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Things People Forget About Notre Dame Football: Unconventional Stardom Edition

Sometimes helping the team looks really weird

Wake Forest v Notre Dame

One of the great things about college football - historically and still today - is the opportunities it creates for unconventional players and stories that have outsized impacts on the game. This week we’ll highlight a few players with unusual backgrounds before, during and/or after their time with the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and shoutout their accomplishments. People forget...

Shane Walton Came to Notre Dame as a Soccer Player

Shane Walton emerged in his last year as one of the top defensive backs in the country - in 2002 he had seven interceptions, including two pick-sixes, as part of a dominant defensive unit that basically served as the team’s offense for much of that fun-but-bizarre season. One would think such an accomplished player would have been highly sought after in his recruitment, but in fact Walton first came to Notre Dame to play an entirely different kind of football.

Michigan v Notre Dame Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Walton was in fact a quite promising soccer prospect, having been named Big East freshman of the year in 1998, but Davie-era roster famine created an opportunity for him to walk on and become a key contributor on the Irish defense, and Walton boldly made the jump.

Notre Dame’s corner depth is no longer a huge problem, but is too late to check whether anyone on the soccer team can be a body at safety?

John Goodman’s 2012

John Goodman’s career had a weird trajectory - always on the edge of significant playing time but never quite getting there, he had a number of big moments in an Irish uniform even though his career numbers never added up to very much. Never was this contrast more stark than in 2012, when Goodman had only seven receptions - but those receptions added up to 159 yards (22.7 per catch) and three were touchdowns. Two of those touchdowns, I might add, were one-handed catches with defenders draped all over him. Even Brent Musburger harped on Goodman’s feast-or-famine season throughout his broadcasts, noting Everett Golson’s penchant for rolling to the right before making a deep heave to the senior wideout on the other side of the field.

Notre Dame v Michigan State Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Goodman also had an amusingly consistent role on special teams for Notre Dame, namely as a punt returner whose more-or-less explicit job was to never return punts. Across his time as a returner (Davonte Neal took most of the punts in 2012 with Goodman subbing in occasionally, but Goodman was the primary returner in 2010-11) Goodman averaged three yards on 26 returns. If that seems like a small sample size, it’s because Goodman fair caught the vast majority of punts that went his way, usually without even thinking of attempting a return. It’s good to know what you can do.

Jarious Jackson Nearly Got an NFL Europe Ring

Jarious Jackson endeared himself to Notre Dame fans with his dynamic and gutsy play at quarterback in the 1998 and 1999 seasons. After a year as a backup with the Denver Broncos, Jackson was considered a long shot for a productive NFL future and was thus a prime candidate to take part in its NFL Europe venture, then in its ninth of fifteen seasons. The league was widely seen as an opportunity for players such as Jackson to prove themselves, and he took the leap.

Jarious Jackson

In 10 games with the Barcelona Dragons, Jackson passed for 1,544 yards and 13 touchdowns, good for an 85.9 passer rating and enough to carry the Dragons to World Bowl IX. Jackson had put the Dragons ahead of the Berlin Thunder 17-10 in the fourth quarter, before the Berliners mounted 14 unanswered points to take home the ring.

Jackson returned to the Broncos after his sojourn in Europe but never was able to gain a starting role, eventually moving to the Canadian Football League in 2005, where he became a multi-year starter for the BC Lions. He may have never made it the highest levels of the game, but Jackson deserves credit for his determination spread the gridiron gospel to the farthest corners of the world.