Sharpley: Understanding the psyche of a Notre Dame player

Evan Sharpley
ND Insider Correspondent

The University of Notre Dame once again claimed the national championship for graduating student-athletes in all sports — in the process posting the top NCAA Graduation Success Rate (GSR) figure (99) for its student-athletes for the eighth straight year. I am extremely proud to have completed my education at a university that prides itself in the graduation success of student-athletes.

In the fall of 2009, I completed my Bachelor of Arts in History while obtaining an Indiana state teaching license from Saint Mary’s College. One might say I have a passion for understanding and appreciating the past in order to educate the present and prepare for the future. Prior to being enrolled in the College of Arts and Letters, I was a finance major in the Mendoza College of Business so, yes, I know the importance of numbers.

Aside from academia, I know all too well the psyche of Notre Dame football players. In this light, I will present to you an inside look into the brain of the current Irish squad by allowing you access into my brain, how I reconciled and moved past emotional losses. To gain even more insight, we will take a historical perspective. While down memory lane, I will present several numbers, in the form of Irish victories, which should excite any Irish fan as November begins.

Losing is the worst. Athletes play sports to win. Having fun is a byproduct of winning. There is nothing fun about losing. Especially when the loss occurs in a gut-wrenching, heart-breaking fashion. The young men of the 2014 Fighting Irish football team went toe-to-toe with the defending national champions and proved to the nation that Notre Dame is to be reckoned with. Yet, it still ended in a loss. There are no moral victories in college football. Notre Dame doesn't get a medal or participation ribbon for their efforts at Doak Campbell Stadium. Rather, an unblemished record is no more.

The post-Florida State game “Pick Play” theories, judgments and analyses abound plenty. Frustration correctly describes my feelings. I watched and re-watched over and over to gain a better understanding of the call.

Trips Bunch, the formation Notre Dame was in, presents defenses with a great challenge when inside the 10-yard line. Natural picks occur almost seamlessly when defenses are in man coverage because space is so limited. Hence, this is the reason why most defenses check to zone coverage when a trips bunch set occurs.

Of course, Florida State did not check into zone, begging Notre Dame to score an easy touchdown. Which they did. Twice. Regardless of any contact made, whether it was by a Notre Dame receiver or by a Florida State defensive back, no one would be near Corey Robinson because of the poor choice of coverage. Elevating my frustration even more is the fact that this exact play resulted in an earlier score for the Irish, once again with Florida State playing man-to-man rather than zone. Contact is bound to happen on these plays. Turn on any football game, and a plethora of “pick” plays take place.

For me, the ending of the Florida State game is all too familiar territory. Let me refresh your memory: The “Bush Push.”

I was a freshman at Notre Dame in 2005. We had a new coach, a new attitude, and a chip on our shoulder. In mid October, the University of Southern California came to Notre Dame Stadium to battle for the Jeweled Shillelagh.

The atmosphere that week was like nothing I had ever experienced. The hype leading up to the game was unmatched, including a visit from College GameDay. For every Irish fan, the conclusion of this game still causes angst. I had a front row seat for the event. I was stunned. The stadium, the players, the fans — no one knew how to react. There was a feeling that a victory was in our fingertips, yet it was stolen from us. Within a span of less than a minute I experienced the highest level of jubilation having thought we won the game, to the lowest level of frustration at the hands of defeat. As a player, this is the ultimate low. We gave our all on that field in 2005, yet had nothing to show for it as the clock hit zeroes.

There are no words that can express how demoralizing a loss like UCS 2005 and FSU 2014 can be for a team. Moments like these define the type of team as it moves forward. The coaching staff and the leaders on the team present a question to everyone, “ How will you respond?”

This loss can send a team in a downward spiral or it can be a rallying cry that brings a team even closer together. For the 2005 team, we went on to win our last five regular season games: BYU (49-23), Tennessee (41-21), Navy (42-21), Syracuse (34-10) and Stanford (38-31). Adversity has the ability to truly shape us and make us even stronger than we were prior.

It is during the most challenging of times that the most growth occurs. How will the 2014 Irish respond? The journey begins Saturday against the Midshipmen. Go Irish!

In addition to his weekly column, former Notre Dame quarterback Evan Sharpley previews upcoming games each Friday at 7:50 a.m. on WSBT's JT in the Morning Show (960 AM and 96.1 FM). On Mondays, Sharpley co-hosts WSBT's Notre Dame Football Final, which airs from 9-10 a.m. He'll also be an occasional contributor to WSBT's Weekday SportsBeat and Gameday SportsBeat radio programs. Sharpley owns and operates Sharpley Training in Mishawaka.

Notre Dame players walk off the field following the 31-27 loss to Florida State on Saturday, Oct. 18, 2014, at Doak Campbell Stadium in Tallahassee, FL. SBT Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN