Walk-ons don’t typically break a program, but they certainly can make it. Just ask Clemson.
Wide receiver Hunter Renfrow arrived at Clemson in 2014 an unknown in the college football world. Two and a half years later he will forever be etched in Clemson lore after catching the game-winning touchdown to win the program’s first national championship in over 30 years.
And it goes without saying when mentioning walk-ons and Notre Dame.
The Irish will welcome in its latest batch of walk-ons to the program this summer including West Des Moines (Iowa) Valley defensive back John Mahoney, who was named first-team all-state in Class 4A.
“Having the opportunity to play at arguably the most storied college football team in America is an indescribably awesome opportunity,” Mahoney said. “I've always dreamt of playing at the highest level and it doesn't get any more prestigious than Notre Dame.
“The football is unmatched, the academics are top notch, and the campus and religious component are totally unique to Notre Dame and can't be found anywhere else.”
The 6-foot, 198-pound Mahoney decided to enroll at Notre Dame as a preferred walk-on over scholarship offers from Minnesota State, Colgate and Drake. He took visits to Notre Dame, Princeton, Drake, Iowa State, Minnesota State, Cornell and Colgate.
“It was a difficult decision,” Mahoney said. “But after taking my visits, it was clear to me that Notre Dame was the right place for me as not only an athlete but as a student and person as well.
“I was first approached by the staff at Notre Dame in mid-November. At the time, I wasn't sure what my ultimate destination would be, but I was taken by surprise and very excited when they took an interest in me.”
Mahoney visited South Bend Jan. 21 and it was then he knew he couldn’t pass up attending Notre Dame.
“It was an awesome visit,” Mahoney said. “But the highlights were my conversations with Coach [Brian] Kelly and Coach [Brian] Polian. They really helped me envision my future as a Notre Dame football player.
The plan for Mahoney on the field was also a topic of discussion while he was in South Bend.
“The majority of my discussion with the staff at Notre Dame on my visit revolved around my ability to contribute on special teams,” Mahoney said. “That was where they saw me contributing early in my career.
“Playing and contributing at safety was also discussed, but that would obviously come later in my career. I would describe myself as a player who plays hard on every play, can run, and isn't afraid to hit.”
Mahoney is one of six walk-ons expected to join the Irish program this summer.
“My goals as a player at Notre Dame are to maximize my potential and contribute to the win-loss record of the team, however that may be,” Mahoney added.