Sam Kohler makes the most of his time at ND as a walk-on
Ellie Olmanson | Friday, November 17, 2017
For senior kicker Sam Kohler, a piece of paper that said “degree” was not enough to fulfill his college dream.
A Lincoln, Nebraska, native, Kohler proved to be a stud on the field and in the classroom as he was weighing his options between Vanderbilt and Stanford for college, with Notre Dame third in his rankings.
“I actually wasn’t originally looking at Notre Dame that much,” Kohler said. “I was leaning more toward Stanford and Vanderbilt. Notre Dame was the one place out of the three I wasn’t going to be able to play football [with the ability to walk on]. I actually visited Notre Dame on the last day I had left to decide and absolutely fell in love with campus. I knew it’s where I wanted to be. I actually gave up football by coming here … but I eventually did get the chance to try out.”
Though it was originally a “complete whirlwind,” as Kohler described it, when the process began his freshman year, Kohler said he got his decision on whether or not he made the team through a text two days after tryouts. It said, “Be at the Gug in two hours.”
Through the confusion and chaos of the beginning, Kohler said, it was the closeness of the special teams players that made the transition ideal.
“The specialists players are all very tightknit and act as a little family,” Kohler said. “They took me in and made the transition really easy. Once you’re able to get acclimated to that little group, the whole rest of it is simple.”
Kohler said this group served as his rock through his time on the team. It had his closest friends, greatest motivators and biggest role models.
“These are some of my best friends. I see myself staying friends with them for a long time,” Kohler said. “Us specialists are very, very tight knit … We have certain traditions that don’t change and rules to live by. There’s even a group chat that goes back enough to include the guys from the team six, seven years ago.”
As most anyone who knows an engineering major understands, it takes time. Adding football to the mix forces incredible adjustment and time management that Kohler said he learned from the older players on the team.
“My first year here there was a senior in the specialist group, Hunter Smith,” Kohler said. “He had my same major as a chemical engineer and was an overall great guy. He was always super helpful in what classes I should be taking and when to schedule them.
“I didn’t realize how much time I had until I started playing football. It is a lot of time management. You aren’t able to do things you would do otherwise, like sit and each food with your friends for a couple hours or sit around with your roommate.”
Ironically, the friends and meals that Kohler shared through the specialists prove to be some of his fondest memories.
“We have our specialist dinners on Thursdays, and one time, Showtime was on campus filming us,” Kohler said. “We were just so ridiculous during our meal that they couldn’t use any of the footage in the show. It would all be too filtered.”
Beyond this season and graduation, Kohler will be working for Bain Capital in Chicago with a degree in chemical engineering and the knowledge of a varsity athlete at Notre Dame.
“This experience has definitely taught me a lot,” he said. “It’s a great thing to be a part of, and I love these guys.”