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Anthony Rabasa grows into leadership role on defense

| Thursday, November 20, 2014

The life of a freshman football player at Notre Dame is hectic. Luckily for senior defensive lineman Anthony Rabasa, the older players looked out for him when he was a freshman.

“[Former Irish linebackers] Dan Fox and Carlo Calabrese are two guys I’m still pretty close with,” he said. “They showed me as a freshman what to do and what to expect.”

Now Rabasa said his role has shifted.

“It’s funny, now that I’m a senior, I can tell which [freshman] are struggling, having a hard time and all that kind of stuff,” Rabasa said.

In appreciation of what older players did for him, Rabasa said he has become a mentor to some of the younger players.

“I’m just trying to help out the younger guys, especially off the field,” he said. “I mean, on the field, these kids are ballers. They’re all ballers. But for off-the-field stuff, like when they have to handle school and football and being away from home, some of the guys come up to me, and I talk to them. It feels good to be that helping hand.”

Anthony RabasaMichael Yu | The Observer
Anthony Rabasa
On a defense with so many young players, his presence both on and off the field is valued. Rabasa said he lets the whole team know anyone can talk to him anytime, and they take advantage of his generosity. Rabasa said his outgoing personality helps him maintain his off-the-field presence.

“I can blend with any group, and there’s not one type of group that I hang out with the most,” Rabasa said. “I know them all, and I get along with all of them pretty well, so I would say I’m pretty good off the field with that.”

So far this season, the defense has played better than many expected, and Rabasa said he attributes the unit’s performance to its commitment.

“We’re just a committed group and we want to win, and we know what it takes to win,” he said. “We don’t have a lot of veterans, and we’re a very young team. But we just have that drive, and our entire team just has that motivation to go chase it. We want to play. We love to play fast, hard and aggressive, and that’s what we do every weekend. We can do it week in and week out, and we’re just having a great season so far.”

After his freshman season ended prematurely with a shoulder injury, Rabasa struggled to find a position in former Irish defensive coordinator Bob Diaco’s 3-4 scheme. Rabasa said he knew he had a clean slate when Diaco left this offseason for the head-coaching job at Connecticut. New defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder’s 4-3 scheme further improved his chances of enlarging his role.

Rabasa said he has felt a difference this year compared to the last three.

“You definitely feel a change like in the culture with what the coach expects of you and stuff like that,” he said. “There’s been front-office moves, and it feels good. Definitely feels good.”

In VanGorder’s 4-3 scheme, Rabasa can play his natural position of pass-rushing defensive end.

“[Pass rushing] is what I do,” he said. “It’s what they have me doing here, and it’s what I’m supposed to do on the defense.”

A former standout at Christopher Columbus High School in Miami, Rabasa had a lot of options for college. He chose Notre Dame, and for him, it wasn’t a tough decision.

“The education you get here is one in a million, and the opportunity to come here doesn’t happen to everybody,” he said. “If you’re one of the lucky few chosen ones to get a scholarship to come play football here, then you’re a fool if you let that opportunity go to waste and go somewhere else. So it was definitely a no-brainer once Notre Dame came and offered me.”

Looking back, he said he does not regret his decision to come to Notre Dame and that he feels “like it’s prepared me more than any other university could have that gave me an opportunity.”

Whatever he does after his time here, Rabasa said he will never forget the memories he has created, especially during the game at Florida State.

“Florida State, oh my goodness, that was insane,” he said. “The atmosphere there — you could feel it. It was so live, and you felt everybody’s breath, and everybody chanting and all that stuff. That was nuts.”

“[Attending Notre Dame] is a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” he added. “Everywhere you play is a national spotlight. I will never forget walking through that tunnel and playing amazing games on that field in front of 80,000 people.”

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