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Bengal Bouts: Schaefer overcomes jitters and tough foes

Joe Meixell | Friday, March 3, 2006

When senior Bengal Bouts co-captain Greg Schaefer wakes up on fight-day mornings, the radio is on and he’s moving back and forth in his Notre Dame Ave. apartment, trying to keep his jitters from bossing him around.

He arrives at the Joyce Center hours before his scheduled match that day. He checks his look in the mirror – analyzing his phantom punches at a fantasy opponent hours away from their dance in the dark. Then he does his best to devoid his mind of all things boxing.

He even strums a little guitar – anything petty to keep from obsessing over the canvas dream he has been running down for years.

“I get real nervous,” Schaefer said. “I think a lot of the guys do.”

For Schaefer, though, the pre-fight has been longer than “a lot of the guys.” A nagging shoulder injury has kept him from finishing a tournament bout since his freshman debut that ended in a split-decision semifinal loss in the 155-pound weight class.

His problems started one day during the six weeks of training in the fall of his sophomore year, when Schaefer dealt a punch but his shoulder would not let him take it back. Instead of throwing a fist, he threw his shoulder right out of socket.

A surprise setback for the accountancy major, his shoulder problem bothered him throughout training. The shoulder popped out again during the first round of his sophomore fight, which he could not continue.

“You don’t want to get surgery, unless you absolutely have to,” he said. “So I tried to let it heal on its own.”

But it happened again during training his junior year, and this time “it stayed out,” requiring a successful surgery last March.

“The surgery went fine,” Schaefer said. “It hasn’t slipped out so far. This season’s going well. I feel pretty confident.”

Now as the No. 2-seeded senior in the 160-pound bracket, this tournament is Schaefer’s final opportunity to take home the title – though he would not have far to take it.

A native of Granger, Ind. and alumnus of Penn High School, Schaefer’s Bengal Bouts wait began before he entered Notre Dame as a student.

He remembers his father, a Notre Dame professor, asking him to come watch some of his students fight. That experience hooked Schaefer right where it counted – the adrenaline gland.

“I was amazed that all these guys were pounding on each other – with all their friends watching,” Schaefer said. “I told myself if I got into Notre Dame that was definitely something I wanted to do. So I signed up freshman year at activities night.”

Now he is a captain, devoting to the boxing program three to four hours a day, six days a week – an experience more rewarding than he could have imagined as a high schooler.

He said it is a great feeling helping the novices, who he estimates make up almost half the program, “to teach them a move and see them do it in the ring.”

After four years of participating in Bengal Bouts, his position means much more to him than a chance to pound fists.

“We have to carry on the tradition,” he said. “We have to help pound into the guys’ heads that we’re raising money for the missions in Bangladesh.

Our president sends out a solidarity report on how our efforts have helped someone from Bangladesh survive. I can’t say I’ve ever done anything quite like it before.”

One of those co-presidents is Schaefer’s friend senior Mark Basola, who happens to be the defending champion at 160 – and Schaefer’s only higher-seeded foe.

Their friendship, like their boxing history, traces years ago to their time in Keough Hall, where Basola is still a resident assistant.

Schaefer remembers one of his first freshman matches against Basola, an evenhanded spar that saw turning heads and wild swings, describing it as “one of the ugliest matches you’ve ever seen.”

Those early fights remain printed into his memory because they began friendships.

“Every guy you ever fought,” he said, “you have a mutual respect for that person. One of the great things about the program is the camaraderie you get with fellow boxers. It’s a different type of friendship.”

Amid all the lessons learned and causes helped, Schaefer does not forget what first drew him to the program.

After all, his nickname is Greg “Still Shaffdogg from the Block” Schaefer – that block not far from campus in Granger, from where his father first whetted his appetite with that unexpected visit to the Bouts.

Since then he has trained, rehabilitated and – hardest of all – waited.

He remembers that feeling, though, right before it is time to take the ring, and he knows how important it is to maintain focus amid all the hoopla.

“It gets really intense,” he said. “Your nerves start going and everyone is yelling at you. A lot of guys will lose all their technique when they go out there, but you’ve still got to maintain everything you’ve learned.”

For Schaefer, the wait to compete is over, but he hopes he still has the pleasure of at least one more fight-day wait to come.