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Ashley McConnell: Fullback’s college experience was difficult transition

Michael Bryan | Friday, November 17, 2006

It’s been quite a journey for Ashley McConnell, from a high school athletic star in tiny Adairsville, Ga. – with a favorite sport of basketball – to starting in the national spotlight as a fullback at Notre Dame.

At Adairsville High, McConnell was a three-sport letterman in football, basketball, and track and field. Team captain of the football squad as a junior and senior, he rushed for 485 yards and seven touchdowns his senior season, helping his team to an 8-2-1 record. He earned all-area and all-league honors at fullback, and also recorded 65 tackles and two interceptions playing inside linebacker.

Despite his success on the football field, McConnell’s first love was basketball, and when the recruiting letters started flooding in for football, he was shocked.

“Some guys, I guess, complain about the hassle of getting recruited, and people always calling you,” McConnell said. “I guess it was never that way for me. I loved every minute of it.”

After former Irish coach Tyrone Willingham called, however, there was little decision to be made.

“Ever since I got that first letter, there was only one college for me,” McConnell said. “When I got my offer [from Notre Dame] it was a dream come true, I was smiling from ear to ear.”

One of McConnell’s biggest challenges of his Notre Dame career wasn’t blocking towering linebackers, but adjusting to college life.

“I came from a one-stoplight town where you knew everyone to a pretty big college, and it was a big change,” McConnell said. “I had to learn how to juggle school and football and take advantage of my free time, and it was definitely a challenge.”

His freshman year, McConnell did not see any action at fullback. He worked mostly on the practice squad at fullback and with special teams. His sophomore season was lost to suspension for an undisclosed violation.

McConnell received a second chance, and rejoined the team after the suspension for his junior year. The player who returned, however, was different that the one who left.

“While I was gone I realized everything I had taken for granted, and how good I had it here,” McConnell said. “I felt blessed to be back-you’re not guaranteed a second chance. I felt privileged to get to play again, and privileged just to be able to go to class.”

He saw his first offensive action on the field his junior year, entering three games at fullback.

“Everyone just wants to do their part, and I’d be happy just to play on special teams,” McConnell said. “But to get in the first game against Purdue, that was a special moment.”

McConnell has emerged as a solid starter this season after starter had knee surgery earlier this season.

One of the most rewarding moments of McConnell’s career, he said, was the 8-yard touchdown catch he caught in Notre Dame’s 47-21 loss.

“It was unfortunate that it came in a loss, but it was a blessing and a special moment for my family and hometown,” McConnell said.

A graphic design and computer applications major, McConnell looks forward to graduation and finding a steady job.

He is also looking into internship opportunities in the graphic design field.