Saying Goodbye

Come Saturday, the walk through Notre Dame Stadium's tunnel will be the last that a handful of Irish seniors will take as players in the program. For most, this momentous occasion is one that will bring heartfelt emotions, but more importantly cherished memories of failures and successes, and the friendships in-between.

This group of seniors will mark the first graduating class under head coach Charlie Weis. For the elder statesmen, the coaching change proved to be a transition period but once the class arrived on campus, the group instantly came together.

"Well, a lot of the guys committed when coach Weis got the job, they committed," senior wide out David Grimes said. "It just goes to show the dedication and loyalty to this university, not to a coach. But, you know, the last few years we've grown together. Guys like Pat Kuntz, Steve Quinn, Asaph Schwapp; we've all grown together and become a lot closer. We've built relationships that will last a lifetime."

One of the main themes present throughout the Irish locker room this week was the need for the underclassmen to do all they could in their power to send the seniors off on a positive note. Essentially, Weis is asking the younger players to not play for themselves, but for the seniors on the squad.

"I think the first thing you try to do you try to make the freshmen, sophomores and juniors play the game for the seniors instead of playing the game for themselves," Weis said. "Because the last thing you want to do is have their last game at home in their career be a loss. I think a few years ago, and I don't know who started it, I don't know which player started it when they kind of took a lap around the field and were high fiving fans, it's probably an alumnus of the school and the head football coach, one of the most touching things you could watch when they're sitting there doing that and just standing back, it's almost surreal when you know it's the last time they're going to get to do it. And a guy like John Carlson jumping into the stands like he's in Green Bay. When would you ever see John Carlson doing something like that? It's a really unique experience. And I think that one of the things you do is you put it on the younger guys that this game is not for you; this game is for them."

Defensive coordinator Corwin Brown echoed coach Weis' sentiment.

"Yeah, what we try to do is we try to make sure that the young guys are aware of the importance of sending these guys out on a good note," Brown said. "Playing your best game, I guess if there is such a thing, you try to do that anyway, but there's a little more importance because this is their last game in the Stadium, so you want to send them out on a good note, and make it fun."

Knowing what is at stake, the younger players are responding to their coaches' calls for selflessness.

"I think coach is right," quarterback Jimmy Clausen said. "Seniors have put a lot of time and effort since they've been here from day one. The underclassmen need to send them out on the right note, first and foremost we have to send them out with a victory, and hopefully we can do that on Saturday, so they can run around the field after a victory. But, they've shown great leadership, not only this year but last year as well. We do owe it to them."

For the seniors of the group, the memory of playing the last home game for the graduating players is one that is fresh in their minds. For players like David Bruton, it falls down to an issue of respecting one's older teammates — an issue that the underclassmen can expect when it's their turn to be sent out on a high note.

"Yeah, like Mo [Crum] was just saying, we both were in those shoes where we were the underclassmen playing for the seniors their last game, trying to send them out right," Bruton said. "It's kind of a respect thing. And we have respect amongst teammates. Everybody respects each other. There's no doubt in my mind that everybody will play their hardest to send us out the right way."

Another theme that most of the seniors have felt is an uncertainty as to how they will react once Saturday's contest against Syracuse concludes. As a result, some players are waiting for the moment to see how it truly affects them.

"To be honest, I'm not really sure, you know," Grimes said. "I would love to be able to predict my feelings. But I think it will be something I have to experience."

Pat Kuntz has a similar take on the indistinctness of his emotions come Saturday — although in his case, he has purposely been avoiding the thought of his last game at Notre Dame.

"Honestly, I've tried to put it back there and kind of let it hit me when it's really time to hit me," Kuntz said. "It's hard not to think about, it's our last time out here and we've got to make a big game out of it."

To do that, Kuntz is focused on using his last home appearance as added motivation to excel on the field.

"Well, yeah, it motivates me to make this my best game," Kuntz said. "Any person who is competitive is obviously going to try and make their best game the last one they play. From my standpoint, I'm just going to try and make as many plays as I can."

Clearly emotions will run high, but once time expires on Saturday, it will be time to celebrate and mischievously enjoy the moment for Kuntz.

"Oh, well I'm just going to run around," he said. "Just be as stupid as I possibly can, but we'll see how it goes though, I can't really make any predictions."

Regardless of the outcome of the season, every graduating class leaves a print on the program once the seniors graduate. These players have seen both extremes of the spectrum, from BCS berths, to perhaps the worst season in program history.

"I don't want our class to be known as the forgotten class," Bruton said. "I feel like we've left our mark in a way, improving, taking the leadership role from last year, 3-9 record, to this year a potential winning record, just get Notre Dame on the right track and headed in the right way, along with Mo's class."

If the class of 2009 is set on making a lasting imprint, finishing the season with a bowl win could be just what the program needs to reverse recent post-season struggles. For the seniors, it all starts and ends on Saturday.


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