Seizing the Moment: From walk-on to known commodity, Chris Finke is set to make a name for himself at Notre Dame
Joe Everett | Friday, November 9, 2018
Editor’s note: A version of this article originally appeared in the Sept. 7 edition of The Observer.
For Irish senior wide receiver Chris Finke, it’s always been about making the most of the opportunities you are given.
The 5-foot-10, 180-pound slot receiver from Dayton, Ohio walked-on at Notre Dame despite only having 12 total catches. Not just his senior year — his entire high school career.
With little-to-no recruiting attention, Finke managed to meet Irish head coach Brian Kelly thanks to the recruiting buzz surrounding high-school teammate and current Irish defensive back Nick Coleman at Archbishop Alter High School. After being told he could apply and potentially walk on, Finke followed through and spent his freshman season as a valuable member of the scout team.
Fast forward to late August 2016.
Notre Dame dismissed safety Max Redfield and indefinitely suspended cornerback Devin Butler, opening up a scholarship spot. Finke, who impressed coaches with his speed and ability to play as both a slot receiver and punt returner during spring camp and throughout the summer into August, received that open scholarship the very next day. Now, having experienced two full years of college football, the senior reflected on his journey to get where he is today.
“It’s been a long road,” Finke said. “In high school I didn’t have a lot of colleges recruiting me, and I got the opportunity to come here basically through my teammate who had a scholarship offer here. Coaches came to see him and I met them and they told me I could walk-on here … it was a very hard opportunity to pass up with such a great school and football program, so I came here and it’s been a short four years. It’s gone really fast, and I’m trying to cherish every moment this senior year.”
The senior also cherishes the fact that he hasn’t gone through this journey alone. For Finke, it was the support and love of his family that helped him make it down that road.
“My whole family’s incredibly close,” Finke said. “My mom, dad, two sisters and then my little brother — we’ve been so close growing up. We’re all relatively close in age so we do everything together, we still try to get together as much as possible, and we’re just a great support group for one another. We can always rely on each other in good times and in bad, and everybody’s always so happy for each other’s successes, so it’s just such a blessing to have a group like that.”
A walk-on for one year and a proud advocate of the “Walk-On Players Union,” Finke detailed exactly what it means to play without a scholarship at Notre Dame and the mindset it takes to be ready when any opportunity comes knocking.
“It’s definitely a disadvantage,” Finke said. “You have to come in with the attitude that you’re going to work a little harder than everyone else, and also the knowledge that you’re not the first priority. There’s 85 guys that have scholarships when you come here, and if you accumulate tuition for four years a half a million dollar investment in one kid, so multiply that by 85 — you’re definitely not the first in the coaches mind, so you have to try to do some things to stick out, whether it be working extra hard or just taking advantage of the few opportunities you do get, because you get some opportunities.
“ … But like I said, you don’t have preference over other people, so when something comes your way you got to try to take advantage of it. That mindset is where I try to keep myself working as a walk-on.”
Notre Dame has quite a storied history with football walk-ons, the most famous of these walk-ons being Rudy Ruettiger. However, as much as the story of “Rudy” has become a staple of Irish lore, Finke wants to aim higher, and instead draws inspiration from a much more recent Irish walk-on.
“Rudy’s a great story, but I kind of try to distance myself from that,” Finke said. “I guess I didn’t like it when people would call me ‘Rudy’ because I think I had some aspirations to — not to knock Rudy and his story — achieve as much as possible and set my sights really high …There’s definitely inspiration [from Rudy] to draw from, and I draw from other guys that have come before me, in particular [former Irish linebacker] Joe Schimdt, who was here when I was a freshman. He was someone who really gave me a lot of guidance as someone who had gone from a walk-on to a key contributor — a team MVP and captain — so he did a lot coming from [where he started].”
Not only does Finke draw motivation from walk-ons who have gone before him, but also from those who have revolutionized and popularized the role of the slot receiver — and who prove its heart, not height, that matters.
“I try to break the stereotype of what people think of someone my size, but honestly the short, white slot receiver has good name for itself,” Finke said. “If you look at guys who have done it so well in the pros — Wes Welker, Julian Edleman, Danny Amendola, now guys like Cooper Kupp and Ryan Switzer, Braxton Berrios, Hunter Renfroe — I try to keep tabs on and pay attention to them because … I want to be like them. They inspire me.”
The Irish (1-0) are looking for Finke to blossom into a star slot receiver. There are signs that the senior is already reaching that level given his play against Michigan — a game Finke loved to be a part of, but has already moved on from.
“It was a really fun game, great atmosphere — our fans are the best in the country,” Finke said. “They were so loud and so passionate in the stadium. It was a big game, but we kept preparing for and tried to block out all the noise and all the distractions — treat it like business as usual. That’s what we’re trying to do going forward — it’s great to start out like that, but that’s behind us and we’re going one day at a time, practice by practice, preparing for Ball State.
“ … As for the touchdown in the game, it was a play we worked on in practice all week. Coach Long saw the right look and called it up, Brandon threw a beautiful ball, and I went up with the mindset that ‘I just gotta catch this.’”
Ultimately, Finke and the Irish want to make the most of the opportunity they’ve been given this season. The senior reflected on how he and the Irish can continue to actualize their aspirations.
“We have really big goals here — coach [Kelly] is always preaching our two main goals, which are to graduate from the University of Notre Dame and win a national championship,” Finke said. “In order to do that we have a process that we’ve built since January and we’re trying to stick by that. Day by day, week by week, not looking ahead, not looking to anything behind us — truly focusing on what’s important now, in the present.”