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Austin Collinsworth still captains through injuries

| Thursday, November 20, 2014

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As far as the Brian Kelly era at Notre Dame goes, graduate student safety Austin Collinsworth has been a mainstay.

When the Fort Thomas, Kentucky, native committed to Notre Dame less than a week after Kelly was hired, he became the coach’s first commit at his new job.

“I always loved Brian Kelly when he was the coach at Cincinnati,” Collinsworth said. “I just didn’t really want to go there because I wanted to go to a school with great academic prestige … so when he moved and went to Notre Dame, for me, it was a no brainer. A coach I loved and a school I loved — it was just easy.”

Of course, with that academic prestige comes a lot of work — especially when juggling the class load with the football load.

“It’s been tough,” Collinsworth said. “Certain times more than others, but you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do. … It’s hard at any level at this school, but certainly with the time requirements, you’ve got to sacrifice sleep and get the work done and just find a way.”

Collinsworth’s career did not start out at his familiar safety role. When he first came to campus in 2010, he was viewed as a receiver before quickly switching over to the defensive side of the ball.

“[It was] a whole lot of working, a whole lot of time in the film room,” Collinsworth said. “You know, one year I’m learning route combinations, and the next year, I’m learning how to cover them. But it does all kind of fit in … so it did help me out.”

Last Saturday against Northwestern, Collinsworth recorded his first career touchdown on just his second play back from injury, scooping up a Wildcat fumble and running it in for the score.

“It was my first college touchdown, so it was pretty cool; I’m not gonna lie,” Collinsworth said.

However, for the safety, the moment is not clear-cut as his best in an Irish uniform. In each of the final three games of last season — BYU, Stanford and the Pinstripe Bowl against Rutgers — Collinsworth recorded an interception, the first Irish player to notch an interception in three straight games since Kyle McCarthy in 2009. Not to mention that his trio of interceptions started the Irish defense’s streak of 13 straight games with one, the nation’s second longest active streak entering this weekend.

“They’re both great moments,” Collinsworth said. “It’s hard to put one over the other.”

Prior to the season, Collinsworth was named one of four team captains, along with senior running back Cam McDaniel, senior offensive lineman Nick Martin and junior defensive lineman Sheldon Day.

“They named Sheldon first, and I obviously knew that there were only two defensive captains, so I got a little nervous, you know, I was hoping to be captain,” Collinsworth said. “I wasn’t sure, but then it ended up happening, and it was a pretty awesome surprise.”

While not necessarily making it a goal to be named one, Collinsworth said he had experiences from past mistakes that he wanted to share with the team.

“I always wanted to lead the guys and have them look up to me,” Collinsworth said. “I’m an older guy. I think I have a lot of wisdom from over the years, screwing a lot of things up, so it’s nice to be able to pass that down and have it recognized.”

But thanks to a pair of injuries, Collinsworth has played in only three of Notre Dame’s 10 games this season and has had to take on more of a coach-type role to carry on his captain duties.

“I spend time watching film with the guys, getting them ready for games, coaching them on the sidelines,” Collinsworth said. “It’s not the most glamorous job in the world, but that’s kind of what I signed up for, and I think it’s what everyone expects out of me as a captain — just doing whatever I can whenever I can.”

Despite his experience this season with watching film and coaching his teammates on the sidelines, Collinsworth said he has no interest in going into coaching — at least not immediately.

“Right now, I would say there’s no way I’m going into coaching.” Collinsworth said. “Now, that could change. I’ve just been so immersed in football for so long, I think it’s going to be nice to take a break, get away from it for a little while.”

Collinsworth, who is currently enrolled in the MBA program, said he is still unsure about his path after graduation.

“I graduate in May, so if I decide to pursue the NFL Draft, I’ll be training all spring, but if I decide to go somewhere else, I’ll be doing job interviews to get ready for the next step,” Collinsworth said.

As Kelly’s first commit nearly five years ago, Collinsworth has been around for the entire evolution of the program under the head coach and said he thinks the program has transformed dramatically during Kelly’s tenure.

“The culture of this program has changed 180 degrees,” Collinsworth said. “When I first got here, it was all about, ‘How do I get to the NFL?’ — people didn’t care that much about the team; it was a lot more individual-based, and every year, it’s taken a step towards more of a team, more of a team. And this year, you hardly hear about an individual goal from anybody … and that’s a championship-caliber program, and I think that’s what we built here.

“I really hope that, going forward, this is continued and built on until we are back in our former glory.”

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About Alex Carson

Alex Carson graduated from Notre Dame in 2017 after majoring in Applied and Computational Mathematics and Statistics and living in O’Neill Hall. Hailing from the Indianapolis area, but born in Youngstown, Ohio, Carson is a Cleveland sports fan convinced that he’s already lived the “best day of his life.” At The Observer, Carson was first a Sports Writer, then served as an Associate Sports Editor (2015/16) and an Assistant Managing Editor (2016/17), before finishing his tenure as a Senior Sports Writer. A man of strong convictions, he ardently believes that Carly Rae Jepsen's 2015 release E•MO•TION is the greatest album of his generation, and wakes up early on Saturday mornings to listen, or occasionally watch, his favorite least-favorite sports team, Aston Villa. When he isn’t writing, Carson spends his time counting down the days to the next running of the Indianapolis 500 and reminding people that the Victory March starts with the lyric, “Rally sons of Notre Dame,” not “Cheer, cheer for Old Notre Dame.”

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