No Regrets

Imagine being one of the top football players in your state and heading into your senior year of high school. In months you would be leaving to the college of your choice, but for the time being, you can spend your last weeks with your childhood friends, high school sweetheart and be one of the most admired and well-respected people at the institution where you have built memories for four years.

Now imagine giving all that up for a shot to travel up north in the middle of January, where it's much colder than your cozy Florida home, to a university where you don't know that many people at all. In exchange for your senior prom, you will have final exams in Understanding Societies, Science Literacy, Philosophy, Calculus and a hefty dose of term papers. Sound appealing?

For Zeke Motta, this scenario is exactly what he gave up, by choosing to forego the second semester of his senior year to enroll early at Notre Dame and partake in spring practices with the football squad. Looking back to when he made his decision, the freshman is certainly glad that he did.

"Not really," he replied when asked if he missed any part of his high school life. "I don't want to have any regrets and I think I made the right decision and I'll be back soon enough."

Confident that he has made the right choice, the final days of high school career flew by and now remain as a blur as Motta is caught up in his assimilation into campus life. Now that he is in the early days of his tenure as a collegiate athlete, he is set to make the most of the opportunity.

"Yeah, it really has," Motta said with a chuckle when he was asked if his enrollment felt like a whirlwind. "It wasn't like you had time to think about, ‘okay, I'm going to feel sorry for myself because I've got all this going on,' it was, ‘I made my decision and I'm going to make the best of it and hopefully pick up some good things.'"

The whole process was so hectic, that the ink was drying on the Vero Beach, Fla. standout's final exams from high school when he was set to attend his first class at Notre Dame.

"Yeah, I took my last final on Friday and came here on Monday," he said of that momentous January weekend.

According to Irish coaches, it's certainly a fortunate thing that he made the choice he did. The early reports on Motta have been positive thus far as spring practice is culminating Saturday with the 80th annual Blue-Gold Game. Perhaps the best testament to his effect within the program, his position coach Jon Tenuta couldn't hold back a smile and a laugh when speaking about the early enrollee. Being a coach who doesn't exactly exude happiness, especially around the media, Tenuta's beaming endorsement of Motta shows the reception that the freshman has had to the Irish program.

"Zeke is a high motor kid that just goes all the time," Tenuta said with a grin. "Just learning the system and trying to learn multiple packages that you have and those types of things. He's a joy to be around and he really likes it. He's very up-tempo and he's learning so he's got a lot of ability."

Motta's head coach wasn't too far off, shedding some light as to the development the linebacker has had throughout the spring.

"Zeke has been probably one of the best-conditioned guys on our team," coach Charlie Weis said. "He can run fast and run all over the place, but right now we've got to get him to run to the right spot. I think with a guy like that that's 217 or 220 or whatever he is, right now the one thing you do know is that you can see him playing on all four special teams right off the bat, right in the opener based on what he can do in the spring, so he can find his way onto the field. Now how much he can play on defense, that's to be determined."

Although the early accounts seem to be nothing but positive for Motta's incorporation into campus, some aspects of the transition have been overwhelming for the freshman.

"A little bit," he said when asked if he had felt at all engulfed with pressure by the process. "I think adjusting to the time management of having to balance between football and campus life and school, it's been difficult but manageable. Really coming in early and learning the plays and stuff has been an eye-opener for sure, because there's a lot of stuff to memorize."

If there has been one constant throughout the past four months that have aided his assimilation into the halls of Notre Dame, it has been the shared practices, studies, laughs and meals with his fellow early enrollees, Tyler Stockton and E.J. Banks.

"Yeah, it's been awesome," Motta said. "Obviously, me coming in early, without anybody else would be a lot harder. Having us three together, we've been able to share the experience together."

This experience has even extended to their personal lives. Not being able to return home to Florida for Easter, Banks was there to give Motta a place to stay and a home-cooked meal for the holiday weekend. Overall, it was a laidback and relaxing break away from football and college life for Motta and his new teammate.

"Oh yeah, for sure," Motta said. "I mean, I just got back from Pittsburgh with E.J. …We went with his family to church and we had a big cookout and stuff, so it was cool."

In addition, another veteran linebacker has taken the initiative to show Motta the ropes of what it will take to succeed as an Irish linebacker.

"Scott Smith has been real helpful. When I came in and the coaches weren't allowed to help out, or talk with us, he kind of gave me an overview of everything that was going to be coming up, and he's been helpful."

One aspect that Smith hasn't been able to help Motta with is the manifestation of the emotions that will be charging through the freshman's body once he walks through the tunnel of Notre Dame Stadium come Saturday. For the early enrollee, it's been 18 years coming.

"It's something to look forward to," Motta said. "I've been looking forward to this my whole life, and I've heard that there's no other feeling like it."

Soon enough, he'll find out for himself. Top Stories