Anthony Rabasa, a 6-foot-3, 240-pound Cat linebacker/defensive end from Miami, is just getting started at Notre Dame, despite the fact he’ll be a junior academically this fall when the Irish embark upon the 2013 season.
Rabasa is just now getting out of the starting gate after suffering a right shoulder injury during his freshman season that required surgery and slowed his progress as he tried to add size to his “tweener” frame.
A pass-rushing defensive end by trade, Rabasa also has taken reps at the Cat linebacker position, a spot that was occupied by Darius Fleming in 2011 and Prince Shembo in 2012. Fleming is gone, Shembo isn’t, and Kapron Lewis-Moore - a right defensive end - also is out of eligibility heading into the spring of ’13.
“I had surgery on my right shoulder during my freshman year,” Rabasa said. “Had it repaired and it’s been great since then. Haven’t had any problems.
“They (had) me moving around between Cat and defensive end,” added Rabasa, who saw action in two games this season (Boston College and Wake Forest). “They put me at d-end in nickel. Right now, I feel most comfortable when I’m playing end.”
It was predominately at defensive end that Rabasa made a name for himself at Christopher Columbus High School in Miami, where his performance earned him the No. 11 weakside end designation from Rivals.
But it’s been an uphill battle since then. Now that Lewis-Moore is gone, Rabasa has an opportunity to contend for the right defensive end spot. But he’ll have to battle young and generally larger talent such as Sheldon Day, Chase Hounshell, Tony Springmann (who also plays the nose) and Jarron Jones (another interior defensive lineman last fall). Incoming freshman Isaac Rochell will join the defensive end crew this summer.
It’s less crowded but just as competitive at Cat linebacker where Shembo returns for his senior season, and Ishaq Williams and Romeo Okwara move up in the competition. Incoming freshman Doug Randolph will be added to the mix this summer.
“It’s not going to be easy, but I’m looking forward to competing,” Rabasa said. “It’s been a blessing just to be a part of this team and to be able to contribute as much as I can.
“The (national title week/game is) a once in a lifetime experience. Who knows if I’ll have that chance again while I’m playing in college. I’m just taking it all in and learning from all the older guys. Obviously, they set the foundation for where we’re at. I’m just lucky to be part of it.”
Rabasa believes he knows what it takes to emerge at the front end of the depth chart.
“You look at the guys who (were) out there, Kapron and Manti (Te’o) and the starters, and you see their work ethic and see what they do day-in and day-out,” Rabasa said. “They’re constantly pushing and working for their teammates.”
“Definitely Kapron,” said Rabasa when asked which players were the greatest influence on him the last two years. “He’s definitely been a guy who’s showed what to do and what not to do. He’s taken care of me ever since I’ve been here.”
Regardless how the next two-to-three years play out, Rabasa says he’ll always look back on his Notre Dame experience and value the opportunity.
“When you first get to Notre Dame, you’re an 18-year old kid and as time goes on, it makes you into a man,” Rabasa said. “There are certain things you gain from being at Notre Dame that you probably wouldn’t get at another university.
“The experiences and the challenges it brings you from being at that school definitely helps you grow into a man and helps you with life after football.”