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Ryan Sheehan: Two-sport star leaves track behind to walk on

Andrew Owens | Thursday, November 11, 2010

For many high school students, picking a college is a simple decision — just choose the one that has the best balance of academic and athletic prestige. For senior cornerback Ryan Sheehan, the decision was a little more complicated.

An eight-time varsity-letter winner at Loudon Valley High School in Purcellville, Va., Sheehan starred in both track and football. In track, he won conference and state titles while setting school records.

In football, his list of accomplishments was no less stellar, earning all-district honors and ranking at the top of his team in both rushing yards and tackles. His senior year, Sheehan was named Loudon Valley’s Most Outstanding Male Athlete.

Sheehan faced the decision of fulfilling his dream of becoming a college football player at a small school, or coming to Notre Dame under scholarship as a track athlete. Unlike his four brothers who made the decision to play college football, Sheehan decided to go in a different direction and accept Notre Dame’s scholarship offer.

But during his freshman year, Sheehan partially tore his Achilles tendon, ending his season and leaving him out of action for eight months. The lengthy healing process gave Sheehan a chance to evaluate his priorities, during which he made the decision to drop track and follow his true passion — football.

“When I made that decision, I was unsure of how my family would react to me quitting track,” Sheehan said. “It turned out that I had my family’s full support.”

As Sheehan learned, it would be no small task to switch sports. During his sophomore year, tryouts were held at 4:30 a.m. for the entire semester. During such a difficult time, Sheehan reflected that it would have been easy to simply give up, but that he always had the support of his family.

“My parents and my brothers helped me get through it,” Sheehan said. “They come to the games even though I have not gotten much playing time. They make the drive from Virginia every weekend to see me on the sidelines.”

Despite making the squad, the nature of being a student-athlete prevented life from getting any easier. He now had to juggle the life of a varsity athlete with the academic workload of a Notre Dame student — without a full scholarship this time. Nevertheless, Sheehan believes that having such a busy schedule ending up helping, not hindering, his academic life.

“I’ve actually gotten better grades since joining the football team even though I have had more difficult classes as I have gotten older,” Sheehan said. “I had to put in the time to make sure I did well. I had no choice but to work hard or fail.”

Sheehan added that a typical day in his life includes classes, practice, and then heading straight to the library to do homework.

All of the experiences Sheehan has encountered during his time at Notre Dame have prepared him to excel once he graduates in the spring. As an accounting major, he plans on pursuing a master’s degree, but is still unsure of where that will be. This summer, he will be working in the field of public accounting in Washington, D.C.

Despite the struggles, setbacks and hardships he has faced, Sheehan looks back on his time at Notre Dame with a positive attitude.

“I’m very happy with my experience,” he said. “Coming here and meeting all the people, especially the other walk-ons, has exposed me to something unique. I was the first from my family to come here, and I rave about this place all the time when I go home. I have no doubt that I am a better person now than when I first started here.”