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Rhodes Scholar finalist Cam Ekanayake embraces what it means to be a student-athlete

| Friday, December 18, 2020

Senior Cameron Ekanayake truly resembles what it means to be a Notre Dame student-athlete. Ekanayake joined the Irish as a walk-on during his freshman year in 2017. Although he has not received much playing time, Ekanayake has contributed to the scout team from the sidelines and fully embraced the academic excellence of Notre Dame.

Hailing from nearby Niles, Mich., this proximity to campus almost had an adverse effect and nearly led him to attend college elsewhere.

“Notre Dame was not on my radar at all,” Ekanayake said. “I wanted to get away to the East or West Coast until this preferred walk-on spot came up, and then it really turned my eyes onto Notre Dame and made me realize that just being close to Notre Dame wasn’t a good enough reason to deny it because it’s too special of a place.”

This fall, Ekanayake was announced as a Rhodes Scholar finalist. The prestigious Rhodes Scholarship is given out to students to study abroad at the University of Oxford in England. Notre Dame has produced only 20 other Rhodes Scholars in its history, and Corey Robinson is the only other Irish football player to be announced as a finalist for the award.

Ekanayake discussed what it means to be named as a finalist.

“It was huge for me,” Ekanayake said. “It meant so much to me just to be held in such high regards with some of the best people I’ve ever met.”

Allison Thornton | The Observer

Irish senior running back Cam Ekanayake sings the Alma Mater after Notre Dame’s 35-20 win over Virginia on Sept. 28, 2019 at Notre Dame Stadium.

Ekanayake described the moment he found out that he was a finalist as one of his best off the field memories at Notre Dame.

“My best memory would be reading while in the Gug that I had been selected as a Rhodes Scholar finalist. That was the same week as Clemson, which was just a really good week for me,” Ekanayake said.

The former resident of Keough Hall is currently pursuing a major in science-business and hopes to one day be a surgeon after further postgraduate studies.

“My goals of being a surgeon, I don’t think, are complete until I’m able to do some other things,” Ekanayake explained. “I think that’s why I’m looking for postgraduate work at Oxford with public policy and development economics. I think that’s pivotal and necessary to facilitate my goals as a surgeon.”

Ekanayake also shared two of his most cherished memories of his time on the field.

“I guess my best memory would be getting some snaps [in the Syracuse game] and getting some carries,” Ekanayake said. “Or the Clemson game. They definitely go hand-in-hand. That game was amazing.”

The senior running back has also tried to use his platform as a Notre Dame football player to immerse himself in the South Bend community.

“I like to use that platform of a football player that is held in such a high regard to help the community to do things like work with the Catholic Worker, which is local here, and help more people there,” Ekanayake said. “I think having that Notre Dame football backing and that platform has made me able to reach a lot more people in the community that [I] probably wouldn’t have been able to [otherwise].”

Ekanayake reflected on what it means to be part of a class that is the first to record four consecutive seasons of 10 or more wins, and one getting the chance to play for the school’s first ACC Championship this weekend.

“It’s been everything to me,” he said. “I think each one of those guys in the locker room are some of my brothers for life. Being able to break records and do things that have never been done before, like, being in the ACC championship and playing in a conference kind of speaks to that connection that we have.”

While it has been an unprecedented senior campaign, Ekanayake believes that, ultimately, the team’s ability to overcome adversity this season has prepared everyone to succeed in the future.

“I think making the ACC championship is a testament to what all of us are going to do in the future,” he said. “Whether it’s in a week here in the ACC championship, in a couple weeks in the [College Football] Playoffs or in life, I think we’re all kind of grounded now in a sense of breaking through boundaries and defining old norms.”

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