They're in the Game

There are plenty of privileges for an athlete who accepts a football scholarship to the University of Notre Dame. Not to be overlooked among the full ride to one of the nation's finest academic institutes and the opportunity to play in front of a national television audience each week is the chance to be a part of EA Sports' wildly successful NCAA Football franchise.

Just like plenty of college football fans from their generation and even some from previous ones, the Fighting Irish football team eagerly anticipates the arrival of the new game each summer. A couple of the guys even head out to the local video game store to purchase the latest edition at midnight on the date of its release.

"It's crazy when you don't have to create yourself. I always used to create myself in the game, but now I'm on the game standard. It's really crazy," sophomore linebacker Brian Smith said.

Sophomore running back Robert Hughes says that the game is a fun way to pass the time in the summer with his teammates.

"A lot of the guys play the game. It's just something you can do in your spare time," he said. "It feels good because you play the game as a team, start seasons, it's pretty fun."

NCAA regulations prevent EA Sports from using any of the players' actual names in the game but they put in numbers and like tons of other fans across the country sophomore cornerback Gary Gray goes in and edits the names of the players to the real guys.

"It's kind of funny because I used to stay up all night and play the video game, just in practice mode and I'm on the game now, which is kind of weird," he said.

NCAA Football is not the first game junior running back James Aldridge pops in his system, but he does play it at times.

"You'd be like, 'Man I want to be on the game one day,' and well I'm on the game. That's something that my dad is happy about, I'm proud of it too. For so long, you're so young, you want to do it and than you do it, it's like yeah that's pretty cool," Aldridge said. "I'm more of a Call of Duty guy. But if they want to play, I'll play them. I know what to do. I know what defenses to call. It's kind of crazy because you play somebody who hasn't played any football and on goal line they'll pick nickel and dime defense."

The guys on the team played the game plenty over the summer, but they have not had much free time to play since camp started.

"We played a lot this summer when it came out. There's a pretty good group of us that play it," Smith said.

There has yet to be a tournament to crown a team champion, but even Smith admits that Gray would have to be a contender.

"I'm going to say me. I lose a lot actually, but I'd like to say me. I don't like to think any of those guys are better than me at video games," he said. "If I had to tell you the truth, I'd probably have to say Gary Gray because one day he went out and played eight games by himself in the room. So, he's well-polished, he's a good player."

Sophomore linebacker Kerry Neal put Gray up there along with another classmate.

"I started out pretty good when we first started out playing, but I just fell out. I'm probably on about a six-game losing streak, I can't win right now, but I haven't played it in awhile," Neal said. "I'd probably say Gary Gray or Emeka (Nwankwo)."

Gray is confident in his ability on the sticks.

"I'll have to put myself up there because I was wrecking shop with the game the last week of school," he said.

Junior defensive end Morrice Richardson is not ready to crown any of his teammates champion just yet.

"Nobody on the team has beat me yet, but that's because I haven't played many guys on the team," he said.

Being in the game does not come without its responsibilities though. The game designers, much like some of The Associated Press voters, rely heavily on last year's results to rank the players and the teams for the upcoming season.

As a team, EA Sports gives Notre Dame an 81 overall rating with an 82 for defense and an 83 on offense. Right tackle Sam Young has the highest rating of anyone on the Irish with a 94 overall followed by linebacker Maurice Crum, who earned a 90.

The designers clearly make errors as they did with the omissions of players like Harrison Smith and Will Yeatman, while freshmen Kapron Lewis-Moore and Danny McCarthy appear to have swapped skin tones. Still, that won't stop guys from complaining about their rankings.

"They got me out there pretty slow," Neal said. "Me and Brian out there, they've got our speed at like an 80 or something like that. We can't catch nobody off the edge."

For the record, Neal's speed on the game is 78, but his overall ranking is 80. Smith is well aware of his 77 speed ranking and overall ranking of 80.

"I played with Notre Dame, but I don't know if I can say this out loud," said Smith before lowering his voice to a whisper. "But I play with SC. I like playing with Rey Maualuga because they got my speed on the game like 77 and I can't make any plays on the game. So he's number 58, I'm 58. He's a great linebacker as you can see and I want to be that kind of name in the NCAA College Football."

Smith is not the only one who shys away from playing as himself.

Hughes is not going to go out of his way to try to run down the Heisman Trophy for RB #33 on Notre Dame.

"Honestly, I just play it, I'm not looking for myself," he said.

Neal is the same way.

"I played with (Notre Dame) a couple of games, but you don't really like to play with your own guy, so I've been playing with LSU most of the time," he said.

Richardson doesn't care what team he plays with.

"When I play I just hold down the button and let it go," he said.

Gray likes to put up numbers with some of the game's top teams.

"I don't play with us that much. I played with Auburn," he said. "Everyone wants to play with the top-ranked teams, so I play with Oklahoma and Missouri once. Being on a ranked team is always good because they'll up your stats on the game."

Richardson doesn't think much about where a bunch of computer geeks rank his team.

"I don't care what they have us ranked on the video game, that's really stupid," he said. "The game is not motivation for this season, not one bit. The motivation for this season is just the hunger of wanting to do our best."

Nonetheless, Smith was only half-joking when he said that he hoped to impress the game designers before the 2010 version is released.

"I'm out here busting my butt and then I go on the game and they've got me worse than I was last year," he said. "So I'm like come on now, I've got to do good this year so I can get good in the game."


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