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Paul Duncan: Duncan eager to leave Notre Dame with a win

Alex Barker | Friday, November 20, 2009

From the time he stepped on campus back in 2005, fifth-year offensive tackle Paul Duncan has been in the mix on the Irish offensive line. The Dallas, Ga. native played just a few snaps during his very first game in a Notre Dame uniform but it was an experience he said he would never forget.

“I wouldn’t say I was surprised to be out there,” Duncan said. “I was just really anxious to get in there and play. There were so many emotions going on at one time that it’s hard to pick out just one feeling.”

In that game, Notre Dame clobbered Pittsburgh 42-21 on the road in Charlie Weis’ Irish coaching debut on Sept. 3, 2005. Duncan said he wants nothing more than to achieve that same result in his final home game against Connecticut Saturday.

“You don’t want to think about the last time you played in Notre Dame Stadium as a loss,” he said. “It’s never an appealing thought to anybody. A lot of the younger guys are going to come out hard trying to get a win for the seniors and fifth-year guys and it means a lot that they respect us like that.”

The biggest surprise for Duncan came during his first home game when he walked onto the field for the first time in front of a sell-out crowd against Michigan State on Sept. 17, 2005.

“Running out there, I had been used to a high school stadium, expecting to be able to hear my family screaming,” Duncan said. “But obviously you’re not going to be able to do that here.”

After playing as a reserve lineman throughout his sophomore year behind then-freshman Sam Young, Duncan stepped into a starting role his junior year and experienced Notre Dame’s horrific 3-9 season first hand. Duncan acknowledged that he has grown to become a much better player since that season.

“I feel that from my standpoint, I’m more prepared now going in to each game physically and mentally,” he said. “It’s just a different feeling and attitude going in to each game that I didn’t feel then.”

After suffering a hip injury that forced him to sit out all of last season, Duncan was granted an extra year of eligibility and returned to the starting lineup at the left tackle position this season.

“I think [having an extra year] helped me out a lot,” Duncan said. “When [Mike Turkovich] was leaving last year, I was thinking that could have been me sitting right there next to him. I was thinking about where I was and that I wasn’t ready to go yet physically or mentally. I just wasn’t ready to go and it was just a blessing being able to come back for another season.”

Despite being granted the extra year of eligibility, Duncan said his years at Notre Dame have gone by all too fast.

“It’s weird. I remember coming up here freshman summer and going through all the stuff,” he said. “There’s ups and downs along the way, but its crazy to believe that the end’s right here for me as a Notre Dame football player.”

As for next year, Duncan has his eyes set on continuing his football career at the next level. He plans to keep training and enter the 2010 NFL Draft next April. After playing in NFL he hopes to follow in his father’s footsteps in the construction industry. But whichever way it turns out, he credited football and Notre Dame for preparing him so well for any scenario in the future.

“My parents have always talked about how sports teaches life lessons,” he said. “There are so many things that you learn like adversity. Our season didn’t really go how we wanted it to, but life goes on and you still have to keep pushing and trying to improve and get better.”

While Saturday’s game will have a much different feeling for Duncan, he said that he isn’t going to be making any changes in the way of game preparation.

“I’ve never been that vocal,” he said. “I just try to do things by example because you can’t have too many guys saying stuff or it just all gets lost in the mix. So I’m just going to try to lead by example.”

With that in mind, winning is still the focus for Duncan and his fellow seniors who have experienced a number of ups and downs during their Irish careers. And Saturday marks the final time that they will be able to accomplish that goal within the friendly confines of Notre Dame Stadium.