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Stonebreaker moves from football to coffee

Matthew DeFranks | Saturday, December 29, 2012

For many, the confusing ballad of crossing patterns, shooting gaps and rolling coverages can be complicated – but for former Irish linebacker Michael Stonebreaker, football was simple.

“It’s trying to get to the guy with the ball as quickly as you can and when you get there, have a bad attitude when you meet him,” Stonebreaker said in a phone interview with The Observer.

Stonebreaker made a habit of getting to the ballcarrier, racking up two first-team All-American honors and winning Notre Dame’s last national title in 1988. The 1990 graduate, despite not playing in consecutive seasons in South Bend, helped to form one of the most menacing defenses in Irish history.

“On the defensive side, we had all of our fun competing against each other,” Stonebreaker said. “It didn’t really matter what the other offenses were running, we were competing against each other to get to the ball carrier quicker.”

Much like the current No. 1 Irish, who will play No. 2 Alabama in the BCS National Championship Game in Miami on Jan. 7, Notre Dame had to endure a long layoff between the final regular season game and the bowl game, a wait, Stonebreaker said was excessive.

“It’s too long,” he said. “Forty-five days, 30 days, whatever it is, it’s too long. You kind of lose some of your timing. You would like it to be a week later, maybe two weeks later just to keep your intensity and your enthusiasm.

“At that point, you’ve already learned everything you’re going to learn. It’s more of a mental process to mentally go through your assignments, go through the plays, study film and just know that you’re prepared.”

Despite the long layoff, Stonebreaker said the 1989 Fiesta Bowl against then-No. 3 West Virginia was simply another game for the Irish.

“At that point, if you’re 11-0 at Notre Dame, you’ve already gone through all the pressure that anybody in college athletics is going to go through,” he said.

The 1988 defense dominated opponents, holding four opponents to fewer than 10 points and allowing only two teams to top 20 points. Stonebreaker amassed 124 tackles, one sack and two interceptions to finish third in the Butkus Award voting and earn a consensus All-American honor in 1988, just a year after sitting out due to academic ineligibility.

“It just validated all of your hard work,” Stonebreaker said. “You know that a group of guys together all sacrificed for a common goal and stayed focused all season long and we were able to achieve that ranking.

“When you’re 12-0 at Notre Dame, there’s not a bigger platform to be on in the country as guys learned this year. Every game you play is sold out, whether it’s a home game or an away game. Everybody wants to see Notre Dame football.”

But less than two months after the Fiesta Bowl, Stonebreaker and a female passenger were injured in a car accident. Stonebreaker’s blood-alcohol content was above the legal limit and he missed the 1989 season with knee and hip injuries.

“That was a pretty big deflation to winning a national championship and being named an All-American,” Stonebreaker said. “It was an error in judgment I made that I wish I could have turned around but I couldn’t. At that point, my focus was to continue my schooling and do the rehabilitation that was needed to get me back on the field.”

The River Ridge, La., native returned to the field in 1990 and did not miss a beat. He totaled 95 tackles, three sacks and two interceptions in earning All-American honors and a third-place Butkus Award finish – again.

“When you watch the game from the stands, it slows the game down a lot and it kind of put it into perspective that it’s really not that difficult,” he said.

Stonebreaker had brief stints in the NFL with the Chicago Bears and New Orleans Saints before finishing his career in Europe while playing for the Frankfurt Galaxy.

“Football, at that point, had become an uphill battle,” he said. “There’s only so many training camps you can go through where the chances of you making the team are not that high. I figured I had more to offer than beating my body, my mind up any more playing football.”

Stonebreaker founded N.O. Brew, a New Orleans-based cold-dripped coffee company, in 2005. N.O. Brew features 18 different flavors, ranging from Storyville Mocha to Eggnog and Butter Pecan to Irish Crème.

“Once we did some research and understood the benefits of the cold-dripping process and how much superior the taste is to the bitterness of a hot-brewed coffee, we played around with recipes and what we came up with was a delicious coffee,” he said.

It was not always easy for Stonebreaker and N.O. Brew, though. Just two months after Stonebreaker founded the company, Hurricane Katrina destroyed his complex. He moved to a new one and was back up and running 10 weeks later.

“We were wading in water and still had all the military out. It was a tough time for everybody in New Orleans,” Stonebreaker said. “We wanted to watch the city come back to life.”

N.O. Brew is available in Whole Foods in the Midwest and South and also grocery stores across Louisiana. Stonebreaker said the ultimate goal is to have N.O. Brew become a national drink readily available in stores across the country.

Stonebreaker, 45, has four daughters and lives in New Orleans.

Contact Matthew DeFranks at [email protected]