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Family ties draw cornerback to Notre Dame

Greg Hadley | Thursday, November 21, 2013

Before senior cornerback Joe Romano ever joined the Irish, Notre Dame was his second home. When it came to picking a college, there was no choice at all.

Romano’s grandfather is former Irish football player Buddy Romano, a member of the 1949 national championship squad nicknamed “Leahy’s Lads.” Since Buddy graduated in 1950, attending Notre Dame has been a rite of passage in the Romano family.

“Notre Dame has been a family place,” Romano said. “My dad went here and all my aunts and uncles and my cousins and my two older sisters did too. So it’s been a family place and a place that I grew up loving.”

It’s no surprise then that the River Forest, Ill., native has never had to look too far for a familiar face.

“Throughout my four years here, if I’m walking around campus, I almost always run into a cousin or someone from [Fenwick High School],” Romano said. “We had 22 kids from my class come here.”

Romano is not the only Friar involved with the football program. Among Joe’s cousins is Johnny Romano, this year’s Leprechaun. 

The Romano family legacy has been a constant presence in Joe’s Notre Dame experience. After all, the team locker room in the Guglielmino Athletics Complex is named the Romano Family Locker Room.

Romano, however, has faced his fair share of challenges as a walk-on on the team.

“It’s a behind-the-scenes role,” Romano said. “I’m on the scout team and my freshman year, I was kind of thrown into the fire. I had to cover [former receiver] Mike Floyd and [former tight end] Kyle Rudolph in some of my first weeks here. I played quarterback in high school, so I had never played the position before and it was a struggle.”

At just 5-foot-9, 180 pounds, Romano is the smallest cornerback on the roster – both in height and weight – and one of the smallest players on the team. Still, he said he does not let his size limit his contributions.

“It can be hard,” Romano said. “I’m probably one of the smallest guys on the field but I take it as a chance to prove people wrong. I don’t get discouraged if I’m going up against someone that’s bigger than me. I use the other talents that I have to make up for it.”

Overall, Romano said he has enjoyed his role on the team and come to enjoy the small victories that come in practice.

“Scout team is always a lot of fun,” Romano said. “Occasionally you can make some plays and get the offensive coaches yelling at the offense. One spring we had a special teams drill, and the walk-ons were the tackle dummies. The first time, I went up against Justin Utupo and he ran me over and knocked my helmet off, just absolutely destroyed me. The next time though, I went against Josh Atkinson and I was able to run him over and put him on his back. Everyone went crazy for that.”

As a veteran senior, Romano is also president of WOPU, the Walk-On Players Union. WOPU helps younger walk-ons find their footing as they adjust to their new roles, Romano said.

“As walk-ons, we stick together, because sometimes you might be a little undersized or maybe you weren’t recruited as much as some other guys,” Romano said. “We’re able to stick together and get through some of the adversities and show the younger guys the ropes. We show them how to play, how to overcome the challenges of being a smaller guy and how to lay it all out there and be a team player. That’s what being a walk-on is all about.”

Romano has yet to see the field in his collegiate career, but he does have a favorite memory from his time at Notre Dame.

“Definitely the best experience of my career was the Stanford game last season with the goal-line stand,” Romano said. “Just being able to celebrate with my teammates after that was very special.”

After graduation, Romano, a science-business major, said he plans on attending medical school.

In preparation, he spent the past two summers as an intern in Chicago and volunteering in Honduras. 

“My dad and sister are orthopedic surgeons,” Romano said. “During the trip to Honduras we went to an orphanage and a surgery center to help out the doctors there. That was a really neat experience. People there are so grateful and so happy for us to be there.”

Contact Greg Hadley at ghadley@nd.edu