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Tansey to leave football, become pilot

Chris Allen | Thursday, November 15, 2012

It was Oct. 17, and then 6-0 Notre Dame was preparing for a home game against BYU. Before a customary Wednesday practice, Notre Dame senior offensive lineman Matt Tansey received a phone call he will never forget from Captain Earl Carter of the United States Navy. The news was simple – Tansey would head to Pensacola, Fla., after graduation to train as a Navy pilot.

“Normally, they would call us in one at a time to tell us our assignments, but because it was fall break and people were all over they called us instead,” Tansey said. “I was in the Gug, just got out of a morning lift. We had practice in about two hours. So I got the call from our [commanding officer] Captain Carter, and he told me – deadpan as ever – you’re going to be a student Naval aviator. You’re going to train to be a pilot.”

For Tansey, the only player on the Notre Dame roster who also trains in Notre Dame’s highly-regarded ROTC program, the call was a culmination of four years of discipline and hard work. He shared the moment with his parents – and his Notre Dame football family.

“As soon as I got off the phone, I called my mom and my dad. It was almost the same feeling from them that they had when I got the call about getting into Notre Dame,” Tansey said. “I told some of the guys on the team. It was just the greatest feeling in the world. That day at practice I could barely focus, just thinking about how I could have gotten that lucky.”

The journey to that moment was a long one for Tansey, a walk-on who joined the Notre Dame football program in the fall of 2010. Tansey said the conviction to come to Notre Dame and participate in the Navy ROTC program came from his relationship with his late grandfather, Petty Officer Third Class James Tansey, who served in the Navy from 1944 to 1954.

“My grandfather, my uncle and my father were all big Notre Dame fans. My uncle died when I was in sixth grade, and my grandfather died this summer,” Tansey said. “My grandfather was a Navy veteran and was absolutely one of the driving factors for me choosing the Navy. He was a huge Notre Dame fan, and he never missed a football game for me growing up. From pee-wee, high school, you name it. He got to watch me on TV at Notre Dame.

“This whole season has been the weirdest feeling, because I just said to myself, ‘We haven’t lost since he left us. It’s hard not to feel like there’s something special there.'”

After adjusting to the already-regimented schedule of an ROTC participant and training to meet strict physical fitness requirements of the Navy as a freshman, Tansey sought to take on further commitment in the fall of 2010. Tansey said he felt an urge to return to the playing field and continue playing football.

“After high school, I was okay being done with football. I was ready to walk away,” Tansey said. “Then I got here. I still remember watching a game in 2009, we were in the stands at a game, and I got a text message from a friend of mine. It basically said, ‘Dude, I can’t watch this from up here anymore, we have to try out for the team next season'”

Tansey was one of four players to join the team after a walk-on tryout in the fall of 2010. Since that time, he has logged almost three full seasons as a member of the scout team, prepping the Irish starters for opposing offenses. Regardless of whether he sees his first game experience on Senior Day against Wake Forest, Tansey said he will take many lessons from his time in an Irish uniform as he prepares to don another uniform in defense of his country.

“You know, football is just a game. But for me, my purpose is just to do what I’m told to the best of my ability in order to help the team improve,” Tansey said. “That’s an attitude that I plan on carrying forward. I’m going to do what I’m supposed to do to the best of my ability in order to fulfill whatever duty it is that I have.

“I don’t see anything that really matters past that point. I’ve had three years to play a game that I love and have some fun before I head into service.”

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