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Elston returns to Irish after missing two games

Douglas Farmer | Thursday, September 23, 2010

Every game Mike Elston has coached on the Notre Dame sideline, the Irish have won.

Unfortunately, Elston has missed the last two games as he recovered from an illness that plagued him since before fall camp began.

“The first day I started feeling poorly was August 2nd, right before camp began,” Elston said Tuesday, after his second practice back with the Irish since missing the majority of two weeks. “I’m not going to say a lot about it, but it was a lot more than what everybody knows and it was a scary time for me and my family.”

Elston stuck with the Irish through fall camp and coached the defensive line and special teams in Notre Dame’s victory over Purdue, until Irish coach Brian Kelly told Elston he was too sick to keep coaching.

“I didn’t decide [to leave the team],” Elston said. “Coach Kelly decided for me.”

Elston said the toughest part of his ordeal was stepping away from the team right in the beginning of the season.

“We put so much into it over the summer and fall camp, and to not be a part of it with the guys that you love and the guys that love you — that was the hardest part,” Elston said. “A lot of guys were trying to reach out and give me their best.”

Senior defensive tackle Ian Williams was one of the many players who sent Elston messages during his absence, sending two text messages in the two weeks.

“I didn’t really want to bother him because I knew he was with his family, so I wanted to give him his time and space,” Williams said. “But I sent him two texts letting him know I was thinking about him and I missed him.”

Upon his return to the locker room late last week, Elston received a standing ovation from the players, surprised by his arrival.

“It’s good to have him back,” junior defensive end Ethan Johnson said. “Everyone is excited to have him back. It is as simple as that. Everyone really likes coach Elston and he does a great job, brings a lot to the table and he’s a great guy.”

While the team took the field minus Elston against Michigan, he attempted to watch the game from his hospital room.

“I was on the cardiac floor at Mayo Clinic, and they always had to have on a heart monitor,” he said. “When that game came on, my average heart rate was ridiculous, so they had to take me off the heart monitor for during the game.”

Elston watched Notre Dame’s loss at Michigan State from the sidelines in a non-coaching role, and despite the result, was grateful for that opportunity compared to his situation for the Michigan game.

“Obviously the outcome was as painful, if not more painful, losing on the last play of the game,” Elston said. “Being there with the guys and seeing the game unfold, that is better than being in a hospital bed having a heart monitor go off every time something was going on.”

In the light of Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio suffering a heart attack after last weekend’s game, Elston said he realizes the dangers of coaching on the sideline.

“I can only imagine what [my heart rate] would have been like on the sidelines,” Elston said. “I bet you a coach’s heart rate during a game for the whole four or five hours is probably 150 or 160 beats per minute.”

Nonetheless, Elston is not about to leave the sideline or the team again soon.

“It made me appreciate it a bunch,” he said. “I can’t even give you an answer long enough. It makes me appreciate everything in life.”

The team, and especially Williams and the defensive line, is glad to have Elston back in practice.

“I just gave him a big hug, like ‘Thanks coach for fighting through this,'” Williams said. “I’m glad to have him back.”

Elston said he is not 100 percent, but will be with the team for the rest of the season.

“I’m not 100 percent yet, but I’m working that way … Next week I have some appointments,” he said. “But Sunday I got my blowhorn and whistle back, and am able to game plan for Stanford.”