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Walk-on Tansey balances football with Navy ROTC

Eric Prister | Thursday, October 27, 2011

After time expires on Notre Dame’s annual contest against Navy, the players from both teams will join together, united, listening to their alma maters. But for one Irish player, the post-game tradition will not be the only time he stands beside his Brothers in Arms.

Junior offensive lineman Matt Tansey, as he is known on the football field, is known by another name off it — Midshipman Second-Class Tansey. Tansey is a member of Naval Reserve Officers Training Corps (NROTC), which means after his football days are done, he will don another uniform — that of a Naval officer.

“I was always interested in joining the military as a kid,” Tansey said. “My grandfather was in the Navy during World War II and the Korean War. So when it came down to choosing a branch, it was the logical choice for me.

“It was a family thing; it was the branch that I saw the best opportunities in. I went the ROTC route because I saw an opportunity to get a scholarship to go to college and come to a place like Notre Dame.”

But when the opportunity to play football at Notre Dame arose as well, Tansey could not turn it down.

“Notre Dame football was next to the military as one of the things I wanted to do with my life if I got a chance,” he said. “And I got a chance to walk on, so I’ve been here — this is my second full season.”

But balancing football responsibilities with NROTC responsibilities is no easy task, Tansey said. NROTC allows him to work out with the football team when times conflict, but he is still expected to maintain a high endurance level, which at times goes against the type of training he does as an offensive lineman.

“It’s tough, but it just comes down to working as hard as I can,” he said. “I try as many days, as much as my workload will allow me, to try to work out after practice as well, more Navy-oriented. I try to run as much as I can outside of practice. Past that, it just comes down to trying to be as athletic as I can make my body be while still being an offensive lineman.”

Help in learning how to balance football and NROTC came from former Irish safety Tom Smith, a fellow walk-on and NROTC member.

“I’ve been lucky enough to have [Smith], who graduated last year … and was in ROTC even a season before I walked on, so he was a mentor for me, kind of showing me what to do, what came first where, how to stay in shape Navy-wise and football-wise. It’s hard to be lifting for power and running for endurance, which the Navy wants to see. He really helped me balance that.”

But NROTC has helped Tansey as a football player as well.

“Discipline,” Tansey said. “Hands down, discipline. Through ROTC summer programs I’ve spent time with the Marines, spent time on ships, spent time with actual Navy units. And even through the training we do here, learning how we operate as the naval service as a force.

“Just discipline and what we have to do day-to-day and conduct our business has helped me manage that schedule and just kind of balancing everything out as best as I can.”

While Tansey said he wants to beat Navy to gain bragging rights over his future shipmates, the post-game tradition and all it represents means even more.

“Especially with Navy but with all three academies, I love the support that Notre Dame has with them,” he said.

“It makes me feel that once I do get into the service, even though I won’t be an academy guy, coming from Notre Dame is almost next to that, in that we see the work that they do and try to mirror that discipline, that passion as best as we can.”