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Neil Kennedy: Irish lineman draws inspiration from parents

Jared Jedick | Thursday, November 15, 2007

Dedication and hard work define the character of nose tackle Neil Kennedy.

A walk-on since his sophomore year, Kennedy has played in only one game in his three years on the team. And yet his experience of being part of the team and part of Notre Dame tradition has left an indelible mark on the senior.

And it all starts with the first play he ever participated in during practice.

“It was a goal-line play, and I went the wrong way on a stunt,” Kennedy said. “[Former Irish defensive coordinator] Rick Minter was in my facemask just screaming at me.”

But the perseverance that is second-nature to Kennedy pushed him to the culmination of his football career as a junior when he played against Army on Irish senior day in 2006.

“It was probably the loneliest I have ever felt among 80,000 people,” Kennedy said. “There are only 22 people on the field.”

Kennedy, who came from a humble background in Phoenix, said his mom and dad are his heroes in life.

“My dad is one of my biggest influences in football. He played football all the way through and went on to junior college,” Kennedy said. “My mom works two or three jobs putting us three kids through Catholic high school and Catholic college. She works her butt off.”

His close-knit family is important to Kennedy; he tries to keep in touch with his younger sister Maureen, who is in college, and his younger brother Phillip, who is back at Kennedy’s alma mater, Brophy Prep, in Phoenix.

Kennedy’s workload is substantial: He is a mechanical engineering major despite the huge time commitment the football team demands.

“I get more sleep than most people think,” Kennedy joked.

The key to balancing football and schoolwork, Kennedy said, is using a day planner.

“I literally schedule out every hour and minute of each day,” he said.

The vast amount of time required to succeed in his endeavors has made Kennedy’s Notre Dame experience different from most of his classmates and teammates. He’s never been to Fever on a Thursday night or Corby’s on a Tuesday night.

“I go home, I go eat, and I start homework. That is it,” Kennedy said. “Sometimes it is only 11:30 [when I get to bed], sometimes it is three or four o’clock in the morning.”

Kennedy’s hard work has paid off, however, as he expects to graduate on time and has landed a job with Stryker Endoscopy in San Jose, Calif.

The relationships Kennedy has formed as a part of the team are some of the most important experiences that he takes away from his four years here. He credits his girlfriend, Sarah Lavelle, and fellow football player and mechanical engineer Justin Gillett as being key to his success.

“[Gillett and I] spend about 18 hours a day together,” Kennedy said.

As the final game of his career approaches, Kennedy is drawn back into his workman-like approach to his life and his team.

“All you can do it come back the next day and get working,” Kennedy said. “That is all you can do.”