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November 15, 2012

Captain Kap's last hurrah

The old man references never cease, although he insists teammate John Goodman is older.

His image as a 220-pound defensive end - four years and about 90 pounds ago - still circulates among inner-circle texts and tweets. Smiles come to the faces of those who are asked to reflect upon his impact.

A self-proclaimed unlikely captain of the 2012 Fighting Irish, fifth-year senior defensive end Kapron Lewis-Moore will ride off into the sunset from Notre Dame Stadium Saturday when he and a couple dozen other seniors and fifth-year seniors make their last home appearance.

He’ll be one of the most fondly remembered members of the 2012 squad.

“Old man Kap is beaten down sometimes, but he always seems to smile and try to uplift our team,” said Manti Te’o, who captains the ’12 Irish defense with Lewis-Moore. “Our team is better because Kap is a captain. I’m grateful that I have him by my side.”

The road to the top of the ladder among college football’s elite has been short a rung or two along the way for the 6-foot-4, 310-pounder from Weatherford, Texas, who says he wasn’t even aware of the fact that the Irish were a 3-9 football team when he signed his name on the dotted line to play for the Irish.

In fact, he wasn’t really sure where South Bend, Ind., or Notre Dame were back then. Back in the day, it was all about the Longhorns and Texas football.

But Lewis-Moore took the leap of faith, bought Charlie Weis’ recruiting pitch, and brought his undersized body up north, where he sat out his freshman year to throw some much-needed pounds on his frame. A year and some 50-plus pounds later, Lewis-Moore was in the starting lineup in 2009 for a 6-6 Irish club that was in its final year of the Weis regime.

Lewis-Moore would start all 13 games of his junior year - Brian Kelly’s first at Notre Dame - and was on a path for another clean sweep of starting assignments last year when he suffered a knee injury against USC that forced him to miss the final six games of the season.

Step by cautious step, he worked his way back into playing shape and assumed his starting right end spot with the Irish in 2012. He’ll be playing his 43rd game and making his 40th start Saturday against Wake Forest.

“I’ve seen this program just get better every year,” said Lewis-Moore, who graduated from the Mendoza College of Business and earned a degree in marketing last spring.

“I can remember my freshman year having snowballs thrown during the Syracuse game. The freshmen and sophomores on this team don’t remember that. But that’s something that me and DMac (Dan McCarthy) and Braxston (Cave) remember…It’s something you don’t forget about.

“It’s true, I actually didn’t know they were 3-9 (the year before arriving). I didn’t keep up with Notre Dame football while I was getting recruited. Coach Weis challenged us to be a part of the group to turn it around.”

The mission has been accomplished, and third-year Irish head coach Brian Kelly appreciates the role Lewis-Moore has played in the transformation.

“He’s been a better football player for us this year,” Kelly said. “He’s injury-free. He is an extremely productive player, is playing with a lot of energy, and has been a great leader for us.

“It’s night and day in my eyes as to his impact last year to this year. He’s one of the reasons we’re (undefeated).”

Lewis-Moore is having his most productive season in an Irish uniform with 4.5 of his career 10.5 sacks coming in 2012. He has formed a defensive line with players such as Louis Nix, Stephen Tuitt and Prince Shembo who have squashed Irish opponents, limiting them to just two rushing touchdowns and 3.2 yards per carry.

“I really didn’t envision it,” said Lewis-Moore of Notre Dame’s rise to the No. 1 scoring defense in the country.

The journey to this point is a bit mind boggling to Lewis-Moore, who came to Notre Dame unsure of what stood ahead for a kid from Texas. He’ll leave Notre Dame as a leader for one of the greatest Irish defenses in school history.

“From the people I’ve met, the relationships I’ve established, the ups and downs of my football career here…It’s incredible,” Lewis-Moore said. “I really didn’t know much about Notre Dame before I got here.

“Once I got here, you learn everything. You slowly know about the history and Fr. Sorin and Knute Rockne. It’s kind of just put on you. The relationships and everybody I’ve met here are indescribable.”

So, too, is a season that has seen the Irish rise from mediocrity to among the nation’s leading contenders for a shot at the national championship. Meanwhile, Lewis-Moore overcame a knee injury and talk of a sophomore-to-be - at least before he transferred - who might beat him out for a starting job in 2012.

“I’m a competitor, I’m a fighter,” Lewis-Moore said. “No matter what the situation, I was just going to do my thing. But I know a lot of people counted me out and everybody was real high on whoever.

“But things happen and you can’t really dwell on the past. You’ve just got to look where you are right now.”

When Lewis-Moore heads through the tunnel as the seniors are announced Saturday, he’ll be greeted by his mother, Wanna Lewis, his best friend from back in Weatherford, and even one of his teachers from his high school days.

“It’s going to be special having her on the field,” said Lewis-Moore of his mother.

Te’o’s just happy he’ll have the “old man” by his side one last time in Notre Dame Stadium.

“He brings great energy, positive energy,” said Te’o of Lewis-Moore. “Kap is always positive. He’s always working hard. To have Kap on the d-line and being that anchor definitely has made our defense better and has made my job a lot easier.”

Lewis-Moore - captain Kapron Lewis-Moore - insists he won’t let emotions get in the way of the job Saturday.

“Wake Forest is the next game at hand, so we have to take care of business,” Lewis-Moore said. “I honestly don’t think I’ll get emotional, so hopefully nobody catches me on camera crying. At the end of the day, we’ve got a game to play and we’ve got to take care of business. The very last game of the season will be when it hits me.

“This is going to be fun. Running out on that field one more time, playing with my bro’s, having my mom, family and friends out there…It’s pretty incredible.”

So, too, is an undersized Texan’s journey to northern Indiana and Notre Dame’s ascension among the nation’s elite.

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