Many years later, but still giddy like that same little kid who grew up an Irish fan, Colin Rodkey and his father traveled back to campus for the Notre Dame-Michigan State game this past season. This trip however, was more for recruiting reasons.
"I really liked the facilities and I thought the campus was surprisingly modern for how old the campus is," Rodkey explained. The offensive tackle from Gateway Senior High in Monroeville, Pa. receives regular mail from Notre Dame, and has scholarship offers from West Virginia, Minnesota, North Carolina State, Buffalo, Indiana and Akron. "We checked out the main campus and how it was set up. I liked it."
The 6-foot-5, 275-pound Rodkey liked it so much, he was planning on going to Notre Dame again this weekend, and looking forward to talking with his recruiting coach and Irish offensive line coach John Latina. He was set to make the trip with prep teammates Dorian Bell and Corey Brown, who both hold Irish offers, but their head coach Terry Smith had something come up, so they won't be making the trip.
"I'm definitely interested in them, and I'm hoping to talk to them when they come to the school in the spring," Rodkey said. "I was hoping to talk to them more when I was out there on a visit."
Rodkey is also hearing from Penn State, Pittsburgh, Rutgers, Virginia and Maryland.
"I wish I got some more love from Notre Dame," he said. "I liked their education. My family really stresses education, and it's one of the highest ones you can get in the country. Their football history is unlike any other."
This past fall, Rodkey played right tackle and helped lead Gateway to a 12-2 record and a spot in the WPIAL AAAA Championship game at Heinz Field.
"They like my size," Rodkey said of college recruiters. "They think I can fill out a little bit more. They also like my downfield ability, my quickness. I used to play tight end so I think I'm pretty athletic, not to brag or anything. I always try to get coach Terry to put in some tackle eligible plays for me, but other than a few practices he never throws it to me."
Smith did let Rodkey bang helmets with five-star teammate and Pittsburgh signee Shayne Hale in practice.
"I felt I held my own," Rodkey said. "He's a big guy but so am I. He's a good match-up and I always enjoyed going against him. It's good competition."
That kind of competition is what you normally get at Gateway with guys like Rodkey, Bell, Hale, Brown and Cameron Saddler suiting up.
"I love playing with them," Rodkey stated. "Shayne and Cameron provided great leadership and helped me through tough times. Corey, Dorian and myself are in the same position, and are trying to lead our team back to the same situation and take that final step. We're hoping for a different outcome this year."
By then, Rodkey hopes to be a verbal commit somewhere. He'd like to decide by June, and has already visited Penn State, Pittsburgh, Maryland, Rutgers, Northwestern, Duke and Notre Dame. He'll see how the recruiting process goes this spring, and then Rodkey will decide in May who else he'd like to see before deciding.
"First and foremost, I have to have a good education," Rodkey said. "My family is always on me about my grades. I carry a 3.6 GPA and scored a 1240 on the SAT. I just want to get a good education, so I know I'll succeed. I also want a good football program. I don't want to go to a place where we'll be losing every year and I don't like the coaches. I want to be close with the personnel and be successful."