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irish insider

Mahoney reflects on community found at Notre Dame

| Friday, December 18, 2020

For senior John Mahoney, walk-on safety and current president of the Notre Dame Walk-On Players’ Union — or “WOPU Nation,” as it is affectionately known — community has been an integral part of his football experience at Notre Dame. 

“The one thing I can really take from the experience is the WOPU Nation; it’s just a really close-knit group of guys,” Mahoney said. “This year, I’m lucky enough to serve as the president, and it’s really just allowed me to form some bonds that will definitely stand the test of time.” 

During his time at Valley High School in West Des Moines, Iowa, Mahoney remembers being recruited by some smaller schools to play football.

“I didn’t necessarily grow up a Notre Dame fan.” he said, “But I had a close family friend that had actually coached here and, growing up, was always telling me this is where you should go to school.” 

After visiting during the summer before his junior year and falling in love with Notre Dame, Mahoney applied as a student and was contacted by the football program to gauge his interest in walking onto the team.

“I was kind of blown away,” he said. “It ultimately came to the point that they said, ‘If you get into the school on your own, then you’ve got a spot on the team.’ I was lucky enough to get into the school, and the rest is history.”

In addition to the community found in WOPU Nation, the former Stanford Hall resident went on to illustrate the academic, athletic and spiritual communities he found in his home under the dome. 

“I just don’t think there’s anywhere else in the country where you get to really develop yourself in so many different ways,” Mahoney said. “You know, obviously as an athlete it is incredibly challenging. You’ve got access to the best coaching and you’re going to be pushed in ways that you’ve never really imagined you would be. As a student, [it’s] the same thing, you get the chance to learn from the best faculty and the best other students. But then spiritually, I’ve really taken advantage of dorm mass and things like that, and you get that sense of community in a spiritual sense. I just don’t think you can really replicate that anywhere else.” 

In regards to the historic team he is a part of — set to play in the first ACC Championship in school history — Mahoney emphasized the hard work the entire team has put in over this incredibly difficult year. 

“Any time you can set a mark that’s never been set, particularly at a place like Notre Dame, is neat,” Mahoney said. “But I think what it really speaks to is the hard work and dedication of all of our guys and just the great work the coaches and support staff have done to put us in a position to be successful. It truly takes everybody’s effort. It’s not done with one player or one coach. The best part about it is; it’s all 100 guys, all coming together, working hard throughout the year to achieve something truly, truly remarkable.” 

And it has been remarkable. Especially outstanding in his memory, Mahoney says, was the team’s win against Clemson six weeks ago. 

“2020 was a really challenging year for everybody,” Mahoney said, noting the hard work and dedication put into the 2020 season by students, players, faculty, staff and coaches. “To give people the opportunity to celebrate was just really cool. You’re out on the field and you’re seeing people just crying and hugging their friends. It was really just a unique experience and it’s one I won’t want to forget.” 

Courtesy of Notre Dame Athletics

Irish senior safety John Mahoney stands with teammates during Notre Dame’s trip to the 2018 Cotton Bowl as part of a College Football Playoff semifinal matchup with Clemson. Mahoney, president of Notre Dame’s Walk-on Players’ Union called the 2020 win over the Tigers, avenging that 2018 loss, one of his favorite memories from his time with the Irish.

After he graduates from Notre Dame with a finance major and history minor this spring, Mahoney has plans to work for the consulting firm McKinsey & Company in Minneapolis. 

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