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Football

Hadley: Senior class has opportunity to bookend story

| Friday, November 13, 2015

For Notre Dame’s senior class, these final few weeks of the season represent a chance to finish where it started and maybe even go beyond.

As freshmen in 2012, Sheldon Day, Chris Brown, KeiVarae Russell, Ronnie Stanley and the rest were, for the most part, along the ride as the Irish went on a historic run to the BCS Championship Game.

As seniors in 2015, they are in position to lead a return to college football’s biggest stage.

In between, just a few things have changed.

Everett Golson left, came back, then left again. Offensive coordinator Chuck Martin and defensive coordinator Bob Diaco have gone on to head coaching gigs elsewhere. Five players were suspended after an academic investigation in 2014, then another left before this season. FieldTurf replaced natural grass at Notre Dame Stadium. Heck, Notre Dame even switched from Adidas to Under Armour.

Yet here they are, in practically the same position they were in three years ago.

Even the Senior Day opponent — Wake Forest — is the same.

As freshmen, plenty of members of the class of 2016 saw the field as the Irish romped to a 38-0 win. As seniors, they will likely leave equally dominant.

Yes, yes, Notre Dame cannot afford to overlook the Demon Deacons. As feeble as its offense may be, Wake Forest could still surprise the Irish if they are unprepared. Their pass defense is solid as well.

But the Irish are 27-point favorites for a reason. They will, in all likelihood, roll to an easy win.

As with 2012, it’s what comes after Wake Forest that really matters. And it’s the first time since then that’s been the case.

The 2013 and 2014 Senior Day games were not particularly triumphant affairs. Playing in 26-degree cold and snow in 2013, the Irish came away with the win against BYU, but after a title game run in 2012, it was a letdown. In 2014, Notre Dame’s second-half collapse continued with a humiliating loss to Louisville.

Both times, the season was, for all intents and purposes, over before the game even began. Not so this year.

All this is despite the staggering number of injuries that hit the Irish early this season. Indeed, the team’s ability to bounce back strong from those obstacles can be attributed to the leadership these seniors have provided.

The experiences of this 2016 class inform the overall character of this team. They’ve been all the way to the brink of a title, they’ve experienced the frustrations of mediocrity, they know what it’s like to have defeat snatched from the jaws of victory, and they’ve felt the embarrassment of completely falling apart at the end of a long season. In short, they’ve done it all.

From that perspective, it’s not at all surprising Day and Stanley decided to return to Notre Dame for their senior seasons despite the prospects of NFL Draft money. They’ve tasted success and then had it taken away. They want more.

That hunger has trickled down to the younger classes, and thus far this season, it has paid off. After crumbling last season following the loss to Florida State, the Irish have stayed strong after a similarly stunning loss to Clemson.

Like 2012, Wake Forest is just another step towards a fitting end for this senior class. Like 2012, the Irish are no longer playing just for pride on Senior Day.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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About Greg Hadley

Greg Hadley is a senior from Rockville, Maryland, majoring in political science with a minor in Journalism, Ethics and Democracy. He served as The Observer's Editor-in-Chief for the 2015-2016 term and currently covers Notre Dame baseball and women's basketball.

Contact Greg