Notebook: Foley sees tools for academic success at Notre Dame

Eric Hansen
South Bend Tribune

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SOUTH BEND — John Foley’s heart gets heavy when he thinks about Notre Dame’s ongoing academic fraud investigation and the five Irish football players stuck inside of it.

“I don’t even know exactly what happened, and it upsets me,” the former Notre Dame phenom said Friday night during a reunion of coach Lou Holtz Era players on the eve of Notre Dame's 31-0 win over Michigan.

For the second straight game, Saturday night against Michigan, starting cornerback KeiVarae Russell, defensive end Ishaq Williams, wide receiver DaVaris Daniels along with defensive reserves Kendall Moore and Eilar Hardy were presumably in the stands watching instead of on the field with their teammates.

Whatever happens moving forward, whatever the now 41-day-old investigation and its hearings unearth, Foley said the pressure to compete academically with a gifted student body and then throwing the demands of football on top of it was and still is very real.

But just as real are the legitimate avenues to transcend it all, he insists.

Foley should know.

The former USA Today High School Defensive Player of the Year came to Notre Dame in the fall of 1986 branded as a Proposition 48 casualty. Foley, quarterback Tony Rice and men’s basketball player Keith Robinson are the only three Prop 48 student-athletes Notre Dame ever admitted.

It was the first year for the then-controversial new NCAA rule that sequestered athletes from games and practices for their freshman years after not measuring up to the new guidelines regarding core curriculum, grade-point average and standardized test scores. And they could never recoup that year as a redshirt year, even if they ended up shining in the classroom.

An unintended consequence of Prop 48 was the stigma the players were stung by as less than worthy to be present at the school, and that was somewhat universal at other universities.

“When I showed up, I felt like I was the most hated person on campus,” said Foley, a Chicago St. Rita High product regarded as the nation’s premier linebacker prospect in his class.

“I literally cried for the first two or three months that I was at Notre Dame. But the one thing I learned, I used to sit in the front of the class, in front of the teacher. All my classes, front row, in front of the teacher.

“And the reason I did that is because I was so intimidated by the smart kids behind me. Plus, I didn’t want to miss anything, I learned through listening. I’m very dyslexic. It came out when I was a freshman, that I’m dyslexic. I had a very difficult time reading.”

Today Foley is a big name in the financial world, a partner in the Chicago firm Barrington Research. His football career ended after 27 minutes and eight seconds of cameos, all during his sophomore year, 1987. Injuries made it so there was never a comeback on the field.

But there were plenty of triumphs off it, and that continues today.

“I think the reason why I’ve done so well outside in the real world, in the financial business, because I’m not afraid to ask the questions and get in front of people,” Foley said. “And that’s the way I was at Notre Dame. If I had a question, I wasn’t afraid to call tutors at 1, 2, 3 in the morning.

“Notre Dame gave me all the tools, but if you’re not going to use the tools, you’re not going to be successful.”

Foley said it wasn’t just the classes he took, but the values he learned at Notre Dame. But it started with his own first step into integrity.

“When I was being recruited, one school offered me $100,000,” he said. “My dad’s a beer driver. We had five kids in a three-bedroom apartment. We all slept in the summers in this one room with the one air conditioner.

“Lou Holtz came to me and said, ‘You’re going to come to Notre Dame, but if you get hurt, what are you going to do for a living? And I laughed at him, because I was 6-4, 240, ran a 4.52. I had all the tools to go pro.

“He kept saying that to me. I looked at my parents, and said ‘What do you think?’ They said, ‘Makes sense.’ So I committed and canceled all my trips. So the kids, when they come to Notre Dame, they have to realize that they have to be committed to academics more than athletics, because this school is about academics.”

But by his own admission, Foley was far from perfect.

“I did some stupid things in high school and I did some stupid things in college,” he said. “I made mistakes. Everybody makes mistakes, and that’s why I’m pulling for these guys.

“If I could give them one piece of advice when this is all over, it would be to just brush this off, don’t let people bother them, focus on their school then move forward, move forward, move forward. Because if they keep thinking about this, they’re going to give it another life.

“I just hope they learn from this.”

Personnel matters

• Sidelined safety Austin Collinsworth is still wearing a brace on his right leg, missing his second straight start with an MCL injury in his knee.

• Freshman defense end/outside linebacker Kolin Hill made his collegiate debut during Michigan’s first offensive drive of the game.

• Sophomore linebacker Doug Randolph made his ND debut in the first quarter.

Family tradition?

A week before Notre Dame takes on in-state rival Purdue, the son of a former Notre Dame quarterback helped make life miserable for the Boilermakers.

Redshirt sophomore wide receiver Anthony Rice had two receptions for 66 yards and his first collegiate touchdown Saturday afternoon in a 38-17 rout of Purdue in West Lafayette, Ind.

The son of former Irish QB standout Tony Rice and a Mishawaka Marian High grad now has five catches for 81 yards this season after amassing eight for 67 in an injury-shortened season in 2013.

The Rices together are now 4-0 against Purdue, with Tony having recorded victories over the Boilers in 1987, 1989 and during the national championship run in 1988.

Scouts’ honor

Reps for six NFL teams were on hand for Saturday’s ND-Michigan game — Atlanta, Arizona, Buffalo, Philadelphia, San Diego and San Francisco.

Squibs

• Notre Dame sophomore linebacker Jaylon Smith had more tackles Saturday in the first quarter (4) than he did in his entire debut at weakside linebacker last Saturday against Rice (3).

• Purdue safety Frankie Williams was ejected for targeting during Purdue’s 38-17 loss to Central Michigan on Saturday. Because the penalty occurred in the first half, it will not affect Williams’ availability for the Notre Dame game next Saturday.

ehansen@ndinsider.com | 574-235-6112

Notre Dame's Will Fuller celebrates after scoring a touchdown during the Notre Dame-Michigan game on Saturday, Sept. 6, 2014, at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend. SBT Photo/SANTIAGO FLORES