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Ryan Kavanagh earns his way to two starting roles

Jonathan Warren | Thursday, November 17, 2011

Very few players can say they earned a starting position on Notre Dame’s football team. Even fewer players can say they earned two.

But senior walk-on Ryan Kavanagh is both the starting kick holder and long snapper this season. Kavanagh has been long-snapping since the fifth grade and is listed as a long snapper in the program, but started first for the Irish as a kick holder against Purdue in 2010.

“You really can’t replicate the speed and the nerves in practice,” Kavanagh said of his first start. “It was pretty surreal. You try to block as much of it out as you can, but at the same time you want to try to soak it in and enjoy the time you have out on the field.”

Kavanagh’s opportunity to hold kicks was due largely to the coaching turnover in 2009. When Irish coach Brian Kelly took the reigns, the team had no incumbent kick holder. Kavanagh saw a chance to start and taught himself how to hold kicks.

“The old coaching staff would have never considered me as a holder,” Kavanagh said. “The change provided me a unique opportunity to get a clean slate and get on the field.”

Kavanagh held kicks for the entire 2010 season and contributed to David Ruffer’s 23 consecutive made field goals — the longest streak in school history. Ruffer and Kavanagh have a close relationship that helps them succeed on the field, Kavanagh said.

“We have that kicker-holder relationship,” Kavanagh said. “We have a pretty loose relationship. I think it helps build a trust factor between the two of us in terms of kicking. I’m starting to get that way with [junior punter Ben Turk] now that I’m snapping to him.”

Kavanagh earned the nod as starting long snapper for punts during this season’s game against Purdue, when junior long snapper Jordan Cowart was injured. He has held the position ever since.

“Doing whatever I can to help the team motivates me,” Kavanagh said. “I’ve been able to stay locked in, knowing that I can be out on the field at any minute. You just have to be ready to help the team at any time.”

As a senior, Kavanagh’s leadership role on the team has expanded. He said he hopes his preparation motivates younger players.

“I just try to be a leader for some of the younger guys, to be someone they can look up to,” Kavanagh said.

A civil engineering major, Kavanagh has utilized his hardworking attitude in the classroom as well. Managing time with a strenuous course load has been Kavanagh’s greatest challenge, and he hopes to work in the oil industry after graduation.

“It’s been difficult,” Kavanagh said. “It’s taken a lot of my time, but it’s always been a focus of mine to maintain my grades. It’s hard to maintain a balance between doing your work, being committed to football and trying to hang out with friends.”

Despite the workload associated with being a football player and a full-time student, Kavanagh has cherished his time on campus.

“Its more than I could have ever dreamed for coming here, and I’m just thankful for it,” Kavanagh said. “I’ve made a lot of memories and have a great group of friends.”

Many of those friends are fellow walk-ons, members of the Walk-on Players Union Nation (WOPU) who share in each other’s struggles and accomplishments.

“We stick together,” Kavanagh said. “We’ve all been through similar experiences and have a good time together. We take pride in the work that we do. Anytime a guy can get on the field, it’s a big deal. We’re all here because we love Notre Dame.”

A lifetime Notre Dame fan, Kavanagh will play his last game in Notre Dame Stadium on Saturday. After defeating the odds by being taken off the waitlist and earning his way on the team as a walk-on, Kavanagh will start at two positions against Boston College.

“It’ll be pretty emotional,” Kavanagh said. “I never thought I would be here in the first place. I can still remember coming out of the tunnel in that very first spring game and setting foot on the field. Knowing it will come to an end probably won’t hit me until I’m walking out of the locker room, but I’m just going to try to go out with a win and do what I can.”