Title dream swayed Ronnie Stanley to stay at Notre Dame

Tyler James
South Bend Tribune

A one-word tweet described Ronnie Stanley’s feelings in early January: “Torn.”

The weight of his stay-or-go decision left Notre Dame’s left tackle in a state of uncertainty. Almost everyone had an opinion on what he should do.

“I saw and heard pretty much all of it,” Stanley said. “It was definitely hard to tune out.”

Irish head coach Brian Kelly gave his recruiting pitch. Zack Martin, who Stanley replaced at left tackle, shared stories of his experience at the end of his All-Pro rookie season with the Dallas Cowboys. The information was adding up, and Stanley’s parents played the biggest role in helping him sort through it all.

Then on January 13, Stanley announced his decision to return for his senior year at Notre Dame.

“I’m coming back. 1 year. 1 reason #Natty #ND,” Stanley tweeted.

Reflecting on his decision more than two months later, Stanley pointed again to a chase for a national championship as one of the biggest reasons for his return.

“I wouldn’t say there was a single tipping point,” Stanley said Friday after the sixth practice of the spring. “The most influential point was probably watching the national championship game and really being kind of jealous of not being at that top stage or where I want to be.”

Stanley, who said he received a second-round grade from the NFL Draft advisory board, has a chance to be a first-round pick with a strong senior season. The 6-foot-6, 315-pound native of Las Vegas will enter the 2015 campaign as a starter for the third straight year.

After starting all 13 games as a sophomore at right tackle, Stanley flipped over to the left side in 2014 to replace Martin. He proved up to the task by allowing just one sack and tallying 16 knockdown blocks in another 13 starts. His athleticism is a big part of what’s made him a successful college lineman and a promising pro prospect.

Stanley is satisfied with his decision but isn’t afraid to admit that it wasn’t easy.

“I feel at peace right now with the decision I made,” Stanley said. “It definitely took some time. I was torn at a point where I just didn’t know where I wanted to go. I thought I did at a point. Then I had second thoughts about it. It was just an ongoing process of me looking at myself in the mirror and asking myself what I really wanted to do.”

Committed to chasing a national championship, Stanley has taken more of a leadership role in the offseason and in spring practice. Keeping the offense moving in the right direction with confidence is one of the areas Stanley said he can help his team.

“He’s been more vocal, more engaged, more communicative in the sense that he’ll come to me now and say, ‘Coach, can we look at doing something like this as a team?’” Kelly said. “I think he feels like he’s more part of it and has more of a say in what goes on.”

Defensive tackle Sheldon Day also made the same decision to return for his senior season. The two will be the anchors up front for Notre Dame. If the Irish are to make a serious run at the College Football Playoff, they will likely play large roles.

“They carry a lot of the confidence with them because they know what they’re capable of, and they know what this football team can do if it continues to grow,” Kelly said of Stanley and Day. “I think that permeates the rest of the group. That’s why those guys are leaders.”

For Stanley, that means not being shy about admitting his goal. He might not be back at Notre Dame if he didn’t think it was possible.

“We’re capable of being the No. 1 team in the nation, for sure,” Staney said. “We expect nothing less.”

tjames@ndinsider.com | 574-235-6214 | Twitter: @TJamesNDI

Notre Dame's Steve Elmer (79) and Ronnie Stanley (78) walk off with the Music City Bowl trophy following the 31-28 vic­tory over LSU Tuesday in Nashville, Tenn. (SBT Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN)