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Irish leaders look forward after 1-2 start

| Friday, September 23, 2016

Three weeks into the 2016 season, and Notre Dame is unranked and out of contention for the College Football Playoff.

This past Saturday’s loss to No. 8 Michigan State have the Irish (1-2) off to their worst start to a season since 2011.  

“It’s never a good feeling,” senior linebacker and captain James Onwualu said. “Obviously it’s not exactly how I imagined starting off the season, my senior season.”

Irish senior linebacker James Onwualu, front left, celebrates with teammates during Notre Dame’s 39-10 win over Nevada on Sept. 10 at Notre Dame Stadium.Caroline Genco | The Observer
Irish senior linebacker James Onwualu, front left, celebrates with teammates during Notre Dame’s 39-10 win over Nevada on Sept. 10 at Notre Dame Stadium.

The consequence of that start — elimination from the playoff picture — has the team facing questions about its motivation going forward. But before it can worry about the remainder of the schedule, the team must first move on from its first two losses and not dwell on the past, captain and senior offensive lineman Mike McGlinchey said.

“I mean, obviously there’s a little disappointment that we haven’t won the games that we wanted to win,” McGlinchey said. “But at the same time it’s not something that I’m trying to dwell on. There’s nine games left on that schedule up there, and that’s what we’re focused on, and that’s what I’m focused on is getting better each and every week and that’s the only thing you can do as a football player. If we start focusing on what happened in the last three weeks, we’re probably going to hit a pretty big wall here in the next nine games.”

Hitting a wall is something some of the team’s veterans has experience with. In 2014, the Irish started the season 6-0 and surged up to No. 5 in the rankings. But then, they went on to lose five of their next seven games, all starting after a devastating loss on the road to then-No. 2 Florida State. Senior receiver and captain Torii Hunter Jr. said his approach that year was to focus on maintaining his competitive desire, and he added that his mentality will very much be the same for the rest of this season.

“I think as a competitor, I still kind of had the same mindset that we wanted to go out there [in 2014] and win some games and still prove that we need to be here,” Hunter Jr. said. “As a competitor, I don’t think my mindset has changed much. I always want to go out there and win no matter what, no matter what the end goal is.

“Even if we couldn’t play in the national championship, I still want to win, no matter what the record is and what the record [looks] like.”

Irish senior receiver Torii Hunter Jr. leaps for a pass during Notre Dame’s 36-28 home loss to Michigan State last Saturday.Michael Yu | The Observer
Irish senior receiver Torii Hunter Jr. leaps for a pass during Notre Dame’s 36-28 home loss to Michigan State last Saturday.

McGlinchey and Onwualu echoed that sentiment, pointing out that regardless of what the team’s record reflects, every player understands they represent both themselves and the team each time they take the field. Thus, a desire to improve and take pride in both regards will be in immense motivational factor going forward.

“I think it’s got to be self and team pride,” McGlinchey said. “It’s the constant battle to become the best person and player you can be each and every day. And along with that, comes the best team we can be every day. That’s the motivation — it’s just become better and do better and continue to work for that, and everything that we do is about that and that’s the fun thing about what football is.”

“Yeah, again, just like focusing on the next week,” Onwualu said. “Trying to let the past just settle and be in the past, and just taking every game as another opportunity to compete and to show your skills and show what you’re improving on and continuing to work on your game.”

The captains also understand that, particularly for them and their fellow seniors. There are only so many games remaining in their Notre Dame careers, so they are aiming to make the most of it and finish the season strongly.

“I know we have a lot of games ahead of us which is exciting, and I have a couple more games that I get to play at Notre Dame Stadium,” Onwualu. “There’s so much more to come from this season and so much more I can learn and my whole team can learn. … Just really trying to look forward and focus on these games that we can get some great wins in.”

And they believe the rest of the team has adopted that mentality, understands these motivations and is ready to focus on Duke and the other eight games remaining on the schedule.

“Guys are ready to work again and they are hungry, and that’s what we need and that’s the only thing that we can focus on is the next nine weeks ahead and obviously starting with Duke,” McGlinchey said. “It’s a special characteristic of our football team to be able to do that and obviously we have some great leadership in our coaches to make us do that and help us focus on that.”

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About Benjamin Padanilam

Ben is a senior and The Observer’s former Editor-in-Chief, now serving as its interim Sports Editor. He is in the Program of Liberal Studies (PLS) and also pursuing minors in Philosophy, Politics and Economics (PPE) and Business Economics. He hails from Toledo, Ohio, and has enjoyed the few highs and many lows of being a Cleveland sports fan.

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