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RICH WHITNEY: Family tragedy motivates Whitney to walk onto team

Heather VanHoegarden | Friday, November 18, 2005

Rich Whitney III couldn’t stand it anymore. Two seasons as a Notre Dame football fan, and he was done – he wanted to play.

And so he did.

The senior defensive back tried out for the team the winter of his sophomore year, and has been on the team ever since.

“Freshman year it bothered me, and another season watching from the stands, it drove me nuts,” Whitney said. “That was a driving force. I had always talked about doing it, and I had had enough talk.”

Another driving force for Whitney was the death of his father, who passed away at the end of Whitney’s freshman year, about eight months after being diagnosed with cancer. And so he was given even more motivation.

“He was like if you want to, do it, if you don’t want to, don’t do it,” Whitney said. “It was just something I had talked about with him; it was one thing that I had talked about for so long.”

Whitney made the team that winter and has been a member of the Irish ever since. This year he’s played against Purdue, Navy, Brigham Young and even USC, going in on special teams to replace an injured player.

“I understand my role, so I wasn’t expecting it, but of course I wanted it,” Whitney said of his USC experience. “Once I got that opportunity to be on the field and be on TV and stuff, it’s a great feeling. You just go out there and nothing else is around except what’s going on in the game.”

Whitney said he is glad he tried out, and he thinks his dad would have loved to watch him play for the Irish.

“He would be happy,” Whitney said. “He loved watching me play.”

And his dad never strays far from his thoughts, especially before and after a game.

“Before the game I think about it,” the 6-foot-2 senior said. “I’m not a big “get all pumped up guy,” so I think about my dad, especially right before the game, when I’m walking down the tunnel. When we first run out onto the field and I’m running to the other side, I’m thinking about him. But once that’s over with, that’s when I stop thinking about it until the game’s over.”

Whitney said his mom is elated he finally decided to try out for the team after declining the opportunity to walk-on before his freshman year. And she will get to make it out for Saturday’s game from Pennsylvania.

“It made her dreams come true, and my grandfather was the same way,” he said. “She always wanted me to [try out] when I was here freshman year, but she wasn’t going to tell me what to do. She’s excited to come out here. She made it out to two games this year. She loves it.”

Whitney, who will graduate in December with a degree in science business, said he is glad he finally stopped just talking about trying out for football, and actually did something about it.

“No regrets,” he said. “It’s a tough road, there’s definitely been some bumps in the road, but that’s life. That’s the way life is. Nothing’s easy. We have to evaluate things as “What’s it worth?” Just because it’s really hard, is what you’re working for worth it?”

“And I think it is. The opportunities I’ve gotten, the friends I’ve made, and being a part of Notre Dame football is worth all the hard work I’ve put in.”