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Kyle Budinscak: Brains and brawn

Heather VanHoegarden | Friday, November 12, 2004

He’s played for two coaches and experienced the resignation of another. He quotes Robert Frost and knows all about interest rates and risk and return. And somewhere in there, he has found a way to get to the quarterback and stop the run.

Irish senior Kyle Budinscak has been through a lot in his five years at Notre Dame. He was here for the Bob Davie era and the debacle that was the hiring of George O’Leary. And now he is playing for Tyrone Willingham.

When asked about the ups and downs that he has had throughout his career, Budinscak responded with a quote from Robert Frost.

“It’s tough but you keep on going, because that’s the only thing to do,” Budinscak said.

“Robert Frost said, ‘The only thing certain about life is that it goes on.'”

“I think that’s really true.”

Coming to ND

Budinscak came to Notre Dame as a highly-touted defensive lineman out of Raritan High School in Bridgewater, N.J. He was the 1999 Somerset County Defensive Player of the Year and was named all-state his senior year. For Budinscak, coming to Notre Dame was an easy choice, despite his father’s disdain for Notre Dame football, and his brother’s affiliation to the Naval Academy, where he was a wrestler.

“My family’s always known that Notre Dame was a place that bred excellence and always had outstanding football players and guys that were really smart,” he said. “There’s always been a respect in my family for the Notre Dame program. I was actually always a fan in my own way of Notre Dame.”

Budinscak said it was the combination of the academics and athletics that lured him to South Bend from the east coast.

“When [Notre Dame] offered me a scholarship in high school, I knew it was the best place I could possibly go,” Budinscak said. “My father even said, ‘There’s no place in the world like that place – to play football and earn your degree from that place.'”

“It wasn’t too hard of a decision,” Budinscak said.

Versatile and volatile

Since coming to Notre Dame, Budinscak has switched positions, all being on the defensive line. He has played nose tackle, tackle and now has found a home at defensive end.

Regardless of where he has played on the line, Budinscak has been effective. As a redshirt freshman in 2001, he made 13 tackles in 11 appearances as a reserve. In 2002, he stepped into a starting role at left defensive end, recording 20 tackles in 12 starts, including 13 solos. Last season, he recorded 17 tackles in just eight games at right defensive end before he suffered a season-ending injury.

Budinscak said the position changes have made him a better football player.

“I’ve enjoyed playing anywhere on the defensive line,” Budinscak said. “I’ve always been happy to play any position. It’s been great playing all those positions; it’s taught me a lot about football.

Along with the position changes have come the coaching changes. First, Davie was fired in 2001. Then, O’Leary was hired and resigned after it was discovered that he falsified information on his resume. And finally, in 2002, Willingham was hired. Budinscak said the changes were tough to deal with, especially at a place like Notre Dame.

“It certainly teaches you about life,” Budinscak said about the coaching changes. “It makes you grow up a little bit. I don’t think there’s anywhere you can go through swings like you do here and like we’ve had in the past four years. It really makes a man out of you if you stick with it and keep trying to succeed.”

A big setback

Eight games into the 2003 season, Budinscak was having arguably the best season of his career at Notre Dame to-date. But against Florida State, this all changed when he was injured.

The doctors told Budinscak the bad news – he had torn his ACL, MCL and the cartilage in his knee. He didn’t return to the field that season, and had surgery Dec. 20 to repair the damage.

“It was rough,” Budinscak said of the injury. “Some people told me I might not be able to play. People weren’t expecting me to do that much [this season]. It kind of worked as motivation for me, and it helped me realized the opportunity I have here, and what I almost lost. As time consuming as rehab was, and as much effort as it took, I knew it was going to be all worth it, being able to play for this team one more year. It was tough, but it was something I was glad I endured.”

Budinscak had a partner in crime during the rehabilitation process. Defensive end Justin Tuck also suffered a torn ACL in the Syracuse game last season. The two rehabbed all spring and summer, and pushed each other to get healthy for this season.

“I was sad to see that happen to him,” Budinscak said. “But then I was given someone to compete with in getting back. The athletic trainer really didn’t want us doing that, but it was kind of good for us. Every time I was kind of sore, thinking about easing up, I’d see him going full-blown and I’d think ‘I can’t give in,’ and I think he saw the same thing with me sometimes.”

Budinscak was ready for fall practice this season, and eased his way back into the full-speed workouts. He has been strong this season, registering 17 tackles in the first eight games.

Willingham said the fifth-year senior has been an inspiration to his teammates because of his hard work in getting back on the field with an injury that a lot of people say takes athletes two years to fully recover.

“What you first think of with Kyle, is you watch a young man that was injured in a ballgame last year, an injury that really should have never taken place, and you see the fight, the drive and desire to first of all rehabilitate himself, and get himself back,” Willingham said. “And most people will tell you to be fully recovered it takes two years, and you see how he’s played today. So he becomes an inspiration, No. 1 because of his fight to get back. No. 2, he becomes an inspiration because he is a hard worker and a very intelligent young man.”

Just how intelligent?

Budinscak graduated in the spring with a degree in finance and a 3.6 grade-point-average on a 4.0 scale. He has been named to the Dean’s List numerous times, including the fall semester of 2001, in which he registered a 3.97 grade-point-average. Budinscak has earned Academic All-District honors the last three seasons and is an Academic All-American candidate. He said the key to his success is discipline.

“It’s hard,” he said. “People ask me that a lot, and my only answer is you just have to somehow get things done as they come at you. You just can’t procrastinate, somehow you have to have some motivation inside you just to do things and actually get things done when they come at you.

“That gets harder and harder as the year goes on, but the only way for me to really have done both was to put my head down and go and to just get things done as they came.”

Willingham said he wishes all his players were like Budinscak in the classroom, and when asked about Budinscak’s grade-point average, responded, “Isn’t that impressive?”

“That is what I hope all of our guys will be like,” Willingham said. “You know they can’t be, just as all the students can’t get [that high of a grade-point average]. But at the same time, I enjoy having that kind of role model on our team, because that’s the student-athlete you want.”

So what will happen when Budinscak runs out of the tunnel for the last time this weekend against Pittsburgh? Even he doesn’t know how he will react to his final game at Notre Dame Stadium.

“I’ve thought about it a little bit here and there, not so much recently, but I don’t know [how I’m going to react],” Budinscak said. “It went by so fast. I know everybody says that, that’s the cliché. I think I’m only going to be able to tell once it happens. It’s hard for me even to think about.”

As far as his five years playing for the Irish and going to school at Notre Dame, Budinscak maintains he made the right decision in schools.

“I’m certainly glad I came to this place and played for this university,” he said. “I’m happy to have gone here and I don’t have any regrets.”