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Matt Augustyn and John Lyons: The overachievers

Ken Fowler | Friday, November 17, 2006

In the backfield of Notre Dame’s scout team offense are a fullback who worked as a parliamentary intern in London and a pre-med student on his way to medical school.

Tailback John Lyons and fullback Matt Augustyn both played football in high school but came to Notre Dame for its academics. Each ended up on the gridiron within two years and have been the recipients of extraordinary understanding by the coaching staff.

Augustyn was believed to become the first player in program history to study abroad for a semester while on the team. A political science major, Augustyn traveled to London for his spring semester as a junior and worked as an intern for Adam Holloway, the conservative minister of Parliament from Gravesham.

“I was willing to drop it to be on the team,” Augustyn said. “But both [Irish running backs] coach [Michael] Haywood and [head] coach [Charlie] Weis said no, there would be no penalty. And there hasn’t.”

When Augustyn returned to the States from England, he took an internship with Congressman Chris Chocola for the summer and worked out to gain back the 20 pounds of muscle he lost in London.

For Lyons, Weis extended his understanding during summer camp as the tailback prepared to take the Medical College Admission Test.

“During the last week or so of camp, Weis said from here on out whatever you want to miss, you can stay in your room to study to get ready,” Lyons said.

From physicals to MCATs

Now Lyons, who was team captain and an all-conference selection at O’Gorman High School in his hometown of Sioux Falls, S.D., is just waiting to hear back from medical schools.

“I was a decent high school football player,” Lyons said. “I applied to Notre Dame early action and got in here. Not having football offered, I had planned on pursuing academics and just forgetting football. But after watching the first season, I decided I had to try out.”

So Lyons filled out the necessary forms in the winter of his freshman year and headed onto the practice field.

“People watch the movie Rudy and see, ‘We’re going to beat the hell out of you for five days, and whoever’s still standing will be the one,” said Lyons, as his voice deepened to imitate a movie narrator. “But that’s not really how it is.”

Lyons said he went in for a physical and a workout, where trainers determined whether walk-on hopefuls would not risk injury to themselves or other players. He passed that test and won an invitation to spring practice to show the coaching staff what he could do.

The tailback said former Irish running back Jeff Jenkins gave him advice on the first day of spring practice. When Lyons admitted he was nervous, Jenkins told him that the collegiate game was ‘no different’ from high school ball – ‘except the players are bigger and faster.’

Even though he’s still on the team three years later, his first impression that day was not the best.

“The very first practice I had, we were on the ‘jugs’ machine,” Lyons said. “This is the very first thing I’ve done in spring ball, the first thing I’m doing in practice with the team. … The [ball] fires out right through my hands and hits me in the face. My mouth guard goes flying and my helmet’s on sideways.”

Drive and recognition

Augustyn took a slightly different trail on his way to the team. After graduating from Our Lady of Good Counsel High School in Wheaton, Md., the fullback spent a post-graduate year at the prestigious Phillips-Andover Academy in Andover, Mass.

New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick also attended the school, and Augustyn met Irish coach Charlie Weis, then Belichick’s assistant in New England, during his year there.

Augustyn deferred acceptance from other universities to study at Phillips-Andover, and he jumped at the chance to come to Notre Dame.

“I was looking at a bunch of other schools, mostly Ivies, Navy [and Virginia],” he said. “But Notre Dame was the only place I was willing to go to give up football.”

But he didn’t truly give up football. Augustyn played tight end for Alumni Hall as a freshman and talked to former Irish coach Tyrone Willingham about walking on to the varsity team as a sophomore.

Willingham told him to wait a year before trying out because Notre Dame had so many tight ends. When the walk-on tryouts came Augustyn’s junior year, Willingham was gone and Weis was in charge.

Augustyn made the team as a fullback, and, he said, felt welcomed by the players, which was important.

“Anyone would be lying if they said going into Notre Dame, walking on with guys who are the best in the country, isn’t intimidating,” Augustyn said.

The experience that breaks any lingering ice best, he said, is when the team lives together in O’Neill Hall during August as it gears up for the season.

“The best time where most people come together is probably summer training camp because that’s where you are isolated,” Augustyn said. “It’s 105 guys, or, in our case, 97 last year, and the coaches and trainers. There’s no one else. You talk to you’re family for maybe ten minutes before you go to bed. You’re up at six, you go to bed at eleven. … You’re literally with each other eighteen hours a day. That’s where team unity comes from.”

Not an end

Going forward, both Lyons and Augustyn hope to continue their education.

“I’m probably looking to work in the business realm for the next couple of years before I look into law school,” Augustyn said. “So that way I have some sort of financial foundation to pay for it, so I’m not 100,000 dollars in debt.”

Lyons said he has other intentions.

“I just figure I’m going to go dig myself in, nice and deep,” Lyons said. “I’m pre-med so I’m going to take my loans from here and pile on some more loans for med school, hopefully, and go from there.”

But the focus for both right now is on Army.

With sophomore starter Asaph Schwapp’s injury earlier this year, Augustyn has seen the field in late-game situations.

“It sounds awful, but Asaph’s injury – I’ve kind of benefited from,” Augustyn said.

Lyons is still searching for his first game experience. As the show-team tailback, he’s used to facing a first-team defense in practice. But that also means he’s used to expectations of failure.

“If we’re down running scout team, it’s sort of anticipated that you’re going to lose,” Lyons said. “We’re going up there against the first-team. We’re not anticipating six, seven-yard gains.”

As their final home game approaches, Lyons and Augustyn have worked together for two years – with the 6-foot-3, 220-pound Augustyn working every practice to open holes for the 6-foot-1, 200-pound Lyons. Now, they hope that work on the show team will replicate itself Saturday at Notre Dame Stadium.

“It would be great to block for John [in the Army game],” Augustyn said. “It would be a fantastic thing.”

And if either crosses the goal line, they’ll know exactly what to do.

“All the walk-on guys have 19, 20 touchdown celebrations planned,” Lyons said. “Of course you have expectations to do something fun.”