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Nate Schomas: Playing in Blue-Gold game fulfills dream

Sheila Flynn | Thursday, November 13, 2003

When Nate Schomas feigned sickness as a child to stay in and watch television, he couldn’t fool his father.”I used to skip my own basketball games to stay home and watch Notre Dame football games when I was in elementary school and middle school,” the senior wide receiver said. “I would fake sick, and he would know exactly why I was doing it.”But Schomas did manage to fool his father a decade later, when he walked onto the Notre Dame football team as a sophomore transfer student. He fooled his mother, seven siblings and everyone else, too. In fact, only his roommate and one other friend even knew he was trying out.”I was really quiet about the whole thing because everybody had known that I wanted to come here and play football,” Schomas said. Schomas didn’t need another disappointment. He had already suffered a crippling blow during the college application process; Notre Dame, his dream school since the age of six, rejected him. Admitted to the University of Chicago, he started college there and concentrated on nothing but academics, with only the goal of attending Notre Dame in mind.The work paid off, and Schomas entered Notre Dame in the fall of his sophomore year. He didn’t play sports and didn’t even get housing, but he didn’t care. All that mattered to him, he said, was being a Notre Dame student.”I was, especially at the beginning of the semester, so just glad to be here that I didn’t really care about riding my bike to campus every day,” Schomas said.”Football was really not on my mind at that point in time.”That mindset changed, however, on a not-so-special night during first semester finals in his sophomore year. “I was studying in the library late one night, and it kind of dawned on me that I needed to take advantage of this opportunity – would I be able to live with myself if I didn’t try out?” Schomas said.The decision made, Schomas threw himself wholeheartedly into training and put on 30 pounds in about two months. He made it through tryouts and was invited to practice with the team, refusing to yield his Rudy-like efforts – even when he separated his shoulder. He kept playing despite the pain, terrified the coaches would throw him off the team.”I couldn’t pick it up off the side of my body,” Schomas said of his arm. “It was pretty stupid, looking back at it.”The head trainer noticed, though, and told Schomas to stop practicing. He also told the walk-on not to worry – he was on the team for good.”That was a big sigh of relief for me,” Schomas said.”I sat out the rest of that week at practice but convinced them to let me play in the Blue and Gold game,” Schomas said. “They wouldn’t throw me any passes or anything because I still couldn’t lift my arm, but I wanted to play in the Blue and Gold game so bad.”Schomas had an especially important motive for playing in that game. His father — a longtime fan and supporter – was gravely ill, Schomas said, and “it was important for me to dress because nobody knew what was going to happen.””That was the last game that my father got to see my play in,” Schomas said. “He passed away just over a year ago.””I made sure to tell my family to come out,” he said. “I said it might be the only time I’m ever on the field playing.”But it wasn’t. When Tyrone Willingham – a former walk-on himself – was hired, Schomas heightened his playing ambitions, and he saw game time against both Maryland and Rutgers last year. Hindered by another injury this year – a herniated disk in his back, for which he had surgery – Schomas has only recently resumed practice, but he wants to get on the field again.”I’m just enjoying playing football with a helmet and shoulder pads on for the last time in my life,” Schomas said. “That’s kind of skewed my perspective a little for senior year, because I’m just doing what I can to get back on the field and help this team out.””We didn’t come to school here to go to the NFL,” Schomas said of walk-ons. “For us, we’re here to have fun playing football, and for people to understand that and appreciate that, it’s kind of football at its truest.”