Who is Notre Dame's newest rising walk-on, WR Chris Finke?
The question multiplies with each passing practice, as a player fans have never heard of wearing a number they don’t recognize wiggles around teammates with more accomplished resumes. Brian Kelly keeps attaching his name to new positions — first slot receiver, now punt returner.
His page on Notre Dame’s official website lists a name, height, weight and hometown, but lacks anything resembling a biography. His Rivals recruiting page provides more questions than answers; where his photograph should be, there’s only a lonely placeholder.
Position Ranking: N/A.
National Ranking: N/A.
State Ranking: N/A.
Commitment status: UNDECIDED.
And yet, here he is — catching passes and climbing the depth chart, one practice at a time.
So, who is Chris Finke? (And is it pronounced like “Fink,” or “Fink-E”?)
He’s Notre Dame’s newest rising walk-on, but he’s also a whole lot more.
Ask Ed Domsitz, and he’ll tell you that Finke is dedicated. The Archbishop Alter head coach launches into a well-worn story about two-a-day practices in the summer prior to Finke’s sophomore season. It was predictably muggy in Kettering, Ohio, the kind of humidity that makes your jersey stick to your pads and your passion melt into a puddle.
Not for Chris, though, and not for the team’s strong-willed senior quarterback — a lefty named Malik Zaire.
“Malik would go out to practice early and Chris would go out with him,” Domsitz recalled. “It would just be Malik throwing the ball to Chris Finke, the little sophomore. Malik said at that point that he thought Chris Finke was going to be a heck of a player.”
Four years later, Zaire is still throwing passes to Fink, who’s still a “little sophomore.” At 5-foot-10 and 175 pounds, he doesn’t look like much.
Take it from Notre Dame sophomore cornerback Nick Coleman, though:
Appearances can be deceiving.
“Chris is super shifty,” said Coleman, who lined up across from Finke every day as teammates at Alter. “Being a walk-on here, you don’t expect all that to come from one guy, but I think he’s one of the shiftiest guys on the team. I think he’s picking up the offense well. You see it every day. He’s making plays.”
Notre Dame provides the proof. Following each practice, the university’s video department cuts together a highlight package and disseminates it through social media. And most days, No. 27 makes the cut.
March 19: Finke takes an end-around toss from junior quarterback DeShone Kizer and scurries along the line, beating defenders to the edge and the open field.
March 21: Finke bolts past safety Avery Sebastian down the seam, snares a deep ball from Kizer in stride and bounds into the end zone.
April 2: Finke separates from a linebacker, centers under a lofting pass from Kizer, tip-toes along the sideline and crosses the goal line untouched.
April 9: Finke outruns cornerback Cole Luke and snatches a deep ball over his shoulder as he stretches over the pylon.
Throughout the course of the spring, Finke has made more than the occasional cameo. In fact, while sophomore C.J. Sanders recovers from a hip flexor injury, the walk-on receiver has also grown accustomed to returning punts.
“I’m really pleased with what he’s doing,” Kelly said. “He’s got really good speed. He was really good last camp, even as a true freshman, in fielding punts for us.”
Of course, that comes as no surprise to Domsitz. In Finke’s senior season at Alter High School, he returned six punts for touchdowns, setting a school record for return yards in the process.
“The mental side of returning punts is the most difficult thing to deal with as a coach,” Domsitz explained. “We can teach you the form. We can teach you steps. But it’s very difficult to get you mentally to bounce back if you let a mistake, which is usually a turnover, ruin your psyche.
“Chris is a smart, smart kid. Normally, if it was not a punt that was within his reach without extraordinary effort, he would let that go. But he did like to return ‘em. He’s got all those things. He’s got the vision. He’s got moves. He’s got the skills to do that.”
Finke also has the intelligence to adopt a myriad of positions. It’s why he effortlessly shifted from wide receiver to defensive back to returner at Alter, while also serving as the team’s No. 2 quarterback.
For Kelly, that luxury is refreshing.
For Domsitz, it got to be frustrating.
“I taught him his freshman year in World Studies,” Domsitz said. “He went through the entire semester and did not miss one question. That was spelling tests, that was unit tests. He never missed a question.
“It was sort of depressing,” he said with a laugh. “It got to a point where I was actually making an effort (to stump him), without damaging the other kids’ chances of doing well. I haven’t had too many kids in 40-some years like that.”
Notre Dame, on the other hand, has had more than a few walk-ons ascend through the ranks and steal the spotlight on Saturdays in the fall. Joe Schmidt was the last. Finke might be the next. There’s plenty to know about the sophomore slot receiver, such as the fact that his sister, Alex, stars as Cosette in the renowned musical “Les Miserables” on Broadway, or that his family has a pet bird named Chirpie (“He talked about the bird quite a bit,” Domsitz joked).
A photo posted by Christopher Finke (@finkemasterflex) on Jan 23, 2016 at 11:51am PST
But for now, start by learning his name: Chris Finke (pronounced like “Fink,” not “Fink-E”).
After all, in the next couple seasons, you may start hearing it a lot.