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Mike Talerico: Talerico adjusts to life as a walk-on tight end

Tae Andrews | Thursday, November 15, 2007

During his freshman year, Mike Talerico played Interhall football for Knott Hall with his buddy Justin Gillett. The Juggerknotts rumbled all the way inside Notre Dame Stadium that year, but they lost their championship game to Keenan in overtime on a missed extra point.

Talerico and Gillett left the Stadium in defeat that day, but the loss ignited a burning drive in both players to make it back on that field – and not as Interhall players.

Gillett said, ‘Why not try to walk on with new coaching?'” Talerico recalled. “So we went to the first tryouts, and I was really nervous. I think I hyperventilated during stretching.”

After exhausting regimens of plyometrics and what Talerico calls “devil work” – body weight exercises such as endless pushups and sit-ups – the two successfully walked on the team.

“They never really told you that you were on the team,” Talerico said. “You just kinda kept getting told to show up.”

From there, Talerico had to make two new adjustments: learning how to play tight end, and learning how to play football at Division I speed. As an offensive lineman in high school, he concerned himself primarily with blocking schemes. As a tight end, Talerico had to learn how to read coverages and run pass routes – at a quick pace.

“The adjustment from high school to college, everyone’s just hitting that much harder, faster,” Talerico said. “The first spring was really hard, but after that you just get tucked into it. Everything slows down, as they say, cliched, but it happens.”

Talerico said Irish tight ends such as Anthony Fasano, Marcus Freeman and current starter John Carlson played a huge role in helping him make the transition.

“They were just really great guys, really helpful,” Talerico said. “They were there to help you if you had any questions. Carlson played a big brother role when I walked on, so I’d say he’s a guy I’m pretty close to. He definitely made you feel like one of the guys, so the transition went okay.”

After the successes of the past two years, this season was a jarring transition for Talerico and company.

“It definitely has been a lesson in humility, trials and tribulations as [Charlie Weis] would say,” Talerico said.

He remains steadfast in his belief that Notre Dame will prevail, no matter the odds.

“I honestly have gone through every week this year thinking we were going to win,” Talerico said. “All my non-football friends think I’m crazy, like ‘Do you think you can win this season?’ And I’m like, ‘Yeah.’ I always believe in our game plan. We worked hard in practice.

“I feel like over the past three years we’ve worked harder in practice this season than we have ever, and so it’s really frustrating to see all that effort and then not have the usual results we’ve gotten. It’s easy to get down. I hate the feeling when we walk in the locker room after games, it’s just horrible. I can’t even describe it.”

Despite mounting criticism from the naysayers, Talerico said Weis continues to keep a good attitude.

“He jokes around a lot during our stretching,” Talerico said. “He’ll walk around, and he’ll give people a hard time. He’s a very entertaining character, and he always inserts humor, or tries to. It’s always a lot of fun. He’s definitely a tough coach, whatever he wants to get out of you guys he’ll let us know if he doesn’t think we have it. So he’s pretty on the ball in terms of what he wants to get out of us that week.”

Talerico himself said he’s had a few fun moments even amid the negativity surrounding this season. The self-deprecating big man said that watching scout film produces funny moments because of the blunders players make. He mentioned one moment in particular.

“Justin Gillett, he has a great, strong arm – but only occasionally. One time he threw the ball across the field,” Talerico said. “As the ball was let go, he said, ‘Get there.’ He wasn’t sure it had enough juice. Everybody heard it. But it got there. So needless to say, we have a lot of fun and joke around.”

A pre-professional major, Talerico plans on becoming a doctor one day. Besides his best friend Gillett, he counts fellow walk-ons Nick Possley, Brandon Erickson and William David Williams as some of his closest cronies on the team.

He still recalls the epic and devastating home loss against USC in 2005 as the single most memorable experience of his career.

“We came back in and changed our jerseys, and Rhema McKnight said, ‘I got something for you guys,'” Talerico said. “And we all had our green jerseys laid out. If it wasn’t a hyped game already, then this was ridiculous. We all went down the tunnel and some of us peeked out and the crowd saw us, and just hearing the roar of the crowd – it’s giving me goosebumps right now. Just running out there and hearing it – it was just deafening.

“Just warming up, I throw the ball around with Justin Gillett and Nick Possley and just playing catch on the field in front of 80,000 people warming up, it’s a pretty once-in-a-lifetime thing every time it happens.”