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Dwight Stephenson: Stephenson returns to seize ‘opportunity’

Greg Arbogast | Thursday, November 15, 2007

Taking a fifth year wasn’t a difficult decision for Dwight Stephenson, Jr.

After four years at Notre Dame, Stephenson had a degree from the Mendoza School of Business in hand, but he had some unfinished business on the football field.

“Any time you get an opportunity to play at Notre Dame, you take it,” Stephenson said. “I saw the fifth year as a way to finish my Notre Dame career, so I didn’t hesitate at it.”

It also didn’t hurt that Stephenson would be counted on to play a much more prominent role in his fifth and final season for the Irish. During his first four years, the Florida native made more position changes than starts, rotating from linebacker to defensive end to defensive tackle.

When new defensive coordinator Corwin Brown and his 3-4 defense arrived at Notre Dame, however, Stephenson was switched back to defensive end and had a chance to compete for the starting job.

“I didn’t have a set role coming back,” Stephenson said. “They didn’t promise anything, but one thing I’ve learned from day one is that you keep working no matter what. If you start something, you finish it.”

Stephenson has made the most of his opportunity this season both on and off the football field.

Stephenson has played in all 10 games this season, starting four. He has recorded 33 tackles, 14 solo, to go along with 4.5 tackles for loss and one sack. After appearing in only seven games and recording just one tackle during his first four seasons, Stephenson has appreciated his opportunity this season to make a significant contribution.

“It’s been a real football experience,” Stephenson said. “Running out of the tunnel to play a game is different than running out of the tunnel to cheer on your teammates. To play has multiplied my football experience, my Notre Dame experience, and my college experience. It’s made everything better.”

Stephenson’s best performance came against UCLA when he recorded three tackles and two tackles-for-loss as part of dominating performance by the Irish defense.

Stephenson’s most memorable performance, however, may not have come on the field this season. During the Boston College pep rally, Stephenson paired up with fellow defensive linemen Trevor Laws and Pat Kuntz to please the crowd with a rousing dance performance.

Stephenson delivered his own dance routine before pairing up with Kuntz while Laws freestyled to the song “Jump on It.”

“We knew we had to do something to go down in history,” Stephenson said. “We didn’t know if it would be hit or miss, and we were a little nervous nobody would like it.

“[Raghib ‘Rocket’ Ismail] spoke before us, and we were looking at each other like whatever happens, happens. We just went into it, and they liked it. It was a fun time. We just wanted to make people laugh.”

When asked what it would take to use his sack dances in a real game, Stephenson said it would have to be a memorable performance.

“About four sacks,” he said. “You can’t do it on two because it’s expected, and it’s definitely expected on one sack, but three or four and you’re having fun as a defense.”

What better way for Stephenson to finish what he’s started at Notre Dame.