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Sheldon Day returns for final shot at championship

| Thursday, November 12, 2015

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Before his final home game for Notre Dame, senior defensive tackle Sheldon Day’s main concern isn’t the chance of the Irish making the College Football Playoff, or impressing NFL scouts that may be interested in him: he just wants to give his mother, Carol Boyd, a hug at the end of it all.

“She’s been my biggest support system through the ups and downs,” Day said. “Just to see her being able to run out and give her a big old hug in front of 81,000, it’s going to be a special moment for her. I know she’s going to enjoy it, and remember it and tell her grandkids and everything like that. It’s definitely going to be a special moment for her.

“I know if I see my mom cry, it’s going to make me cry. But I’m going to try to stay strong. There are a lot of emotions last time running out of that tunnel in front of 80,000-plus. It’s going to be a great time and a great experience. Just kind of overwhelming a little bit, and just to know that I’ve done a lot of good things in my career here, and I’m just happy that I can have a senior night.”

Day almost didn’t have a Senior Day at Notre Dame. The highly-rated defensive lineman was expected by some to declare early for the 2015 NFL Draft, but he decided to come back for another year with the Irish instead. Day said the strength of the Irish team and the camaraderie among his teammates ensured he would return for one more year.

“The opportunity to play for a national championship, and just being with those guys in the locker room, it’s something many people regret,” Day said about the prospect of leaving early. “If you do leave early, like the locker room experience, there is nothing like it, so I don’t think many people can give that up.”

Day said the process of deciding to stay early or return was not an easy one, but he said going through the decision with senior offensive tackle Ronnie Stanley, who was also a top prospect for the 2015 NFL Draft before also deciding to return for his senior season, helped make the decision easier for both players.

“We definitely shot some texts back and forth,” Day said. “He told me that his decision rode on my decision, and I said that’s too much pressure for me, ‘Don’t do that to me.’ But we definitely texted back and forth to see where we were and try to do things like that because we said we want to train together.”

But Day — who had been told by the NFL Draft Advisory Board that returning to Notre Dame would likely be the best option — was the first of the two to decide to return for one more year.

“I think it was me,” Day said. “I said more than likely I’m going to come back. He said, ‘Are you serious?’ And I said, ‘Yeah.’ I think a couple days after that he texted me and told me he was coming back. Then [head coach Brian Kelly] announced it.”

Day said he still sometimes thinks about his decision to return, but that he knows he made the right choice.

“[Ronnie and I] actually talked about that the other day,” Day said. “We were driving home, and he said it [would’ve been crazy if they left] because we wouldn’t be able to experience something like this: 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.”

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Day’s final year has certainly been a successful one, and one that may make NFL scouts even more interested. The senior has collected three sacks this season, as well as a team-leading 11.5 tackles for loss — both are career highs for Day. He has also made 21 solo and 33 total tackles this season, which put him on course for career-highs, and has recorded a tackle for loss in seven of Notre Dame’s eight outings this season. He also added the first forced fumble of his Notre Dame career when he sacked Temple’s junior quarterback PJ Walker in the 24-21 win over the Owls on Oct. 31. Day said Notre Dame’s strength and conditioning coach Paul Longo and defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder deserve most of the credit for his improved performances.

“Oh, man, coach Longo’s done a great job,” Day said. “You can see it in my play, and how [I’ve] changed since last year and how physical I’ve become and just my mentality going forth. Coach VanGorder’s done a great job with my mental state. Coach Longo’s done a great job with my physical state. So I felt like I changed a lot from last year to this year.”

As a part of Notre Dame’s class of 2016, Day has already played for a national title once, against Alabama in 2013 BCS National Championship. However, he said he still believes the senior class can deliver Notre Dame’s first national championship in 27 years.

“Man, hopefully we’re the class that everybody remembers that puts Notre Dame back on top,” Day said.

“Coming in as freshmen, that’s all we could talk about, a national championship … We didn’t know how much it took to get there, but we’re kind of learning a little bit about it right now. So it’s definitely a blessing to kind of go through this experience.”

In his second consecutive season as a team captain, Day has been a key leader on an Irish defensive line that has turned in some impressive performances this season. Day said he realized towards the end of training camp that the unit looked like a formidable one.

Day said he had a feeling that the team was going to be special one this year. “Then the later weeks of camp was just seeing how much we started to commit ourselves and see how serious we were about the learning of the game, and just seeing how much we were starting to dominate and seeing everything start to fall into place.”

However, Day said being in a leadership role is a lot easier knowing he’s surrounded by other capable leaders on defense.

“I’d definitely say we know our roles and when we need to step up,” Day said. “If something’s getting out of hand, we know one of the many leaders we have will step up.”

Day said the team can rely on one person not on the roster for some extra support: his mother, who has shown her support for Day and his teammates at almost every home game of his career.

“My mom’s pretty much a team mom,” Day said. “She cooks for the team, she supports the team, and she’s pretty much made every home game except for a couple … She’s definitely been the biggest support system and tried to support me in every way possible.”

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About Daniel O'Boyle

Daniel O'Boyle is a senior sports writer living in Alumni Hall, majoring in Political Science. He is currently on the Notre Dame Women's Basketball, Men's Tennis and Women's Soccer beats. Originally from Belfast, Northern Ireland, Daniel spends most of his free time attempting to keep up with second-flight English soccer and his beloved Reading FC. He believes Lonzo Ball is the greatest basketball player of all time.

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