to his decision in his home state.

"Most people were nice," he said. "I walked into this guy's office down in Alabama and he asked me why I didn't go to Alabama. I looked up on his wall and he had a picture of coach Bear Bryant holding the 10 Commandments on Mount Sinai. On another wall he had a picture of Bear Bryant walking on water. He looked at me said, ‘son, I don't have anything against Notre Dame. It's a good school. I'll tell you what. I'm going to pray to the Bear to forgive you.'"

Dansby enrolled in Notre Dame in the fall of 1993. Ironically, his first season was the last time the Irish seriously challenged for the National Championship.

"It was storybook. I just wish we had the nice happy ending at the very end," the former defensive end said of his first season playing for the Irish. "It all came down to a kick. I think the funny thing was the entire season coach Holtz was telling us how we sucked. We beat Michigan, and I think they were in the top 5 that year, and he kept telling us we weren't a good football team. Before and after every game he'd tell us we had to get better. But it all changed after we beat FSU and we're playing Boston College. Coach Holtz has his pre-game football talk and he mentions ‘guys, you're a good football team.' It was almost like a bad omen. ‘coach Holtz never says that.'"

Dansby showed vast potential early in his career at Notre Dame at defensive end, but a string of injuries sidetracked his calling and NFL dreams. While the injuries devastated his first-round potential, Dansby played like it was the Super Bowl every week.

"Why me?," said Dansby when asked what went through his mind when he sat out his third season due to a neck injury. "You work so hard in the weight room. You work so hard trying to work on your speed. You get out there and have the opportunity to show the world what you can do, and then all of the sudden that happens to you. It's heart-breaking.

"One (injury) was in the spring on a freak play. I had to sit out a year because of a sprained neck. They didn't think I'd play again. Then all of the sudden I hurt the knee. The knee was just a freak accident. We had a player who wasn't looking and he completely leveled my knee brace. It wouldn't even bend anymore. I could barely walk after that. The very next week I had to go against Orlando Pace. Leading up to that game I was on crutches all week. I played. I had a decent game that day, and I broke his ‘sackless' record, but I just wasn't the same.

"It was frustrating because I'd look at a guy who went in the first or second round and I know I beasted the guy. That was hard to take more than anything…knowing I could play there."

"I'm not going to say I'm not disappointed with how everything worked out because I would've loved to have a shot at playing in the NFL, but even through all the adversity, I was able to string together some pretty good years," he added.

Some pretty good years? Dansby's final season saw the 6-4, 260-pounder terrorize offenses to the tune of 103 tackles, a number rarely seen from a defensive lineman. The word "warrior" was invented to describe Dansby's pursuit and determination on the football field.

"When we started that season the coaches were telling me that I was going to play on a six-play rotation," Dansby recalled of his final season. "They were trying to save my knees. That didn't last long. I was puffing out there and thinking ‘ok, it's the sixth play.' And then it would be the 15th play and I'd still be out there. It was a ton of fun. I just played as hard as I could. I knew this could be my last time playing."

The former Irish captain played with a number of great players while at Notre Dame. Jim Flannigan, Bryant Young, Alton Maiden, Kory Minor, Bobby Taylor and Jeff Burris are just some of the great defensive teammates Dansby played with. We asked him which offensive player gave him the most trouble during his career.

"I think I tried to get into a scrap with Aaron Taylor a few times but that didn't last long at all," he said with a big laugh. "I think he got the best of me. Sometimes they'd make us go to the scout team to give Aaron Taylor a look. They wanted to challenge him. Sometimes he'd get a little frustrated and wanted to pick a fight. I wasn't going to back down with all of those eyes on you. We had some pretty classic scraps. I think there was a lot of respect both ways as well."

With his NFL dreams a distant memory, Dansby has moved on with life, and he's very thankful his mom helped him see how important a good education would be for life after football.

"It was by far the best decision for me," he said of decision to attend Notre Dame. "I'm reaping the benefits of it now. I'm doing very well financially, and a lot of the lessons I learned at Notre Dame have really helped me in my professional life.

"I think Notre Dame is really respected all over the world. It was really odd. We went over to Ireland for the game over there and people were treating us like we're NFL players. Even like here in the south, I'm in Georgia. You can go to a regional school like Alabama and Tennessee and you're just a guy who went to a regional school. When people see that I'm from Notre Dame, they want to know all about that experience and what it was like, what the school is like. They want you to tell them all about it. I think that's what really sets Notre Dame apart from a lot of other schools out there.

"They understand Notre Dame is a very challenging place. It's a tough school to attend athletically, playing football, and it's definitely hard academically. When people see that you could balance both playing football and excel, and graduating from Notre Dame while doing it, they know you can handle pressure."

"Right now I'm a network sales engineer for Bell South," Dansby continued. "I'm doing pretty well for myself I guess. I'm married. I married a ND grad. She was on the track team. It's one of those magical things about Notre Dame. I met this girl pretty much the first day of class registration. I ran into her. From that point on, we were pretty much inseparable. In her last year, I proposed to her and we've been married ever since. No kids yet….just a big house in Atlanta. I guess we're working on the kids."

Has Dansby followed the Irish since graduation? What does he think of the new-look Notre Dame under Irish head coach Charlie Weis?

"I try to make it up to Notre Dame once a year," he said. It's usually the last home game of the year. I enjoy going back a lot."

"It was a great season," he said of 2005 season. "You could only go up from where they were. Coach Weis gave the team a big lift. It's great to see a Notre Dame with a great passing game now. They're throwing it all over the place and they're really mixing it up.

"I'd really like to see the defense kick it up a notch. I'd like to see a nice little balance. If the offense ever struggles, you have to have a defense that can fill in those gaps. There has to be someone to step up and make plays. I don't see a lot of that with this defense. The Zbikowski guy, No. 9, he does a great job, but I don't really see anyone else out there making plays. They need another Justin Tuck out there."

Or, another Melvin Dansby…


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