Just One Goal: Ronnie Stanley
Brian Plamondon | Friday, November 13, 2015
Just like every other senior, Irish left tackle Ronnie Stanley will run out of the tunnel Saturday and greet his family at the beginning of Notre Dame’s annual Senior Day game. Nothing will be unordinary about the sequence for Stanley — except for the fact that there was a chance it was never going to happen.
After a standout 2014 season, Stanley was seen by draft experts as a first-round lock, potentially the top offensive lineman taken in the 2015 NFL Draft. Instead, Stanley decided to come back to Notre Dame, saying that his decision was based on one thing and one thing only: a national championship.
“Just knowing how good the team was going to be, and how many players were returning [was huge],” Stanley said. “That was really something that influenced my decision, and knowing our team would be really good this year. And me being able to be a leader on the team was really important to me as well.”
Despite his choice to shun NFL riches for another year, it didn’t mean Stanley hasn’t had NFL aspirations all his life. On a recent episode of Showtime’s “A Season With Notre Dame,” Stanley’s mother, Juli, said that when Ronnie was 12-years old he told her to hold on to his football card “because it’s going to be worth money one day.”
After a standout high school career that saw Stanley’s Bishop Gorman team win three straight Nevada Class 4A titles, he saw limited action his freshman season for the Irish. In 2013, the 6-foot-5, 315-pound lineman started all 13 games at right tackle before shifting over and anchoring the line at left tackle the last two seasons.
Stanley has come into his own as a leader for the Irish in 2015, but not in the way he may have envisioned it before the season. When Showtime released a trailer for the program’s debut episode, a clip was leaked that showed Irish head coach Brian Kelly explaining to the team that Stanley would not be able to accept his captainship. Stanley later met with reporters and explained that it was for “parking reasons.”
“I’m looked at as a leader by teammates and coaches, so I don’t need a ‘C’ on my chest to know what role I have on this team,” Stanley said Sept. 16. “I never needed that growing up, and I don’t need it now. I definitely still accept the position I’m in, and I’m fully ready to do what I have to do for my team.”
For Stanley, this season isn’t too much of a departure in terms of how vocal he is with teammates — the added wrinkle is that a lot of the offensive line and even the offense as a whole looks up to him.
“I’ve always been comfortable kind of telling people how I feel,” Stanley said. “And even telling people what they should do if they’re not doing things right. The only different thing is just the way other people are just accepting the leadership I’m trying to give them.”
Stanley isn’t the only one noticing a difference in the way people take to his leadership. Kelly singled out Stanley and senior defensive lineman Sheldon Day for their significance in Notre Dame’s success so far this season.
“When your best players are your best leaders, it changes the dynamics of everything that you do because they’re out there in practice, setting a standard,” Kelly said. “They’re in the locker room setting a standard, and then they’re on the field in the way they compete setting a standard. So I don’t want to attribute all of it to them, but we wouldn’t be where we are right now without those two guys back in 2015.”
Day had the same decision to make as Stanley back in January about whether or not to come back for his senior season. After Day decided to return, Stanley joined him after watching Ohio State win the national championship and realizing he couldn’t leave his college days behind without one himself.
“We were driving home, and [Stanley] said it will be crazy because we wouldn’t be able to experience something like this,” Day said of the thought that they both would have turned pro. “And just the guys in the locker room and how much fun we’re having this season, and just being around the guys, it’s crazy that if we would have went the other way how things would have been much different.”
Much of Stanley’s decision revolved around the fact that the Notre Dame team had unfinished business in the national championship game. Despite the highs of its appearance there his freshman year and the lows of a 1-4 November in a promising season last year, Stanley said the one constant was that this team had the type of players necessary to compete at the highest level.
“We understood what we had in front of us and understood the talent we had,” Stanley said of the senior class’s expectations of this season. “Being in the national championship, we knew we had the talent to be in the game this year. That was the main thing — the experiencing going and seeing the talent that was there.”
For the Irish, Stanley and the rest of the senior class represent the last group that will have been on the sideline for Notre Dame’s BCS Championship Game appearance, outside of a few potential fifth years next year. Although his decision to come back rested on the potential for the Irish to make it to Glendale, Arizona, Stanley has made a point to enjoy every aspect of his senior year.
“It’s really just trying to cherish the last few weeks I have left with these guys,” Stanley said. “Really reflect on the relationships we built with each other from freshmen and seeing some of the guys turn into the great players and guys they are now.”
Although Stanley technically has one more year of eligibility remaining due to a redshirt year in 2012, it would be a shock if the mammoth left tackle decided to return for the 2016 season. Still, the Las Vegas product has so far been content with his decision, glad to enjoy another season with the teammates he has spent the last four seasons in the trenches with.
“It’s been a long journey,” Stanley said. “But I’m happy with the decision I made. I’d make the same decision again, no regrets.”
With just three regular season games remaining, Saturday is the first step towards fulfilling Stanley’s dream of making it back to the championship game, and this time, coming home victorious. Stanley’s other dream will have to wait just a little while longer.
“It’s definitely crossed my mind what it would have been like [in the NFL],” Stanley said. “But it never really took me away from being focused on the task at hand here, what we’re trying to accomplish.”