This Saturday is Senior Day at Notre Dame for those wrapping up their fourth and fifth seasons within the Fighting Irish football program. The day will be centered on beating BYU (3:30 p.m., NBC), and for some of the players (Louis Nix III, Zack Martin, Prince Shembo, TJ Jones, and possibly Chris Watt and Kona Schwenke) it will be the final time they run out onto the field at Notre Dame Stadium, but really the day is just a catapult toward the next stage in their athletic career (playing in the NFL).
For others (Tommy Rees, Bennett Jackson, Carlo Calabrese and Dan Fox) it is the culmination of an arduous but fairly satisfying journey, which included ample opportunities to represent the program in the heat of competition.
For Lo Wood and Austin Collinsworth, it's a confounding day because though they are seniors, they may not be finished with the Irish. Both have eligibility remaining, so whether to be melancholy or not is an unknown for them and their families.
But for others, such as wide receiver Luke Massa, it is the closing of a chapter that must be filled with frustration and resignation. Not every athletic story ends in fairy-tale fashion.
“(Luke Massa is) Very smart, very disciplined,” Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said. “He's 6 feet 5 inches, 205 pounds. He's going to be really big. He's going to be a strong player. He's got great feet, outstanding basketball player.
“Again, a young man that's going to have a chance to be a very good football player. Very smart. He's going to make good decisions for you play in and play out.”
That is what the coach said on signing day in 2010, when a guy like Massa – as well as every other recruit in the country - had to have felt on top of the world and braced for greatness. But more often than many athletes realize, stardom fails to materialize, even for those with multiple stars by their names (Massa had three to the left of his name on most recruiting lists).
Massa was recruited by Kelly at Cincinnati and when the coach was hired at Notre Dame in December 2009, he used that relationship to sell Massa on South Bend. But both parties' expectations never coincided with production.
After being recruited as a quarterback (as Kelly alluded to on signing day), Massa was moved to tight end, later worked out as a wide receiver and this season is ending his career as the holder for field goal attempts.
“He's been the consummate teammate,” Kelly said. “Whether or not we've asked him to help us at quarterback or wide receiver or tight end, he's a holder this year; he's just been an incredible teammate, and he's so well liked by everybody.”
Not for a lack of searching done by the Notre Dame coaching staff, but they never figured out how best to utilize the “very good football player.”
Massa's only work during the 2010 and 2012 seasons was done Monday through Friday in practices, as he saw no game action. During his sophomore season (2011) he played in eight games, primarily on special teams.
And this year? “He's a holder,” as Kelly pointed out.
This story isn't all forlorn, however. Kelly noted that Massa has always valued the academic portion of his experience at Notre Dame, and that opportunity has not washed out.
“He's been on a dual journey here,” Kelly said. “And that journey has been, you know, obviously seeking a degree at Notre Dame and fulfilling a dream that he's had of playing here at Notre Dame. And he certainly has and (also) has contributed to our program.”