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Seniors lead despite disappointment

Heather VanHoegarden | Wednesday, January 12, 2005

PHOENIX – They were the heart and soul of the team. They had three coaches. And they had never won a bowl game.

The trend continued for the Notre Dame senior class Dec. 28 with a 38-21 loss to Oregon State, a disappointing end to a roller coaster season.

“It was definitely frustrating,” Irish linebacker Derek Curry said. “We were playing hard.”

Notre Dame fell behind 21-0 after poor field position hurt the Irish in the first half. But the team fought back, pulling within 10 points.

“I think [that comeback] says a lot about the Notre Dame character – we fight until the end, until the game’s over with,” Curry said. “It was tough, but our leadership stepped up and told the guys to keep their heads up.”

The one thing that was a constant for Notre Dame was its senior leadership.

Defensive end Kyle Budinscak led the Irish with two sacks against the Beavers, while Curry had four tackles and linebacker Mike Goolsby added three tackles. The three fifth-year seniors have seen the Irish program through its ups and downs since they got to Notre Dame, but they maintained a positive attitude throughout the season.

“I get to play football for Notre Dame, and that’s always an honor,” Budinscak said. “I’m going to miss it so much. All the things that happened, they affect you, but the No. 1 thing is that you get to play for this University. That’s all that really matters.”

These seniors, just three among many players, including Jerome Collins (blocked punt) and Greg Pauly (tackle for a loss), are only a few of the Irish that have endured the ups and downs of their careers. During their time, these seniors went 35-25 in five years. They played for Bob Davie, and then saw George O’Leary get hired and then resign. They stayed at Notre Dame for it all.

But this never changed their attitude.

Curry talked about how it was the last time he could salute the fans of Notre Dame.

“A little bit of everything [went through my head],” he said. “‘Man it went by so fast, I wont be able to salute the fans of Notre Dame again as a player.’ It was kinda shocking.”

This group of seniors lost to Oregon State for the second time in four years, the last loss coming in the 2001 Fiesta Bowl, 41-9. Then in 2002, they lost 28-6 in the Gator Bowl. This year’s loss was the seventh straight loss in a bowl game for Notre Dame.

However, that didn’t take away from this group’s leadership.

“Our seniors have been great leaders,” Irish sophomore quarterback Brady Quinn said. “We couldn’t ask for anything more out of them … These leaders really paved the way for us and showed us how to get things done.”

But despite the leadership, these seniors knew this season was a disappointment, finishing just 6-6.

“Bottom line, we had a lot of missed opportunities, and a lot slipped through our fingers,” Curry said.