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Cave becomes mainstay on offensive line

Matthew Robison | Wednesday, November 14, 2012

For most high school football players, the recruiting process is full of difficult decisions. For senior center Braxston Cave, the decision was a no-brainer.

“My entire family’s all about Notre Dame and always have been,” Cave said. “When I got the offer it was a pretty easy decision.”

Cave grew up in the proverbial shadow of the golden dome in nearby Granger, Ind. He was a standout center at Penn High School and ranked as one of the best offensive linemen in the country.

As a school that recruits nationally, Notre Dame’s players come from all over the country. But Cave has the unique opportunity to play in front of his hometown crowd every time the Irish play a home game.

“It’s fun knowing a lot of people around town, having a lot of local support,” Cave said. “Being able to go home and get that home-cooked meal makes it even better.”

NBC’s “Onward Notre Dame” featured Cave and the rest of the offensive live eating dinner at Cave’s home in Granger.

After making the decision to come to Notre Dame, Cave immediately found a mentor in veteran offensive lineman Eric Olsen.

“Eric Olsen pretty much right away took me under his wing,” Cave said. “We’re kind of similar personalities. We just clicked right away.”

Now, he is part of a veteran group on the line that includes two fifth-year seniors in Cave and guard Mike Golic, Jr., senior tackle Zach Martin, senior guard Chris Watt and junior tackle Christian Lombard.

“It’s a unique group,” Cave said. “We’re with each other all day every day. It’s pretty much we’re all like brothers, fist fights one second, laughing and jokes the next. It makes it pretty fun.”

Cave has been around for a great deal of change during his time at Notre Dame. After his sophomore season in which the Irish went 6-6, Notre Dame fired former coach Charlie Weis and abandoned the system Cave was recruited to play in. The Irish hired Brian Kelly and the entire offense had to adjust to a new system and style.

But Cave said his reaction to the situation depended on perspective – he saw it as an opportunity, rather than a disruption.

“It was tough at first,” Cave said. “But it’s all in how you take it, how you look at it. I looked at it as a fresh start. It was me being able to take advantage of a great opportunity.”

Cave has practiced at both center and guard and played 12 games as a long snapper in 2009, but he much prefers being the man with the ball at his fingertips before every play.

“Being the guy in the middle who’s got to communicate and get everybody on the same page is a big responsibility,” Cave said. “I wouldn’t want to have it any other way.”

During his junior and senior years, Cave started every game that he played in, 13 in 2010 and nine in 2011 before suffering a season-ending injury. This year, Cave has started every game at center and has contributed to an improved ground game.

“The rushing improvement in the last two years is something we’re definitely proud of,” Cave said.

Growing up a Notre Dame fan, Cave understands the historical rivalries, but he doesn’t let himself get distracted by looking ahead to those marquee matchups.

“Obviously, there’s tradition that comes along with playing Michigan and USC,” Cave said. “But with the schedule we’ve played this year, you can’t really sleep on anybody.”

If he had to pick one memorable moment from his career thus far, Cave said coming out onto the field was something he’ll never forget.

“As an offensive lineman, you don’t really get those highlights,” Cave said. “That was just one of the more sentimental things for me.”

Notre Dame’s success this year is something that prompts questions about what is different – in the locker room, in the team’s mindset.

But Cave can’t put his finger on something specific that is different other than the work ethic this team possesses.

“It’s a really close group,” Cave said. “The biggest thing is that it’s a group of guys that comes to work every day with one goal in mind. I can’t really explain it. It’s a special group.”

With that success comes added pressure. Notre Dame gets every team’s best shot, evident in the elevated play by mediocre teams like Pittsburgh and Purdue. For that reason, Cave said it’s essential that the Irish prepare week-in and week-out. But Cave commends the team for stepping up to this challenge.

“Every game is so important,” Cave said. “We’ve had some close ones with some teams that the fans may have overlooked, or thought that we would stomp them. Everybody’s preparing for the Super Bowl when they play Notre Dame. We’re ready for that.”

Another striking aspect of this season has been Notre Dame’s success on the road relative to its performance at home. But Cave can’t point to a reason why that is the case, either.

“It’s an ‘Us against the world’ mentality,” Cave said. “There’s no reason why we play better on the road than at home.

“I do love the hatred that comes with playing on the road. It makes it fun. It makes a live environment. I go out there and let my playing speak for itself. I’ve never gotten caught up in the moment with fans. I’ve got a job to do that’s way more important than all that other stuff that’s going.”

As an undefeated team, Notre Dame can’t avoid the speculation about the possibility of playing for the BCS National Championship.

But with the current format, the Irish could finish the regular season without a loss and still not make it to Miami for the title game, and Cave said he and the Irish can’t focus on anything out of their control.

“All we can worry about is what we’re doing,” Cave said. “We play the toughest schedule in the country. If that’s not good enough, then we’ve done our part. Everything else lies in someone else’s hands.”

With just a few games left in his collegiate career, Cave cannot help but be a bit nostalgic about his time at Notre Dame.

“I was talking to my parents about [my career ending] the other day,” Cave said. “They can’t believe it’s almost over. It’s been a crazy journey, definitely special. It’s something I’ll remember for the rest of my life. But I’m trying to hold on to each game for everything it’s worth right now.”

But Cave knows he’s prepared for life beyond Notre Dame. Because of the demands placed upon student-athletes at Notre Dame, the players learn skills they can carry with them and Cave said he recognizes that.

“The sheer discipline that it takes to not only play football here, but to go to school – the loads are heavy,” Cave said. “So learning how to manage time and get everything done that you’ve got to get done, and then also become the best football player you can. It’s harder here than anywhere. If you can do it here, it just prepares for you for anything you could take on later in life.”


Contact Matthew Robison at [email protected]