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irish insider

Patrick Pelini, son of a coach, finds fulfillment as part of Irish

| Friday, December 18, 2020

Though many may not realize it, the average college football team (and the No. 2-ranked Notre Dame team) actually runs very similarly to a Broadway play. While all of the attention goes to lead actors and quarterbacks, and supporting actors and skill position players also get some spotlight, there are countless names the casual viewer never sees that are essential to creating a quality product.

College football’s version of understudies and stage crew are walk-ons. While almost every player in such a situation aspires to be the next J.J. Watt, or even Rudy Ruettiger, every piece of the puzzle is an important one. Like on Broadway, there are no small roles.

Patrick Pelini never had the early childhood connections to Notre Dame that so many students do. But the Youngstown, Ohio native was swayed after visiting campus and seeing Irish’s 41-24 victory over Navy on Oct. 10, 2015.

“I said to my friend, ‘If I could ever, you know, if I ever got the chance to play football here, I would; I would take that,’” Pelini said. “And my senior year I was lucky enough to earn an opportunity to walk on. And the rest is history.”

Since then, Pelini’s been fulfilling the nitty-gritty, often overlooked duties on Notre Dame’s scout team.

Before coming to Notre Dame, Pelini was a ballhawk in the secondary of Cardinal Mooney High School, a powerhouse football program. Pelini’s outstanding play at Cardinal Mooney earned him 2016 3rd team Division III/IV All-Ohio honors. And his last name is known well throughout college football — his father Bo Pelini was a head coach at Nebraska and Youngstown State before becoming LSU’s defensive coordinator this season.

As a walk-on, Pelini quickly created a bond with his fellow walk-ons and now lives off campus with four of them.

“[They’re] what’s kept me going here, through the ups and the downs,” Pelini said. “It’s a brotherhood within the brotherhood.” 

Courtesy of Notre Dame Athletics
Irish senior safety Patrick Pelini on the sidelines during Notre Dame’s 45-14 loss to Michigan at The Big House on Oct. 26, 2019. Pelini appeared in two games against New Mexico and Bowling green in 2019, recording two tackles on the Lobos.

No one knows the difficulties that come from scout team duties and the stress of his role better than fellow walk-ons. Making it takes incredible discipline, focus and hard work. Pelini certainly has all three traits in spades.

Pelini made plenty of memories on the field at Notre Dame stadium. The 6-foot-1 safety saw action in two games as a junior in 2019, registering two solo tackles in Notre Dame’s 66-14 win last September against New Mexico. But his best memory came this season: Notre Dame’s upset victory over No. 1 Clemson.

“That was just a surreal experience,” Pelini said. “Those types of moments are why you choose to come to Notre Dame. You truly can’t beat that.”

However, Pelini made plenty of incredible memories off the gridiron as well. As a senior, Pelini has had plenty of meetings, workouts and runs every winter and summer to look back on. He does so fondly.

The 22-year old also highlighted the efforts of director of player development Hunter Bivin and associate athletics director Ron Powlus to get the Irish involved in the community. Pelini affirmed he was “proud” to participate in countless community events that made an impact to others.

In the future, Pelini hopes to enter the coaching ranks like his father, but isn’t 100% set on where those pursuits lie. He is set to graduate from the Mendoza School of Business with a business marketing degree.

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About Andrew McGuinness

Andrew McGuinness is a sophomore from Haddonfield, New Jersey, a short drive away from Philadelphia. Naturally, he loves all of his Philadelphia sports teams, even if they don't always love him back. Feel free to reach out to talk sports or shows, especially if they're Ted Lasso, Survivor, or/and Brooklyn Nine-Nine.

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