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Ryan Sheehan chooses football over track scholarship

Nick Boyle | Thursday, November 17, 2011

It’s not every day you find someone athletic enough to play Division I sports. It’s even rarer that you find someone athletically talented enough to play two.

After spending his freshman year running for the track team, fifth-year senior cornerback Ryan Sheehan decided to drop track and try-out for the football team, one of the best decisions Sheehan said he has ever made.

“While I got recruited to run track here, football was and always has been my passion. I couldn’t imagine my life without it now,” Sheehan said.

Coming out of high school, Sheehan, a four-time varsity letter winner in both track and football, received interest from many smaller schools to play football. While football was always his first choice and favorite sport, Sheehan could not ignore the track and field interest he received from many larger Division I schools, including heavy interest from Notre Dame.

After being invited for a visit and touring the campus, Sheehan knew that Notre Dame’s offer was one he could not refuse.

“I’m not one of those kids who was a Notre Dame fan his entire life, but after visiting I knew there was something special about the school,” Sheehan said. “I fell in love with it almost immediately and I knew I would regret it if I went anywhere else.”

Although Sheehan accepted Notre Dame’s offer to run track, playing football was always in the back of his mind.

“During my freshman year of track I always found myself watching football and wishing I could be a part of the team,” Sheehan said. “Myself and [senior] Pat Coughlin would go to track practice and talk all the time about how cool it would be to play on the football team.”

Midway through his freshman track season misfortune struck Sheehan as he partially tore his Achilles tendon during a meet. Struggling to get back into top track form, Sheehan took this misfortune as an opportunity for him to drop track and follow his dream of playing football.

Coming from a family of four other football-playing brothers, Sheehan received much support from his friends and family back home.

“My parents understood how unhappy I was when I was doing track and they very much wanted me to have the best college experience that I could. They were very supportive of my choice to try and make the switch,” Sheehan said. “My brothers were pumped about it as they’re all playing football too.”

While making the decision to switch was an easy one for Sheehan, he still had to go through a rigorous tryout process, one that Sheehan described as more mentally than physically grueling. A 4:30 a.m. wake up call every morning for Sheehan was the norm for the tryout process.

“Luckily, since I had been doing track, I was in pretty good shape for tryouts.” Sheehan said. “Unfortunately, the tryout workouts weren’t workouts designed to get you in shape. They were designed to break your will and really see if you wanted to be on the team.”

After suffering through weeks of early workouts, Sheehan made the team, calling it one of the happiest experiences of his life.

While playing football was the ultimate goal for Sheehan, he has also found the relationships formed from doing so are some of the most important he has. Sheehan said he feels the bonds he formed with his fellow walk-ons during the tryout process are some of the strongest he has, while he has also made good friends with his fellow position players such as senior safety Harrison Smith, junior safety Zeke Motta and senior safety Dan McCarthy.

“I feel like the friendships I’ve made since I’ve been on the football team are the ones that will last beyond college,” Sheehan said. “They are definitely the most meaningful ones that I have.”

Although he spends a lot of time on football, Sheehan still devotes plenty of time to academics. A fifth year senior, Sheehan graduated last year with a degree in Accountancy and is now a graduate student enrolled in the MSA program. He feels football is one of the main reasons he has been successful academically.

“When [former Irish coach Charlie] Weis was here walk-ons had to maintain grades to stay on the team. This really motivated me to grind down and learn how to study,” Sheehan said. “By junior year I had figured it out [academically] and eventually was accepted into grad school.”

Sheehan now has a job lined up with KPMG working on federal tax in Washington, D.C.