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Sun Belt to South Bend: Grupe embraces the Notre Dame experience

Five years ago, Blake Grupe embarked on a challenge. Coming out of Sedalia, a mid-sized Missouri town, he accepted a walk-on offer to kick at Arkansas State. Now, with five seasons in Jonesboro behind him, Grupe is taking on the ultimate task: starting kicker at Notre Dame.

“It’s been very unexpected,” Grupe said. “Everything that I’ve been able to get through and accomplish in my career has been a ride that I wouldn’t trade for anything.”

Between 2018 and 2021, Grupe amassed the most prolific kicking career in Red Wolves history. He finished last season as the program’s all-time leader in points, field goals made and extra points made. However, the All-Sun Belt selection needed something more for his final season. When the Fighting Irish gave Grupe a call in mid-January, he shut down his search.

“I wanted to challenge myself again and get on the biggest stage,” he said. “I knew I could do it, so I wanted to step out of my comfort zone and improve myself.”

From day one on campus, Grupe expressed a willingness to learn. The team culture, one of the difference-makers in his transfer choice, helped him along from the start. Graduate long snapper Michael Vinson answered his questions, while senior safety Brandon Joseph related to his experience of switching schools.

“A lot of different guys have been helping, but those two are my roommates in the spring as well, so us three got in here and kinda had to figure it all out,” he recalled.

Grupe’s wealth of experience has eased his transition to South Bend as well. At Arkansas State, he played 47 games and made 64 field goals, developing a proven track record. Interestingly enough, he has mostly had to adjust off the field. Unlike Joseph, who simply transferred across Lake Michigan, Grupe made a nine-hour trip north. 

“I did not know about any of the snow, so that was a pleasant surprise,” he admitted with a chuckle. “I’ve learned to enjoy it, and I love everything about it up here.”

Amidst the cold weather, Notre Dame’s special teams unit is among the nation’s hottest. Under special teams coach Brian Mason, the Fighting Irish lead FBS with seven blocked punts. 

“The year that we’re having all across the board on special teams is one like I haven’t had before,” Grupe said. “Every single unit is going out there and pretty much dominating this year.”

Grupe has contributed regularly as well, hitting 10 of 15 field goal attempts and converting all 35 extra-point tries. In week three’s 24-17 victory over Cal, he nailed a season-long 47-yarder to tie the game in the fourth quarter. Through the highs and lows, Grupe has embraced each and every moment of the 2022 season.

“The experience this whole team gets to go through together is pretty special,” he said. “Playing in Vegas, playing in the Ravens stadium —everything this team gets to do, and getting to do it with the guys you work with every single day makes it that much better.”

Last weekend, the Irish delivered their finest moment yet, upsetting No. 4 Clemson 35-14 in front of 77,662 fans at home. Grupe did not play before a home crowd larger than 20,000 last year. He had to pinch himself as the clock hit zeros and the Irish faithful rushed the field in celebration.

“Last year, I was sitting at home watching teams storm the field, and I was thinking, ‘That’d be awesome. I really hope I get an opportunity to experience that’,” he recalled. “Winning the way we did against that team and seeing everybody on the field was a pretty special experience.”

Feeling the love on that Saturday night was valuable on quite a few levels for Grupe. He cherishes those who have come along for his magical ride, and he goes all in to return the favor on and off the field. Dozens of friends and family members drove up to see Grupe in action for the Stanford game.

“You do it for the ones that support you, and the support circle that I have is phenomenal,” Grupe said. “It’s crazy to have almost 40 people at a game and people driving 9 hours every single week to come visit you.”

After this season, Grupe plans to keep training and will participate in Notre Dame’s Pro Day in March. With an MBA and undergraduate degree under his belt, Grupe is ready for post-football success as well.

Contact Tyler Reidy at treidy3@nd.edu.

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