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MIKE O’HARA: O’Hara realizes Irish dream before hometown crowd

Heather VanHoegarden | Friday, November 18, 2005

Mike O’Hara picked a good time to be named the scout team player of the week.

As a result, the Bellevue, Wash. native earned the opportunity to travel with the team on Sept. 24 to Washington, the alma mater of his mom, two sisters and brother.

The senior walk-on got on the field in Notre Dame’s 36-17 win over the Huskies, fulfilling a dream.

“It was incredible,” said O’Hara, who obtained over 48 tickets for family and friends for the game. “It was great to be able to play in front of family and friends, especially because not a lot of people get to come out there because it’s so far away. It was just a dream come true.”

But the senior walk-on was unsure he would even be able to play in front of family and friends, having broken his hand before the season started. When he traveled to Washington, he had been practicing for just over a week, and it was the first game for which he was healthy.

“It was kind of up in the air [if I was going to go],” said O’Hara, who has been to two away games in four years. “It was my first game back from breaking my hand, so I hadn’t seen the field yet. I hadn’t even been practicing until about a week and a half before that game. It was a surprise, and a good one at that, to get in there.”

O’Hara, a 5-foot-8, 180-pound receiver, fell in love with Notre Dame the first time he visited. He was born on St. Patrick’s Day and came to a football game with his brother when he was a senior in high school. From then on, he realized Notre Dame was the place for him, his Irish name and his Irish birthday.

“I really fell in love with it,” he said. “It was an incredible experience – the game was awesome. And, being born on St. Patrick’s Day, being an O’Hara, I thought it was a fitting place for me.”

And so O’Hara, a second team all-county selection as a senior, was prepared to give up football. But a former coach for Washington, whose grandchildren were teammates of O’Hara, convinced him to try out.

“He talked me into trying out, so I got in contact with [former] coach [Tyrone] Willingham’s crew, and they offered me to come out before school started for camp,” O’Hara said. “I’ve been on the team ever since.”

The senior takes pride in being on the scout team and watching opposing teams’ offenses against the Irish on Saturday, knowing he helped prepare his teammates.

“It’s fun to be able to out there and make plays against our defense and hopefully get them ready for the week ahead,” O’Hara said. “It’s nice to see when you’re watching the game and see the offense run the exact plays that we ran and then our defense stops it. It makes you feel like you’re actually contributing to the team. It’s been fun; it’s been a great experience.”

O’Hara said although it hasn’t hit him that his career at Notre Dame is almost over, the experience of dressing for every home game this year and running out of the tunnel is a special one.

“It hasn’t really hit me yet that it’s winding down,” the finance major said as he recalled the first time he dressed for a game. “The first time I remember running out there, I never knew what it sounded like for 85,000 screaming fans to be yelling. And it never gets old. Every time you run out of that Stadium onto that field, it’s the same rush. Your heart’s pounding, you feel like you can do anything.”