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Jeff Tisak: Walk-on tackle living the life he never thought he could

Jared Jedick | Friday, November 21, 2008

Offensive tackle Jeff Tisak took the long and hard road of a walk-on to the Notre Dame football team, but he doesn’t regret a second of it. Being a part of the Notre Dame football tradition has been an experience beyond what he ever imagined.

“Notre Dame is something that you do not even think is real,” Tisak said. “It is something that you see on television and could never imagine being a part of. It goes way beyond just being a fan. It is like being a part of a fable or a legend.”

Tisak said he is honored that he was given the chance to just keep playing.

“I love being part of the tradition, being around a great group of guys and a great bunch of coaches, and play for the University,” Tisak said.

Growing up in the small steel town of Ambridge in western Pa., with his two younger siblings Becky and Jon, Tisak never knew that he could be a part of something as special as playing football at Notre Dame. But Tisak drew inspiration from his father who was both a lieutenant colonel in the marines and is now an FBI agent in Duluth, Minn.

“We came from a blue-collar town,” Tisak said. “With my father being an FBI agent and a member of the military, he has really been an inspiration to me.”

The beginning of Tisak’s love for Notre Dame really came seven years before his acceptance into the University when his family would make trips between the Pittsburgh area and Duluth. They would make stops along the way that would inevitably include the Notre Dame campus.

“By the time I got into Notre Dame, it was already like a second home to me,” Tisak said. “I had been here all the time, I knew the ins and outs of the campus and knew a lot of people already on campus.”

But getting on campus and joining the football team was not as easy as just being familiar with them – it would take a lot of hard work. Tisak had to first get into Notre Dame academically and then go through the arduous process of walking on under Irish coach Charlie Weis.

“In high school, I had to work really hard to get all the grades to even get in,” Tisak said. “Then I had to work very hard every day on the practice field and in the weight room.”

That hard work has to extend even further, as Tisak is a double major in the fields of political science and sociology. Balancing that heavy workload with playing on the football field has not been easy.

“You don’t sleep very much. You come out of practice late, get something to eat, and start studying,” Tisak said. “You have to make do with what you’ve got. You have to just make do.”

Tisak finds relief from the work and inspiration from his two siblings, Becky and Jon.

Becky is a trainer on campus and Tisak gets a chance to see her from time to time around the facilities.

“It is great to just see her around every once in a while,” Tisak said.

Tisak is also proud of his younger brother Jon, who is currently at the end of his high school career and is looking at possibly coming to Notre Dame as well.

“My brother Jon plays football and baseball and he has excellent grades,” Tisak said. “He is hoping to get in, but it is up to the coaches. He is a good student and a good player.”

Tisak’s first experience on the field at Notre Dame Stadium in his junior year was an odd but exciting one, as he did not get to block for quarterbacks Brady Quinn or Jimmy Clausen, but instead he was blocking for former safety Tom Zibikowski, who lined up in the quarterback position.

“It was great just trying to open up a hole for Zibby,” Tisak said.

But the experience was more a novel one for Tisak, it was the experience of a lifetime.

“It was amazing,” Tisak said. “You are wearing maybe 20 or 30 pounds of pads, but you don’t even feel it. I felt the fastest I have ever been, I felt the lightest I have ever been, and I felt the strongest I have ever been. I went out there and played harder than I ever thought I could.”

But what Tisak expects to remember the most when he moves on are the little things, like the relationships he has formed with his teammates.

“The things you remember the most are just messing around with your teammates,” Tisak said. “Trying to survive camp together and just spending all that time together, you cannot help but form strong friendships.”

Tisak said some of his best friends on the team are center Thomas Bemenderfer, junior guard Chris Stewart and junior tackle Sam Young, who love to tease him, as all good friends should.

One of those little things that he will always remember is his nickname, Theodore Gabriel. According to Tisak there is no reason why his teammates call him ‘Ted,’ but it’s a name that stuck. That type of camaraderie and rapport among the offensive linemen is something that he will keep with him for a long time to come.

Following his graduation, Tisak would like to stick around Notre Dame and try to get into the law school. After that, he may look to join the Association of the United States Army as a lawyer.

“I want to go to law school,” Tisak said. I would like to see if I can end up being an AUSA, or something like that. But I want to stick around here.”

When asked what he would like people who knew him here to remember his as, Tisak remained humble.

“I want people to remember that I was a good guy,” Tisak said. “That I did a good job, and that I did the best that I could.”