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Mike Narvaez: View from the stands not good enough for walk-on

Meaghan Veselik | Friday, November 20, 2009

A walk-on from Ridgewood, N.J., fullback Mike Narvaez sees being a part of the Notre Dame team as a dream come true. After growing up watching the Irish on TV, and visiting the University during high school, he knew it was the place for him.

However, he had never been to a Notre Dame home football game until the fall of his freshman year, and the experience was life-changing.

“My first game was Penn State freshman year,” Narvaez said. “It was an unreal experience.”

After standing in the student section throughout the 2006 season, however, Narvaez knew he wanted more and decided to try-out in the spring of his freshman year.

“I thought I’d give it a try,” he said. “The opportunity was there, and I didn’t want to have any regrets while I was here, and I’m very fortunate with how it turned out.”

For Narvaez, football was not part of his life until freshman year of high school — he was too big for the Pee-Wee leagues when he was younger.

Starting off at fullback, Narvaez volunteered to play left tackle to help his team out.
His team went on to win state in both his sophomore and junior seasons, but Narvaez tore his ACL his sophomore year.

“It was tough being hurt watching them play in a giant stadium,” he said. “But my senior season I came back and had a lot of motivation, a lot of energy, and that was a lot of the reason I tried out [at Notre Dame]. I felt like I had some unfinished business.”

His “unfinished business” turned into a strict schedule he imposed on himself the spring of his freshman year. “Everything was so regimented trying out, I went to bed at 9:30 and had to be up at 4:30 for practice.”

The results are evident — a walk-on spot on one of the nation’s most legendary college football teams and a whole new group of close friends for Narvaez.

“It gives you a new perspective running out of the tunnel,” he said. “I’m still on cloud nine.”
“It takes up a lot of time and is different from my fall of freshman year, but some of my best friends are on this team,” Narvaez said. “Once you hang out and get to know these guys, they’re not just football players. You get to know them behind the scenes and they’re really good guys.”

Not only are his teammates part of Narvaez’s favorite things about being on the team, but the tradition of Notre Dame football is also very important.

“It’s being able to go back to my home town and say, ‘I play Notre Dame football,'” he said. “It’s an accomplishment and I gave it my best shot.”

One of his favorite memories of the past three years on the team? Traveling to Hawaii and breaking the bowl streak.

“It was like a fully paid vacation. We had a lot of free time, and spent it hanging out with the team. I got to know a lot more about some of my teammates and make Notre Dame history.”

Being part of a varsity team does have its time commitments, but Narvaez has retained his strong ties to his dorm, Morrissey, and the friends he made there freshman year, living with two Morrissey friends off-campus this year.

However, without football as part of his spring schedule, he plans on making the most of his free time, and is excited for the new opportunities presented to him.

“Life without football — I’m going to take ballroom dancing, piano lessons and do things I haven’t been able to do. I don’t regret football; I just want to take advantage of the opportunities. Notre Dame is a great school all-around, and I don’t want to take anything for granted.”

After graduation, Narvaez’s busy schedule will most likely start all over again as he has plans to go to medical school. This time, though, he’s hoping to stay closer to home, looking at schools in New York and along the East Coast with hopes of becoming an orthopedist or sports medicine doctor.

Wherever he goes, it looks like his football roots will stick with him. Reflecting on his four years at Notre Dame and three seasons on the team, Narvaez couldn’t help but keep a big smile off his face.

“I wanted to have no regrets,” he said once more. “The opportunity was there, and I tried to take advantage. I’ve learned a lot of lessons and made a lot of friends. I wanted to make the most of it.”

From the excited look on his face, it seems like he did.