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Mike Ragone: Torn ACL helps tight end realize priorities in life

Megan Golden | Thursday, November 11, 2010

A torn ACL, a taste of Notre Dame academics and a coaching change were not going to stop senior tight end Mike Ragone from becoming the athlete, student and, most importantly, friend that he is today.

Ragone saw action in 11 games as a freshman, and he quickly learned the difference between his high school’s game day atmosphere and the crowd of 80,000 in Notre Dame Stadium.

“My freshmen year against Georgia Tech [was] the greatest game in the world,” he said. “I come from a school with like 800 people, and the stands hold 1,000 to 2,000. It was mind blowing, crazy. I was nervous like a little girl.”

During training camp of his sophomore year, Ragone tore his ACL and underwent season-ending surgery.

“Sophomore year I was ready to play, and I tore my ACL. I had to play through it in training camp, and my knee couldn’t take it anymore, so I had surgery and couldn’t play that year,” he said. “Just overall, it definitely sets you back. At the same time, it also developed me into the person I am today because I’ve worked so hard to just come back and come back.”

With the injury, Ragone learned that there is more to life than football.

“You also have the school here, and it’s not an easy school. So I had to work harder and harder, which really matured me in a lot of ways,” he said. “Before, I would just be messing around and not taking anything seriously. I was just worried about football, and football’s only a game. When I hurt my knee, I realized that there’s a life out there. Just enjoy everything.”

That means Ragone enjoys the academics, for what they are worth.

“It’s so tough, but it’s awesome. My advisors and mentors have really helped me, just standing over [me],” he said. “It really pays off in the end because when [I] have a Notre Dame degree, I will be happy that I went through it. Having a degree at the end, plus football, I mean there’s nothing really better than that.”

The highlight of Ragone’s athletic career came early in the Washington State game during his junior season. The Cougars blocked an Irish extra point and attempted to return the ball, until Ragone sprinted 95 yards and came out of nowhere to make the tackle.

“Washington State, I caught a guy from behind. It was a 95-yard run down the field,” he said. “It was named the play of the game.”

Prior to Ragone’s senior year, one of the biggest reasons he had chosen Notre Dame — Irish coach Charlie Weis — was fired, and Notre Dame announced Brian Kelly’s hiring as head coach.

“Weis was always there for me, and he recruited me. He’s like a friend, someone who’s always there, who’s going to be at your wedding. It was tough. We all had the same goal, we all wanted to win. And that’s what it came down to. He’s a great coach, competitor, and he’s there to help you,” he said. “At first I didn’t know what to think. I wasn’t mad or anything. Coach Kelly’s won everywhere he’s been.”

Although his athletic career might have been rocky with the injury and coaching change, Ragone has made friendships and memories that he will cherish forever.

“So many friendships, like in high school, there are so many guys from my state who have come here. [Receiver] Duval Kamara, one of my best friends, [safety] Harrison Smith, [linebacker] Steve Paskorz,” he said. “We’ve just bonded since day one. Hopefully it’ll stay that way the rest of my life.”

One particular memory stands out from his sophomore year.

“On Halloween Harrison and I went out after the game, and I dressed up as Scooby-Doo, and he was Shaggy. That was when he had the long hair,” Ragone said. “No one thought that we’d pull it off, and they were the best costumes ever.”

Ragone said he would never forget about his teammates, even after his career at Notre Dame.

“I want my teammates to know that I’ll always have their back. No matter what, I’m going to keep riding with them ‘til the day we die.”