Last week I detailed several of the memorable walk-on kickers in Notre Dame Fighting Irish history. Today I will go into more detail on one of them, 1988 Championship winning kicker, Reggie Ho. I had a chance to sit down and interview Reggie and his memories of his time at Notre Dame were as clear as if they had just happened yesterday.
So how did Reggie Ho get to Notre Dame you ask? Growing up in Kaneohe on the Hawaiian island of Oahu, Reggie Ho had aspirations in high school of going to college and becoming a doctor. Becoming a legendary kicker on Notre Dame’s football team was never on his radar. But as he completed his freshman year at Notre Dame he felt a void in his life and decided to try out for something, and that something was the Notre Dame football team. What happened next was magical. Reggie’s journey from the warm tropical breezes of Oahu to blustery South Bend, Indiana, brought him on an adventure he never expected. It brought him the challenge of studying with some of the brightest minds and the challenge of playing football with some of the elite college football players in the land. It gave him the opportunity to receive a pre-med degree from Notre Dame and the opportunity to be an integral part of the Notre Dame football team’s national title winning season in 1988. How does a gifted student-athlete from Oahu, Hawaii, help his team win a national title and go on to become a top cardiologist in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania?
Life is about our choices. Wherever you are, good or bad, it’s because of the choices you make. ~ Lou Holtz
“When I was in high school trying to decide where I was going to go to college, I wanted to go to a Catholic school. My older brother and two of my cousins were studying at Notre Dame at the time, and I also had an uncle who had previously attended Notre Dame. Notre Dame was an excellent school, and as a kid who aspired to be a doctor, Notre Dame was a great option and I am glad I got accepted. Football never really entered into my decision. Yes, I had played football in high school, but I never had any intention of continuing that at the collegiate level. Getting a good education and pursing my dreams of becoming a doctor were my primary objectives. What happened once I got to Notre Dame was something I never expected.”
“When you are at a school like Notre Dame, you are constantly concerned about your grades and whether or not you are succeeding academically. During my freshman year I spent a tremendous amount of time in the library studying. At the end of my freshman year I did pretty well (Reggie had all A’s and one A- studying pre-med his freshman year), but I had spent so much time in the library that year and looking back I realized I was missing out on the rest of college. There was more to college than just studying, and I decided that I needed to adjust the balance in my life. I knew I wanted to get involved in something besides my academics, but I wasn’t sure exactly what that was. I was a kicker on my high school football team and I had never really thought I’d pursue football at the collegiate level, but after my freshman year, I thought I would give it a try. I was pretty naïve in thinking that a kid from Hawaii could just walk into the football office and try out for the football team, but that’s exactly what I did.”
“In the fall of my sophomore year, when we got back to school, I went to the coach’s office and asked the secretary if I could try out for the football team. The secretary told me that the coaches were busy and asked me to come back the next day. The next day I came back and she told me the same thing. This happened three days in a row. On the fourth day I brought my books and asked her if I could just sit in the lounge and study while waiting for one of the coaches to have time to speak with me. She agreed, and so I sat and waited. A couple of hours went by, people came and went, the secretary left for the day, the cleaning crew came in, and finally one of the coaches (Scott Raridon, the weight training coach) passed by and asked if he could help me. I explained to him that I was waiting to see one of the coaches to talk about trying out for the football team. Then Coach Pete Cordelli came out (the quarterback coach) and told me that I should come back in the spring and attend tryouts. But in the meantime he recommended that I try out for my interhall football team. I was the only kicker on Cavanaugh Hall’s interhall football squad and I only had one kick and I made it. Unfortunately, we weren’t that good.”
“So I came back in the spring to see when the tryouts were and eventually I got to meet with Vinny Cerrato, who was the special teams coach, and he explained to me when tryouts were and how they worked. I arrived at Cartier field and eight people were trying out for the kicking position. I had no idea that many people would be trying out for kicker. John Carney was graduating that year and Ted Gradel, who was the kicker behind John Carney, had decided to stay on for a fifth year, hoping to finally become the starter after playing behind Carney for four years.”
I was more scared of being yelled at by Coach Holtz than I was of getting booed at by fifty-nine thousand people in the stadium.
“First we did kickoffs, and then we did 10 field goals each. Some straight on, some from the right and left hash, and then from varying distances … 30 yards, 40 yards and 50 yards. There were 10 kicks in total that we had to attempt. I made 9 out of 10, missing the 50-yard kick. Ted (Gradel) and Jim (Sacco) made 8 out of 10. Everyone else made less than eight. They kept Ted, Jim and me on the squad, and I started practicing with the team in my junior year. I was so surprised and excited! When I went to the locker room for the first practice, I was completely shocked to find out that I was tentatively number one on the posted depth chart. And then Coach Holtz arrived at the practice field in his golf cart. Before Coach Holtz arrived, I was okay; but when he came over and asked who I was, I was very nervous. During what was my first kick in front of him, I kicked the ball into our lineman. That’s how I started my time on the Notre Dame football team in front of Coach Holtz. His style of coaching by intimidation was very important. I was more scared of being yelled at by Coach Holtz than I was of getting booed at by fifty-nine thousand people in the stadium.”
For a kid who went from no one to a pretty important someone in Notre Dame football, Ho approached the game with a great determination and took in every single moment with equally great appreciation.
“I think the Michigan game (September 10, 1988) would be my best memory. The first home game of my senior year (1988) was against Michigan, and it was the first time I ever got to start. I had a feeling I was going to start because I was on the first team and then, the night before the game, Coach Stewart confirmed my hunch and told me I was going to start. When I ran out onto the field, knowing that I was Notre Dame’s starting kicker, that truly was my most memorable moment at ND. Another huge highlight for me was kicking an extra point against Navy the year before. That was my first play in a game, and I could have died and gone to heaven at that point. I literally could have never played another play at Notre Dame and would have been totally okay with that. It was amazing to just have any part in Notre Dame football!”
Getting on the field before a high school size crowd is one thing, but getting on the field in front of 59,000 screaming fans is an entirely different experience all together. Reggie talked with me about the transition from high school to the big stage at Notre Dame and how he dealt with the nervous butterflies.
“The very first kick of a game is always somewhat anxiety provoking. Back during the Michigan game, the first kick I had was a field goal. I was nervous in the sense that it was the first game where I was the starter and it really mattered, as opposed to the kick I made in the Navy game, which wasn’t crucial to the outcome of the game (Notre Dame was winning handily over Navy). The Michigan game was surreal. I was nervous but at the same time had a sense of calm and confidence. We were not going to let any team come into our stadium and beat us. We were ready to hit the field, to start the game, and just ready to get out there, play and give it your very best. It was an unknown kind of situation and I was going to give it my best and get the ball through the upright. Whether the game was on the line or not, Coach Holtz expected perfection. You absolutely did not want to miss and get yelled at by Coach Holtz. Even when we were beating Rice that year, you didn’t want to do anything that would cause Coach Holtz to yell at you!”
Anyone who watched Reggie Ho kick in the 1980s remembers his unique kicking style. It may not have looked like any other kicker out there at the time, but it worked for Ho, and at the end of the day that’s all that matters.
My style looked pretty unorthodox.
“I am a small individual and don’t have the greatest of leg strength compared to someone who is bigger than me. My thought process was if I could “pull” the ball that I would be able to kick the ball farther. But the problem is if you pull the ball like that you tend to lose accuracy. So the more I practiced my kicking style of pulling the ball in order to kick it farther, the more accurate I would become, and so that’s what I did. In order the pull the ball the way I did, I had to kick it at more of an angle than most other kickers, so my style looked pretty unorthodox.”
I hope you’ve enjoyed walking down memory lane with Reggie Ho as he detailed his experiences from his time at Notre Dame, and shared some of his favorite memories. Got any requests for next week? Send them my way!
Cheers & GO IRISH!