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Nick Lezynski hopes to use football to enter coaching

Molly Sammon | Thursday, November 17, 2011

Just playing football for Notre Dame is not enough for walk-on defensive back Nick Lezynski. The graduate student has always had his sights set on a higher position on the field. After he leaves, Lezynski wants to trade in his helmet for a headset and become a coach.

“I’ve always had the itch to coach. Obviously the past four years has made that interest more keen and makes me want to come back and pursue what my dream has always been,” Lezynski said. “I loved playing sports, I’ve always had that coaches mindset, and I’ve always thought that I’d be a better coach than I’d be a player.”

Lezynski graduated from Notre Dame in May 2011 with an undergraduate degree in marketing, but has stayed on the team for his fourth year of eligibility while pursuing a theology degree. Lezynski, a Newtown, Penn., native, has recently looked into how to make the transition from a player to a coach.

“I’d probably become a grad assistant at a college. I would be a part time grad student,” Lezynski said. “Basically your job is on the football staff. That would be one of the things that I want to look into, and I’ve been searching that stuff for a while now.”

Starting at the lower ranks and climbing up is something that Lezynski has practiced as a walk-on, competing for playing time against scholarship players.

“Basically in any profession, you’ll really have to work your way up the ranks,” Lezynski said. “So being here, and especially being a walk-on, you start from the bottom and earn your way up. It’s kind of a familiar path. I’m hoping that can help me. There are a lot of transferable skills for whatever career in the sports industry I choose.”

Lezynski has played for the Irish under two different head coaches, and their respective staffs have provided lessons and examples for him to use as he builds his career.

“In the past four years, I’ve learned a lot of general lessons that will stick with me for a while,” Lezynski said. “I’ve learned how to do things and how not to do things. I think that definitely I aspire to be at that level one day, to be considered in those ranks and be an elite college coach. There are good examples and bad examples I’ve seen.”

Lezynski said that as he climbs the ranks in the coaching side of the game, he would like to eventually return to the sidelines of Notre Dame Stadium.

“I feel like a coach at Notre Dame is a person that can galvanize an entire community, the entire Notre Dame nation, and that kind of excites me,” Lezynski said.

As the son of two graduates, both of whom were Notre Dame athletes, it was only natural for Lezynski to arrive in South Bend. His mother was a monogram winner, and his father was both a boxer and a wrestler at Notre Dame. His older sister danced on the pom squad for the Irish, and his brother Blaise is a freshman on the baseball team. Lezynski’s youngest brother also has aspirations to attend Notre Dame.

“My brothers and sister and I always wanted it,” Lezynski said. “Seeing the games when I was little, it just made the mystique even greater to me, and I knew the only way I could do it was through getting good grades.”

From walking on upon arriving at Notre Dame to receiving playing time in the fourth quarter of Notre Dame’s one-touchdown win over Pittsburgh in 2010, Lezynski’s career has been embodied by a constant effort to improve.

“When you first walk on the team, you’re at the bottom of the totem pole,” Lezynski said. “When I first walked on, all I wanted to do was make the team. It’s never worn off, but at the same time, I’ve never been content with my role on the team. [I’m trying] to improve [my role] and to get on the field.”

His leadership and past presidency of the Walk-On Players Union (WOPU) has given him some experience in team leadership for coaching. Lezynski is now the President Emeritus of the union, he said.

“To be honest, you don’t envision being a walk on, you envision winning Heisman Trophies and being an all-American,” Lezynski said. “I feel like through the trials and tribulations I’ve gone through as a walk on, with the brotherhood that I have with all the other walk-ons, that we’re all in this together. We always play as a team, we play for Our Lady and we’ve always got each other to lean on.”

A large network of people have molded the player and prospective coach Lezynski came to be throughout his years as a member of the Notre Dame football team.

“It’s the support from my family, my girlfriend — an ‘11 ND cheerleader — and my teammates, especially the WOPU guys. They’re the ones that have kept me through this the whole time,” Lezynski said.

Lezynski cites his parents as driving forces in helping him become a leader on the team and developing the qualities he will need down the road in coaching positions.

“My parents have always encouraged us to be leaders,” Lezynski said. “I have this sign above my door that says, ‘What is popular is not always right, what is right is not always popular,’ so I always wanted to do the right thing, encourage people and have a voice. I like to think I have leadership qualities.”

Lezynski hopes his leadership will be the biggest legacy he leaves at Notre Dame, at least while as a player.

“I’m not the most talented guy, or the biggest guy, but I’d like to think that I’ve been able to make an impact here,” Lezynski said. “That’s something I hope to share with other people around me.”