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Echoes From Notre Dame: The Men (or Women) We Became?

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Writing is easy. Titles? Not so much. Please ... read on!

NCAA Football: Notre Dame Spring Game
Echoes From the End Zone
Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

If you read my “intro to OFD” post yesterday, you learned that I’ve written two books on Notre Dame Fighting Irish football, and that I am currently working on the third book (and fourth, actually, but that’s another story). My first two books tell the stories of former Notre Dame Football players. I detail their journeys to Notre Dame, their experiences while they were there, and their transition from football to their life beyond sports.

The Men We Became

The Men We Became: Vol I and II
The Men We Became: Vol I and II
Photo by: Lisa Kelly

What happens to these exceptional Notre Dame student-athletes after they graduate? Some go on to play professional football, for a time. Some have injuries, and never have the opportunity to play sports professionally. Others experiment with different career choices, searching for the right fit. Many pursue career goals carried since childhood, while others build families, return to their hometowns, and travel the world. But all of these former student-athletes must create a new life after their playing days end: a life where they are no longer in the spotlight, no longer admired for their physical attributes, and no longer glorified in the media.

Their stories and career choices may surprise you, but by each of these former Notre Dame student-athletes you will be impressed and inspired by the choices they made so early in life that enabled them to succeed beyond The End Zone.

The Women We Became?

Now that I have two books under my belt, I am expanding my horizons a bit in book three. I have several football players already committed to being in book three, but I also have three basketball players, two hockey players, and two baseball players. I also hope to add a few women to the mix. I have a female student manager signed up. I am also looking to add two women’s soccer players, two women’s basketball players, and a few other female athletes.

Is there someone in particular you’d like to see me interview? Someone who’s outside the football realm? Male? Female? I’d love to get your feedback!

Chapter 5: Charles Thomas Jr.

Now that you’ve let me ramble on a bit, here’s a sneak peek at a portion of one of the chapters I am working on. This is from Chapter 5, which is about former Notre Dame basketball player, Charles Thomas Jr.

“My journey to Notre Dame was actually pretty interesting. I knew nothing about Notre Dame until my senior year of high school. I grew up in Flint, Michigan, surrounded by a bunch of young black men, and many of us didn’t know anything about Ivy League schools, or schools such as Notre Dame … at least I didn’t. I only really knew about the schools I could ‘see,’ such as Michigan, Michigan State, Central Michigan; and I certainly never thought, ‘I want to be a Golden Domer.’”

“I went to this summer basketball camp and met some coaches from several different schools, one of which was Notre Dame; and so I put ND on my list. I literally thought Notre Dame was located in California. My counselor called me into his office one day and said,

‘Have you ever thought about applying to Notre Dame and Princeton?’

‘I don’t know where Princeton is, and I don’t want to go to California.’

‘Notre Dame is in South Bend!’

‘South Bend what?!’

‘Indiana!!’

“During my senior year of high school I got the itch; and I just had to go to Notre Dame. When Mr. Reynolds planted the bug in my ear, my entire focus shifted to getting into Notre Dame. And then, once I got accepted, the only thing on my mind was playing basketball at Notre Dame. I knew academically I would be okay, but athletically I was so small. There was no reason I should have thought I had any chance to play basketball at that Division I school, with players of that caliber.”

“When I arrived at Notre Dame, I went to the basketball office (Coach McCloud was the head coach at the time), and I introduced myself. ‘Hey, I’m Charles Thomas, and I’m from Flint, Michigan. I want to speak with someone regarding the process one must go through to play basketball here.’ One of the coaches came out to meet me, and the coach looked at me and he asked, ‘Charles Thomas, how do I know that name?’ And I answered, ‘I’m from Flint, Michigan.’ And he emphatically replied, ‘You’re not 6’1” tall!’ My coach, Ray Jones, had made me out to be much bigger than I actually was!”

“My AAU Coach, Ray Jones, had written letters about me, and filmed me working out in the gym, and had bombarded the Notre Dame Basketball office with information about me. He told me if I ‘work, work, work, work, work,’ we’ll figure out a way to get you to Notre Dame.”

“One of the coaches at Notre Dame’s basketball’s office told me the process that I needed to follow in order to try out for the basketball team. He told me I couldn’t ‘officially’ practice with the team, but informed me that I could work out at the Rock (workout facility and basketball gym for students on campus) in order to get ready for tryouts. He also told me that I could play pick-up games with the guys on the team, if they decided to pick me. “You just have to keep showing up,” he said. “With the stringent NCAA rules, as a prospective walk-on, you aren’t allowed to practice with the team before tryouts, and so I would go sit in the gym and watch them practice. I would keep going, day after day. I wanted them to see my commitment, and know how much I wanted to play with the team.”

“One day as I sat and watched them practice, one of the guards twisted his ankle, and so they called over to me, ‘Hey Chuck, you want to play? What kind of question was that? Of course I wanted to play.?’ And from that day on, every day they picked me to play with the team.”

“It was such a challenge for me, because I was little, compared to the rest of the guys. Everyone told me I was too small, not strong enough, not fast enough; but unbeknownst to them, I’m not afraid of the sharks, and I’m not afraid of living in the jungle, because I’m quite used to living in that space.”

“I practiced every single day … 1,000 shots a day. I wasn’t going to give up on my dream.”

“At this point, I’m practicing with the team every day. When fall break rolls around, Coach Billy Taylor tells me, ‘go home for break and we’ll call you and let you know when tryouts are.’”

“When the call came during fall break, that epic phone call, that moment of joy on the phone; at first, I thought the call was a joke. Coach Taylor called and said, ‘there’s no need for you to try out, the fellas love you, come on back.’

Me: ‘Is this a joke?? Are you serious??’

I handed the phone to my mom, and then she said, ‘it’s no joke!! They are serious!!’”

“We drove back to campus the next day, and when I walked into the gym, the lights felt like they were so much brighter. The team was standing there in the middle of the court, clapping for me.”

“Academically, classes at Notre Dame were so hard. I knew it was going to be hard, but I wasn’t doing as well as I thought I was going to do. The conversations were just so different from what I was used to. We never talked about economics or any of these topics at home. But my parents had instilled this tremendous work ethic in me, and that even though I didn’t have all of the resources that many of my peers had, if I worked hard I could make it happen.”

“I called home and told my parents that I did not belong at Notre Dame, and my mother quickly told me that I needed to stop my ‘woe is me’ act. My mom sold her car so that I could stay in school. I may not have believed in myself, but she absolutely did.”

“My teammates, however, were so cool. They told me told me to keep coming to practice. The focus that I had from my senior year of high school, straight through to October of my freshman year at ND, it was a singular focus to play basketball at Notre Dame. Months and months of the same routine every day, run, workout, shoot, eat, study, sleep, repeat; had finally paid off with that moment in the gym when my teammates were applauding me as I walked in. Easily the most memorable moment I had during my time at Notre Dame.”

Stay tuned for more!

Oh, one more thing. Seeing as I’m expanding beyond football, I can’t use “Echoes From the End Zone,” for Volume III. How does “Echoes from Notre Dame” sound? Or ... do you have a better idea? If you do, and I use it, I’ll give you credit in the book (and a free copy)! Hit me up with your ideas in comments!

Cheers & GO IRISH!