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Dan Franco: Notre Dame obvious choice for South Bend WR

Chris Masoud | Friday, November 20, 2009

Coming out of high school, the decision of choosing the right college can be a stressful process. But for South Bend native Dan Franco, the decision to come to Notre Dame couldn’t have been easier.

“It just seemed to be the perfect fit for me,” Franco said. “I was raised in South Bend since I was 8 months old, and I’ve been immersed in the whole tradition and everything, and I just loved it since the beginning.”

A graduate of nearby Clay H.S., Franco compiled some impressive numbers at the wide receiver position. Coupling that with the desire to play for the Irish instilled at an early age, Franco walked onto the team as a freshman.

Franco learned early on that coming to play for the Irish is much more than just a commitment to the football program. He knows his Notre Dame experience will be defined by more than simply his accomplishments on the field.

“The student body, just the character of kids that are here, it’s just a special group that I’m really proud to be a part of,” Franco said. “Just about anybody I run into on campus, the professors, there’s been a number of extraordinary people that I’ve been fortunate to meet through football, outside of football. Just about everybody I’ve met through here has been special.”

Grinding through the daily routine of a football season is more than just preseason workouts and a three-month schedule. Franco says the relationships he has developed with his 108 teammates, and especially within the wide receiver unit, has become an important part of his career.

“I feel close to all my teammates, but just being around the guys in your same position, I mean they’re so funny,” Franco said. “They know how to focus, but they know how to not take themselves too seriously at the same time. There’s a lot of laughter that goes on from a real deep place.”

One of those moments came in practice at the end of last season as the team prepared to travel to the Sheraton Hawaii Bowl. During a one-on-one drill between wide receivers and cornerbacks, Franco was the last receiver picked for the drill. His opponent was starting senior cornerback Raeshon McNeil.

“I went and scored a touchdown, and it was so unassuming and it came out of nowhere,” Franco said. “It was pretty nice and everybody just swarmed me. It was a blast. He let me get the best of him that one time, that one time.”

Franco says he owes a lot of his improvement and overall development as a player to wide receivers coach Rob Ianello, who has taken on more than just the role of a position coach.

“He’s on all of us about the small things that we do right, the small things we do wrong,” Franco said. “He’s always paying attention to us and taking notes, so it’s really in the small details that he won’t let us get away with. Maybe we’ll notice, maybe we won’t, but he’ll notice them and make sure that they get corrected. Every coach is sort of like a father figure because it’s not always about football.”

Franco has never started a game for the Irish, but he has come to understand his role as a valuable member of the offense and taken it upon himself to make his teammates better.

“As a walk-on, you know that you’re not going to be playing in any games but when the freshmen first get here, they’re learning from everybody, the ropes and things like that,” Franco said. “Especially during the summer when we do seven-on-seven stuff, just helping them get along with the plays, the tempo of practice, how things are and even just talking to them about everyday life.”

Conversely, Franco’s teammates have made him a better player through their efforts to compete for a job, and none more than junior cornerback Nick Lezynski, a fellow walk-on.

“We both share the same number, and we’re constantly competing,” Franco said. “‘Oh you made this play, what did you do today, who’s the real 42?’ We’re joking around in good fun, but we’re on each other’s coattails, just getting after one another, making sure we’re both doing our jobs.”

Without a doubt, Franco realizes that when he graduates this spring, his teammates and the relationships he has developed will be missed the most.

“It sort of just happens,” Franco said. “You just get really close with the guys day in and day out, with early morning lifts or just in the middle of practice. The memories and the stories that you get to carry with you, that’s what I treasure most.”