FOOTBALL

Blue-Gold catch starts final run for Notre Dame OT Ronnie Stanley

Mike Vorel
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND — There are two dominant stories on why Ronnie Stanley came back.

The real one, and the joke.

The latter played out in all its comic glory on Saturday, when Stanley  Notre Dame's senior left tackle  lined up in his usual spot on Everett Golson’s blind side, ready to fulfill his considerable athletic potential. When Golson took the shotgun snap, Stanley drifted off the line of scrimmage, like an enormous island detached from the mainland. Golson rolled to his right, then spun and passed back to the waiting Stanley, who swallowed the ball in his massive mitts and turned upfield.

For the first time since high school, the nearly 6-foot-6, 315-pound colossus was rumbling, cutting outside a block and dancing along the sideline. The future first-round NFL Draft pick was a ball of furious, violent motion — a tornado set on destruction.

And Cole Luke was in his path.

At the end of his strangely beautiful 14-yard journey, Stanley barreled through the 190-pound cornerback with all the force of a double-decker bus viciously plowing into a Mini Cooper.

It was a highlight in a scrimmage packed with them. And it could have been so much more.

“It’s a guaranteed first down, I’ll give you that,” Stanley said with a grin. “It’s a 50 percent touchdown each time, too. Next time, I’ll score.”

@TJamesNDI@ronnie_stanley Here's all of my frames from the play compiled into a gif! (25 photos at 10fps) pic.twitter.com/hDcJURmTuR

— Robert Franklin (@TheRobFranklin) April 19, 2015//

Ronnie’s rumble was the final play of the first half, which was fitting.

What could possibly have followed that?

“The only way he was going to come back for a (fourth) year was if I put that play in,” Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said dryly after the conclusion of the Blue-Gold game. “That was the sealer. As we were going back and forth on academics, and he was really committed to coming back to Notre Dame for a lot of reasons, but the No. 1 reason for him coming back was to get that football today.”

Kelly paused, perhaps waiting for laughs that never came. Then, he dropped the charade.

“I'm kidding.”

Of course, Stanley turned down an immediate NFL future for more than a single play. And he didn’t just do it to improve his physical consistency, either, though he certainly hopes that another year of work will silence the occasional doubter.

In the end, Stanley came back for the words tattooed onto his chest.

ND.

Family.

“I knew that we had a chance to be something special,” Stanley said. “I didn’t want to be that guy that left without any closure. It’s definitely a personal decision I made, and I think it was a good decision.”

And so, here he is  blocking, leading, and somehow, catching and running. The guy who has started 26 consecutive games understands that he has, at most, 14 more. Suddenly, he’s staring at the end of his college career, and a non-negotiable expiration date.

Every day, Stanley crosses off new lasts.

Last winter conditioning.

Last Blue-Gold game.

Soon, last season.

That finality drives the offensive tackle  and occasional wide receiver  to take advantage of everything he has, while he has it.

“It’s definitely the biggest motivation, knowing that this is the end,” he said. “I think that’s why seniors are always playing their best ball in their senior year. They know that it’s coming to an end.

“When you’re younger, you really don’t understand.”

So, don’t be surprised when Stanley rumbles into the open field, and savors every step. Don’t think twice when the seasoned senior leads an offensive line that seems ever-more-likely to be the strength of a lethal offense. Don’t question why an NFL lock chose one more run at a national championship over the promise of what’s to come.

On Saturday, with the ball in his hands, Ronnie Stanley was exactly where he wanted to be.

“When I came here, I knew that this place was going to be big for whatever I did in the future,” Stanley said. “Just having that name, Notre Dame, tied to you is something that a lot of people wish they had tied to them.

“It’s definitely a positive brand, and I wanted to be part of it.”

mvorel@ndinsider.com

574-235-6428

Twitter: @mikevorel

Notre Dame defensive lineman Ronnie Stanley (78) picks up yards as he finds an open route during Notre Dame's Blue-Gold spring football game on Saturday, April 18, 2015, at the LaBar Practice Complex on the campus of the University of Notre Dame in South Bend. SBT Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN
Notre Dame defensive lineman Ronnie Stanley (78) picks up yards before being brought down by Cole Luke (36) during Notre Dame's Blue-Gold spring football game on Saturday, April 18, 2015, at the LaBar Practice Complex on the campus of the University of Notre Dame in South Bend. SBT Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN
Notre Dame defensive lineman Ronnie Stanley (78) picks up yards before being brought down by Cole Luke (36) during Notre Dame's Blue-Gold spring football game on Saturday, April 18, 2015, at the LaBar Practice Complex on the campus of the University of Notre Dame in South Bend. SBT Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN