When your first career sack comes in the second half of your senior season, you tend to treasure the moment. Fortunately, Paddy Mullen has been treasuring his time at Notre Dame since he was first recruited to play for the Irish.
The senior was recruited out of DeSmet Jesuit H.S. in St. Louis as a defensive end who could play some tight end as well by recruiting coordinator and receivers coach Rob Ianello.
"It was pretty cool," Mullen said of the recruiting experience. "It was a lifelong dream. Growing up Irish Catholic I've always been an Irish fan."
Once he arrived on campus and saw some of his teammates, Mullen's dream was in for a reality check.
"It was a bit of a shock. There is a change from high school, from being the man and coming here where everybody was the man," he said. "Everybody could play."
The blue-collar Irish Catholic side of Mullen showed through quickly in how he approached the competition.
"[The competition within the team] is kind of a blessing at the same time," he said. "You push yourself even harder to stand out from the crowd."
Mullen did not see any game action in 2006, but in his sophomore campaign he played in three games. Mullen recorded a tackle in his first game on the field against Georgia Tech. By then he played exclusively on the defensive side of the ball, and last season the nose tackle played in 12 games as a large — literally and figuratively — part of Notre Dame's goal line defense.
"You have to be ready at all times [when seeing limited playing time]," Mullen said. "You kind of deal with it, fulfill your role and do what you can to be ready whenever the coach calls upon you."
This season Mullen's role has not changed much. He provides some depth on the Irish defensive line, and is ready whenever defensive line coach Randy Hart tells him to get in the game. Mullen played in the closing moments of Notre Dame's 40-14 victory over Washington State, and the former Morrissey Manor resident made the biggest play of his career on the final play of the game, sacking the Cougars quarterback for the first of his Irish career.
"[The sack] was pretty cool," he said. "It was another surreal moment. Everything moved so slow. I just kept thinking, ‘Just tackle him. Just tackle him. Don't miss him.'"
Mullen's teammates knew the significance of the moment, and paid him his due.
"I just soaked it up a bit," he said. "It was the last play, time ran out as I did it, so most of the guys were on the field. They congratulated me and I did my dance."
Mullen may have received some tips on dancing on the team's trip to Hawaii last December. More importantly, Mullen grew closer to teammates he now compares to brothers during the work-vacation.
"We practiced hard and we got to visit a few sites in Hawaii while we were there," he said. "It was a great bonding experience. I learned a lot about a lot of the guys on the team."
Not only did the Irish bond, but they broke a not-so-favorable bowl streak that had been hounding them for some time.
"Winning that game was a great thing," Mullen said. "Getting that bowl streak out of the way was pretty cool."
Though Hawaii was a good memory, other parts this senior class' tenure were not: Mullen and his classmates saw the Irish finish the year 3-9 in the 2007 season. Mullen possibly took as much away from that season as he did during the more pleasant 2008 season.
"As my father always told me, you never get too low when you're down, and you never get too high when you're up," Mullen said. "You just keep a level head and keep on plugging."
Mullen said plugging away for four years has benefited him already, and the four years aren't even over yet.
"You learn from anything. This whole experience, in the past four years, I have learned so much about myself … You have to take things away from it for life afterwards."
As that life afterwards approaches quickly, Mullen knows he will miss his teammates when this season finally ends.
"Oh yeah, [I'll miss] the locker room and the camaraderie as a team. I've grown to be pretty much brothers with some of the guys. It's going to be hard."
The familial feel extends past the locker room for this Irish Catholic though. He said he knows what separates Notre Dame from every other school, and knows he'll miss it more than anything else.
"It's the Notre Dame family, the tradition, the classmates. Just all the people and the family feel of this place."