WOPU Lessons Learned

Former walk-ons share what they learned from their experience at Notre Dame.

  • Matt Bushland

    Other people may not always respect your path or the role you play, but that should never stop you from taking pride in the work you do and pursuing it passionately. Whether it’s sports, work, or my personal life, being a walk-on taught me to stay true to who I am even in the face of skepticism or ridicule. 

  • Marquis Dickerson

    The greatest lesson that has carried over from WOPU nation to my career has to be the ability to bring sustained tenacity day after day. My time as a walk on fanned a flame of intensity and competitiveness that burns regardless of circumstance. That has greatly contributed to me establishing myself as one of the more successful young leaders within my company.

  • Jimmy Thompson

    As a walk-on, you quickly realize talent won’t separate you. What will separate you is the passion you bring everyday for your teammates and the humility to take on the thankless jobs.

    WOPU is built up of passionate, humble guys who just love Notre Dame. That passion and humility gave us more opportunities than our talent ever could have in college, just as I anticipate it will continue to down the road.

  • Cam Bryan

    It’s ok to screw up, just don’t screw up the same thing twice. In your first practice as a walk-on, you’re flying under the radar – trying not to get thrown on your ass or yelled at by the coaches. By your last practice, you understand both things are inevitable and neither bother you. You develop a thick skin that stays with you beyond Notre Dame. People ask if it was worth it and the answer is “yes” every single time. There is no feeling quite like running out of the tunnel at Notre Dame Stadium.

  • Chris Bury

    As a walk on at the University of Notre Dame, my biggest take away was how to make the most of an opportunity and maximize its potential. Having a position on this team allowed me to be surrounded by some of the greatest athletes in the world who helped me grow as a player and facilitate professional relationships within my field of study. From the outside the expectations are often set low for a walk on, but your ceiling becomes very high and by attacking it every day you can create a positive impact on your life and the life of others. By following this mindset throughout my life, I have been able to become the best version of myself on and off the field, and hopefully I will inspire others to do the same.

  • Keenan Centlivre

    An important perspective I gained from being a walk-on was to not let the environment I am surrounded in negatively impact my own self-view and determine what I am worth or who I may become. As a walk-on it's only too easy to be labeled as "not good enough" with a shallow cap put on your potential while at practice or in meetings. I fell victim to this from time to time throughout my first 3 of 4 years at Notre Dame. As a player however, as soon as you stepped out of the football facility, peers and faculty gave you the utmost respect on campus and thought extremely highly of you, perhaps even more so than other scholarship athletes. To refer to the expression, "beauty is in the eye of the beholder," it is important to step back and create an environment for yourself where you know your own potential and are confident in your skill set and capabilities. And always remember, life is so much bigger than football.

  • Brendan O'Connor

    Know your role: As a walk-on I wasn't always competing for a starting, or even back up spot.  My job was to go every play, every day on the scout team to help build my teammates up.  This has really hit home for me as a manager and now a President of a company.  Sometimes my role is to build up the people around me so they can execute and get the job done.  There is no "glory" in that, but that is what is needed for my team/company to be successful.

    Nothing Beats Hard Work: As a walk-on you had to work for everything you got. The effort was always worth the reward. In my engineering/business career someone is always looking to optimize or automate a process or task. Sometimes it's easier to just roll up your sleeve and do the grunt work. In many cases we can get the task done quicker by just diving in and putting the work. Hard work will always lead to results.

  • Michael O'Hara

    If you’re fortunate enough to play on the Notre Dame football team, you were probably the best, or one of the best, athletes on your high school team. And despite entering as a walk-on, you’re accustomed to that reality. 

    However, there is all of a sudden a tidal shift from the top of the heap, to suddenly being bottom of the barrel.  This is a new view of the world from the bottom rung, the back of the pack, or more applicable...the sidelines! 

    Along with this new sense of humility, there is a great lesson in empathy.  Despite different levels of status, responsibly or skill, the jigsaw puzzle which makes up a team is never compete if you’re missing just one piece. Regardless if it’s a football team or a company, each member is a valuable resource and required to produce the best product on game day. 

  • Hunter Smith

    Being a walk-on on the Notre Dame football team felt like a huge honor, like I was given this chance to be a part of something so much bigger than myself. But, I also felt like I had to work harder and put in more time than everyone else while relying on my teammates to prove that I was meant to be there. As I began medical school, I had a similar feeling that I didn’t belong, that I didn’t know enough, like I was a fraud, but I harkened back to my time as a walk-on and kept plugging along, studying every day. I soon overcame this imposter syndrome and felt welcomed by the medical community while making some amazing friends along the way. The guys I met on the football team will always be some of my best friends and biggest supports with a unique shared experience, and I learned I need those type of people in every facet of my life because being a part of a team brings me more strength than anything I can do alone.

  • Art Martinez

    Being a walk-on at ND taught me patience and the importance of knowing and owning one's role within a team, most importantly when it is not consistent with what you have in mind. This has helped me to delay gratification for long-term career success. In my case specifically as a finance professional, over the course of the past few years I chose not to accept job offers with smaller firms which offered more compensation and quicker visibility. These came at a time when I did not think I was receiving the recognition or opportunities I thought I deserved, which made them that much more challenging to decline. The patience ended up paying dividends later on, but at the time it was difficult to foresee. The same patience, consistency, and team mentality I applied on a daily basis as a walk-on is what I am applying as an M&A Diligence professional at Ernst and Young and so far it seems to be working out!  Hopefully it continues to do so!

  • Austin Webster

    I learned an immense amount from my time as a walk-on at the University of Notre Dame, but one of the most important lessons I learned was how to relentlessly pursue something you are passionate about. The life of a walk-on is not a glamorous one; you are at the bottom of the totem pole and are rarely recognized. In order to chase after a goal, whether it be to see some action on game day or to make the travel squad or to earn a scholarship, you have to continue to grind and work tremendously hard when no one else is expecting you to. My time as a walk-on taught me how to motivate myself to get up every morning and do the hard things that no one else wanted to do in order to get better everyday. That is a lesson I have already used to help further my professional life, where I graduated as a Finance major, decided to essentially start from scratch and pursue a discipline that I had no prior experience in, medicine, and work hard until I was blessed with starting medical school at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine this August. 

  • Brandon Hutson

    Being a walk-on requires a resilient spirit, and it is not something that can be developed overnight. Being able to push back against all the forces working against you time and time again is what makes us who we are, eventually getting to the point where nothing can discourage our belief in ourselves. Carrying this resilient attitude with me after my time as a walk-on has helped me maintain the belief that I, and anyone else, can live a successful and fulfilling life if they are able to put in the work and take the hits that will come along with it.

    Also, mental reps. Being able to think back on a day or plan ahead on how to handle a countless variety of situations that the next day of work can hold has been surprisingly useful in my current role as a District Manager. Glad I was able to get so many in during my time at ND!

  • Andrew Dempsey

    Biggest thing I have learned is resiliency. Knock me down, but I keep getting up.  Also, being part of something bigger than myself. I boxed at ND. It takes courage to walk in the ring or on the mat as a boxer or a wrestler, but that is all about you. Only in a team sport like football do you learn about how it takes a team to win at anything in life. Take that to the next level where you learn to win at practice, knowing that you will help the team get better. The first team can’t practice against air.  I had to play scout team center my 5th year as there were not enough scholarship lineman to go against the first team D-Line. So I did what was necessary so that Lance Legree could get better. I battled him in practice all year every play.  The guy played in the NFL. I loved playing DL on scout D. I had the hope of getting some playing time and traveling with the team. Going to scout offense was saying that I was willing to give up my chance to play DL that year for the betterment of the team. I did so willingly. It was my role to play. I was rewarded by getting to travel to USC and see my family in Southern California for my last regular season game. Getting to stay in the fancy hotel, go to the alumni banquets, seeing all my family and friends in the stands. I was like a kid at Christmas. It was a long year on scout offense for this defensive lineman, but it had to be done. 

  • Chris Leck

    I would say my experience as a walk-on strengthened my ability to persevere.  Like many of the walk-ons, we starred on our high school sports teams and we were not only used to getting a lot of playing time, but being the best player on the field.  Of course, Div.1 football is a different beast and making the team was the first hurdle to overcome.  Each year the pressure to earn playing time became stronger and each passing game where the goal was not achieved marked another missed opportunity.  Two-thirds through my senior season, I blocked 3 punts in one practice but still wasn't selected to play that week.  I ultimately succumbed to the pain in my lumbar spine and an MRI revealed 2 herniated discs.  Only hours after I was declared medically ineligible, the special teams coach was looking for me in the locker room.  He was coming to tell me I was traveling to Pittsburgh and would play on the punt return team.  I quickly chased down Coach Rosburg to check in with him.  By the time I ran him down he had learned that I was medically ineligible and nothing I could say would change his mind.  Should I have persevered for another day?  Would my back be permanently damaged if I would have played against Pitt?  I will never know, but perseverance is a lesson that will always stick with me from my walk-on experience.  

  • Justin Meko

    Early in my Walk On experience I didn’t make the dress list for a home game. I was devastated. I took an extra long route back to my dormitory. I spent the extra time on my bicycle rehearsing how I was going to tell my Dad I was going to quit. When I arrived at my dorm room I immediately picked up the phone and called home. I didn’t take a breath as I rattled off all the reasons I was going to quit. I’m confident my Father had never heard such defeatist language come from my mouth. He took it all in and shared, “Not a problem. Your Mother and I love you unconditionally.” This was going far smoother than I could have anticipated and then came his proverbial ‘mic drop’ as millennials like to call it, “I just have never known a Meko to quit before and I didn’t think you’d be the first.” In that moment he placed the weight of the family name on my shoulders. His words caused me to reflect on the challenges my family members had faced over time to include combat military service. In the midst of personal adversity and challenges, they did not fold, they did not quit, they persevered. 

    I returned to practice the next day with an adjusted attitude. I had spent the night reflecting on the fact that at that time my two Brothers were serving in the 82nd Airborne prepared to go wherever called upon in defense of these United States of America and I was upset about not dressing for a game. I no longer took for granted the opportunity I had long dreamt about and earned. The next three years were filled with constant challenges and a tremendous amount of sacrifice, but nothing a couple of trips to the Grotto couldn’t solve. I was also able to enjoy several once in a lifetime experiences that I’ll cherish forever. Experiences I would not have had if I would have cowardly walked away.

    The lesson I learned about perseverance as a Walk On at Our Lady’s University continues to serve me well today. Life and time have taught me that adversity is ever present and the desire to persevere must be too. Most importantly when one of my children call me one day to tell me he or she is going to quit something I know exactly how I’m going to respond. I’ll sit up, take a breath and talk about a life changing experience I had as a student athlete at a small Catholic school nestled away in Northwest Indiana on the south bend of the Saint Joseph’s River.