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Love for the game fuels locker-room leader

A.J. Godeaux | Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Talk to Tyler Stockton and one thing quickly becomes evident: he simply loves football.

“I just enjoy the game,” Stockton said. “I mean, when we go out there, that’s recess. You just have to have fun out there.”

That love of the game has propelled the graduate student defensive tackle through a roller coaster of a five-year career at Notre Dame. The third-ranked defensive tackle recruit in the country according to ESPN, Stockton came to Notre Dame as a prized part of former Irish coach Charlie Weis’ 2009 recruiting class. Through the next four years, though, Stockton found himself on the field in only six games, all during his sophomore season. Stockton, who has appeared in eight games in 2013 for the Irish, said staying motivated was never a problem despite the lack of playing time.

“When you really love the game, you’re always motivated, motivated to keep learning,” Stockton said. “I know how to play the game, and I’ve always been a good player, but there are little things in college football that you’ve got to learn before you can contribute – understanding the flow of the game, understanding the concepts and what you’re really supposed to be doing on your plays.”

Stockton’s effect on the team, though, extends much further than anything he does on game day. Irish coach Brian Kelly heaped praise on Stockton for his leadership and example on the scout team and in the locker room. Stockton said he hopes the younger players on the team remember that example after his playing days are over.

“I really want [the younger players] to see the kind of attitude I came to practice with every day, just how much I love the game,” Stockton said. “No matter what adversity hits you have to keep a positive attitude, because something’s going to work out.

“I’ve always had a positive attitude. … When you’re around guys like this, it’s hard not to.”

In addition to being a locker-room leader, Stockton also takes pride in being the resident team jokester, particularly picking on graduate student inside linebacker and fellow New Jersey native Carlo Calabrese, who Stockton called “my best friend.”

“I try to pester everyone, get everyone excited for practice,” Stockton said. “Carlo gets mad though. He thinks I do it too much. … We’re right next to each other [in warmups] so he gets 100 percent pestered. Everyone else only gets like 25 percent pestered.” 

“[Tyler] is just a funny guy,” junior center Nick Martin said. “No matter what the mood, he’s always bringing a good mood to the team and always has something funny to say.”

With only three games remaining in his final season, Stockton can see the sun setting on his playing career.

“It’s not like I’m going to the NFL or pursuing anything like that.” 

Still, he hopes he can continue to instill the values of hard work and determination after he has hung up the pads. Currently a student in Notre Dame’s one-year MBA program, Stockton said he hopes to turn his attention to coaching after he completes his post-graduate studies, saying he has already spoken with Irish defensive line coach Mike Elston about potential coaching opportunities. 

“Like I said, I love [football],” Stockton said. “It’s something I don’t want to run away from yet, and I want to stay involved with it. [Football has] been good to me, I want to be good back to it.”

Looking back on his career, it wasn’t last year’s undefeated regular season, the trip to the BCS championship game or any playing time he received that Stockton said was his favorite memory of his time in South Bend. 

“[My favorite memory] was the first time meeting all the kids I was recruited with, knowing these were the guys I’d be spending the next four or five years with,” Stockton said. “I remember just seeing how happy all of us were coming in, how excited we were to get ready to put on the gold helmets and play for Notre Dame.”

Contact A.J. Godeaux at agodeaux@nd.edu