Connor Cavalaris earns scholarship through trust
Marek Mazurek | Thursday, November 12, 2015
There are many ways of thinking about the word “scholarship.” For some, it’s an expected honor after being designated as a five-star recruit. For Connor Cavalaris, it was the recognition of a job well done.
A graduate student from Lake Forest, Illinois, Cavalaris had a choice to make coming out of high school. He could commit to a smaller school and potentially get a starting job, or he could come to Notre Dame and not be guaranteed anything. Cavalaris said he always wanted to go to Notre Dame despite not receiving a scholarship because he wanted to stay close to home.
“Growing up in Chicago, Notre Dame’s got such a powerful following,” the cornerback said. “As a young kid being exposed to that, it’s something you know you always want to be a part of that sort of tradition. … I’m about two hours away, so one of the best things about my five years here was being able to share the experiences with my family and friends.”
While sharing his accomplishments with his loved ones certainly played a large role in his decision to attend Notre Dame, Cavalaris also said he wasn’t going to give up on his dream of playing college football either.
“I wanted to go somewhere where I knew I could challenge myself,” Cavalaris said. “I believed in myself as a player and wanted to go somewhere where I held myself to a high standard and compete with some of the best athletes in the country.”
Though Cavalaris believed in himself, he said it was rough adjusting to the collegiate level of play during his first year.
“I remember as freshman, it’s definitely overwhelming to start playing at a big college football program,” Cavalaris said. “You have to learn from the guys above you, the older guys. It’s a long process. … You have to earn the trust of your coaches and perform on the practice field, you have to earn their trust to be able to go in and perform in games. And then, when you get the opportunity, you have to go and run with it.”
Cavalaris’ big opportunity came when the team put him in during the BCS Championship Game against Alabama in his sophomore season. Though the Irish lost, Cavalaris recorded two tackles and said playing in the national championship is a moment he will never forgot.
“It was an amazing experience,” Cavalaris said. “It’s the biggest stage for our sport. I remember the emotion going into it. I had my family in the crowd. I don’t really remember a ton about the game. When the coaches trust you to go out there and perform at that big of a stage, it’s definitely exciting and an experience I’ll remember the rest of my life.”
With a championship game and two more years of experience under his belt, Cavalaris’ hard work payed off, and he was awarded a scholarship going into his senior year last season.
“It was a great feeling,” Cavalaris said. “To be recognized in that way by your coaches and your peers, it’s really special. All the walk-ons put in a lot of hard work and a lot of stuff that goes unrecognized. When they announced it and to hear the roar of your fellow teammates who you’ve worked so hard with for the past four years and they know you’ve been with them every step of the way, that’s what’s been very gratifying.”
Now in his fifth year, Cavalaris said that he doesn’t take anything for granted and tries to impart the mentality that has worked for him to the younger players on this year’s team as the season nears its end.
“Being a fifth-year senior, you know it’s one day at a time,” Cavalaris said. “It’s one practice at a time. You can’t think that far down the road, you have to take one game at a time. This team has a lot of talent, a lot of potential, we’re all working hard. … You have to handle tomorrow; you have to handle the next step in front of you first.”
And though he is not thinking too far ahead of himself where football is concerned, Cavalaris did say he plans to get a job in the financial world after he finishes his masters degree in accounting.
“I’m hoping to get into investment banking,” Cavalaris said. “I’ll finish up my masters in accounting this December, and I’ll see where it goes from there.”