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Mike Ragone stays positive despite multiple injuries

Eric Prister | Thursday, November 17, 2011

One knee injury can change a career.

Three? That could be devastating.

But for fifth-year tight end Mike Ragone, who has injured his ACL three times since high school, the injuries have not completely taken away from his experience at Notre Dame.

“It’s been a tough one,” Ragone said. “I’ve had some tough breaks, but it is what it is. I’m trying to stay positive. I’m trying to keep telling myself that God’s got a plan and everything. I’m just going to keep going forward. It’s not shoulda’, coulda’, woulda’. I’m really glad I came here. I met some really great people and made some really good friendships. It’s a good place, so I’m happy I came here.”

Coming out of high school, Ragone was ranked as the No. 3 tight end according to Rivals.com and the No. 2 tight end on ESPN’s 150 list. He was recruited nationally, but in the end he said it came down to Notre Dame and USC.

“It came down to here and USC basically,” he said. “This was my ultimate decision because I just fell in love with this place. My family was all about it, and I fell in love with it from the start, and my love for this place has just grown as the years have gone.

“The recruiting process was fun. It was a great time. [I liked] the fans. I came for the spring game and it was pretty cool, pretty intense. I had never been around that environment, and it was pretty sick, all the autographs, and just the love that they showed you — just the love for Notre Dame. Just to be a part of this place is really cool.”

When asked what he liked about USC, Ragone just laughed.

“Nothing,” he said.

Ragone was also one of the top wrestlers in the nation in high school. He finished 37-0 during his junior year heading into the New Jersey state semifinals, but experienced two firsts during that match — his first loss of the season and his first knee injury.

“About a minute in, a guy grabbed my ankle when I was on the ground, jumped out and that was it,” he said.

Ragone missed his senior season in both football and wrestling but was still recruited and signed on to play for the Irish. As a freshman, Ragone played mainly on special teams during games, but as a tight end was able to play next to and learn from John Carlson, now an NFL tight end for the Seattle Seahawks.

“As a freshman, lining up against John Carlson was crazy,” Ragone said. “[He] just [taught me] character things, things I grasped from him, [like] how to present yourself on the field and off the field. He was a really good person. He had like a 3.8 GPA — history major and second round draft pick. He was a great guy. You just want to study him in all facets.”

But a knee injury struck again during training camp of Ragone’s sophomore season, and he was forced to sit out the entirety of the 2008 campaign. Ragone said the feeling of a second injury was far more devastating than the first, but that he found he could serve another role on the team.

“It’s indescribable,” he said. “It sucks, it hurts, but I just wanted to be around the team, just talk to guys, just be an example. Not always just talking, just being present, just so they know that this guy can walk around and manage his life with a positive outlook after going through so much. Being an All-American and everything and then have this stuff happen — it just gives people encouragement.”

Minnesota Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph, who came to Notre Dame one year after Ragone, is one player who said he learned from the fifth-year tight end.

“Mike was always there for me freshman year, showing me different things — where a class was, how to do a lift in the weight room,” Rudolph said. “Any questions I had, he was there to answer.”

Rudolph and Ragone said they still keep in touch, and Rudolph said he texted Ragone after he suffered his third season-ending knee injury earlier this year against Michigan.

“I told him to just stay positive, because it’s not the bad things that define you, but how you deal with them that make you a good person,” he said.

When asked if he will apply to the NCAA for a sixth year of eligiblity, Ragone said he was unsure of his future.

“Right now it sucks,” he said. “Right now I’m just trying to look for positive things, and it’s tough to find them. But I hope everything will fall into place. To play another year under the gold helmet with coach Kelly would be a dream come true.”