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James Aldridge: Aldridge relishes unique college experience

Mike Gotimer | Friday, November 20, 2009

“Live unique.”

These two words help to exemplify the career of Irish running back James Aldridge during his four years at Notre Dame. Arguably no other senior has taken advantage of the many benefits of playing Notre Dame football both on and off the field, making his experience truly unique.

Aldridge’s Notre Dame career began in a way that was decidedly unique when compared with how most other top recruits enter college. The heavily recruited running back became one of the first recruits under Irish coach Charlie Weis to participate in the early enrollment program. The experience had such a big impact on Aldridge that he still considers it his favorite memory at Notre Dame four years later.

“Moving in, I was an early enrollee, you know, when I was in high school one week and the next week I was in college,” Aldridge said. “So just the transition period and getting acclimated to everything when I first got here was the most expansive memory I have.”

It was an experience Aldridge thought was important for him, and he feels it helped him grow a lot as a person.

“It was a culture shock, but I thought it was a culture shock that I needed,” he said, “As a person I grew up, and I grew to like everything. I mean I love it.”

Aldridge’s road to Notre Dame began as a high school senior at Merrillville H.S. in Merrillville, Ind., where he finished with 3,803 all-purpose yards in just two years at the school, including 1,433 yards and 21 touchdowns in his senior season. That earned him a spot as one of nine running backs on Parade’s Prep All-America team, and he was also one of 16 candidates for the Parade All-America High School Football Player of the Year award.

Like so many others before him, Aldridge was attracted to Notre Dame because of the University’s prestige.

“You come here, you really know about the tradition, and once you get here and see what it’s all about, that’s what really drew me here,” Aldridge said. “They play this recruiting video for all the recruits with all this Notre Dame stuff, and I was just like ‘alright, I’m coming.'”

Once he got to campus, Aldridge began to make his Notre Dame experience unique almost instantly. He learned to embrace all of the opportunities and special spots on campus — including his favorite place, North Dining Hall.

“You know, spring semester when I first got here and after nights of going out, you know I’d wake up in the morning and go to North [Dining Hall] with my roommates, and I would be sitting in the dining hall for hours on end just looking at girls,” Aldridge said with a laugh. “But it’s just kind of the way I was when I was younger you know.”

Since those early days where he would spend hours in the dining hall taking it all in, Aldridge has taken advantage of many of the opportunities available on campus, including the football field.

Aldridge came into Notre Dame as a freshman on the talented 2006 team that featured stars like Brady Quinn and Jeff Samardzija. Although he missed the first five games of that season, he played in seven of the team’s final eight games, finishing behind Darius Walker as the team’s second leading rusher with 142 yards on 37 carries.

Aldridge was then one of the bright spots during Notre Dame’s rough 2007 campaign, leading the team with 463 rushing yards. His most memorable start came against Michigan State when he became the first Irish running back since Tony Fisher in 1999 to register more than 100 yards in his first career start with 104 yards on 18 carries. Aldridge’s biggest highlight in that game came when he busted out a 43-yard carry on Notre Dame’s second scoring drive that resulted in only their second offensive touchdown of the season.

He also rushed for a career high 125 yards against Navy.

During his junior season in 2008, Aldridge notched his first career touchdown when he burst through the line of scrimmage from two yards out against North Carolina. Two weeks later at Washington, Aldridge led the team with 84 rushing yards and registered his first career multi-touchdown game. For the season, Aldridge finished with 357 yards on 91 carries.

In 2009, in the middle of a crowded backfield, Aldridge moved from halfback to fullback. Although injuries have limited the psychology major to only four games this season, Aldridge plans to finish out his career strong.

“I want to continue to embrace what this University is about while I’m here,” Aldridge said.
After this season, Aldridge plans to continue to train, but in his spare time aside from that, he’ll continue to add the “unique” streak he has with respect to other football players by launching his own clothing line, aptly named “Live Unique.”

“I’m going to continue to train and see how that goes, but I started my own clothing line not too long ago. It’s called ‘Live Unique,’ that’s launching in the spring,” Aldridge said. “It’s something that I spend a lot of my time on you know besides football. I’ve always been interested in fashion, and it’s just something that I’d figured why not start it up now.”

When he leaves here, Aldridge says he’ll miss the locker room and the teammates inside of it the most. He also will miss the more laid back aspects of college life because he realizes that he’s lucky to have had this opportunity.

“It’s camaraderie,” Aldridge said. “I mean, I don’t have any of the responsibilities. When you think about it, I mean this stuff’s hard, but there’s people my age who are in the war right now. I mean I got to go to college, play ball, I don’t have to pay for anything, you know, you couldn’t ask for much more, and I just appreciate that.

“It really puts things in perspective when you see where you are I guess in comparison to a lot of other people. I’m having fun, I’m happy, I’ve learned a lot as a person, and I don’t know what else you could ask for.”

Ultimately, Aldridge has been extremely pleased by the unique opportunities that have presented themselves to him throughout his time at Notre Dame and has enjoyed his time on campus and clearly thinks that it’s a special place that will continue to help him foster his goal to continue to “live unique.”

“It’s been a great experience,” he said. “Best decision I’ve ever made in my life. I mean, this place in particular is a special university, and I guess in every situation, every student has their unique experience here and mine isn’t any different. You know a lot of our time is invested [in the Gug] and a lot of our time is invested in the books and everything, and there’s things out there that let you embrace what this University’s all about.

“I got a chance to go to London and travel to the Netherlands, and I’ve never seen that before and it’s things like that [that make Notre Dame special].”