Notre Dame walk-on Mahoney flying high as Irish play Maryland this week

Boys' Latin alum makes his first road trip as the team plays in his home state Saturday

November 10, 2011|By Chris Eckard, The Baltimore Sun

It was a simple block, really.

Late in the fourth quarter of a soon-to-be blowout victory, Notre Dame senior offensive tackle Dennis Mahoney flew off the line of scrimmage to a nearby Air Force linebacker and drove him to the ground.

The block opened a hole for quarterback Andrew Hendrix to scamper 78 yards on a designed draw play, the longest run of the season for the Irish.

Standing in the bleachers, Mary Angela Mahoney felt several tears stream down her face as she watched her son get up from the ground and run after Hendrix down the field.

Mahoney isn't an All-American, or even a starter. He's a four-year walk-on who followed his childhood dream to play in South Bend, Ind., after a high school career at Boys' Latin.

It's that brief moment against Air Force — when his teammates screamed loudly from the sidelines for him — and a plane trip Thursday that make Mahoney's dedication to the program worth it.

Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly decided to reward Mahoney by letting him travel with the team for the first time in his college career this week as the Irish face Maryland Saturday at FedEx Field in Landover.

"For his family to be so close and for him to run out on that field at the opening of the game,that will be a memory he will have the rest of his life," Notre Dame offensive line coach Ed Warinner said.

As a six-year-old, Mahoney traveled to Notre Dame for the first time with his family, Irish-lifers, to experience the tradition of college football. From that moment, he was hooked.

As he grew into a huge body (he's now 6-foot-7, 294 pounds), Mahoney arrived at Boys' Latin nearly eight years ago as an offensive lineman oozing with potential. He just didn't have the physicality or the foot skills yet to project as someone who could play at Notre Dame.

"He was the typical gangly kid who hadn't grown into his body," said Jim Sandusky, an assistant coach at Boys' Latin. "He was just not ready to play athletically, but he always had the effort. As he matured physically he became an outstanding football player."

His hard work in practice started to pay off as he moved up to varsity as a sophomore and started his final two seasons. His efforts on the field (which garnered all-conference honors) and off it (where he finished with a 4.2 GPA and was the student body president) quickly made Mahoney stand out.

"He was a big presence who just works so hard," Boys' Latin head coach Ritchie Schell said. "And when he speaks, everybody listens. He was just so smart."

Mahoney's achievements led to interest from Ivy League schools such as Princeton and Harvard. But his mind was still set on Notre Dame, where he applied early and was accepted as a student.

Schell put him in touch with the Irish football coaches, who after watching tape quickly offered Mahoney a preferred walk-on spot. That arrangement allowed Mahoney to be a part of the team and come in with the regular scholarship players instead of having to wait until the first day of class to try out.

"You always dream about it, but you never expect to actually come play at Notre Dame," Mahoney said. "I always wanted to come here. It's a different experience, being apart of this program and the tradition here."

Mahoney didn't have the skill set to compete for a starting job, but it didn't faze him.

"It was always rewarding everyday and coming out every day and practicing and being a part of the program," he said.

His efforts, while not visible every Saturday, have had an impact on Notre Dame's program.

"It just rubs off on everybody else," Warinner said. "Here's a guy who knows he's probably not going to play much in the game, but works hard every day. He shows up. He's trying to help this football team and this program move forward doing what we've asked him to do."

"Dennis has been one of those offensive linemen that we can count on every single week," Kelly added. "He's there for us, and you can't have a successful program without a good walk-on program."

Studying history, Mahoney has managed to maintain a 3.9 GPA. He plans on attending law school next fall.

But for now, his focus is with the Irish.

On Monday night, Warinner told Mahoney to pack his bags, because he would be flying with the team. It's a reward for the hard work and selflessness Mahoney has exuded the past four years.

"Everybody in life always wants to be the boss, and the CEO, the captain and the coach," Warinner said. "But you're not always going to be that, so you better relish in the role and do it to the best of your ability. And he's done that better than anyone else."

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