When senior wide receiver Dan Franco was looking at colleges, he knew he wanted to play football at the Division I level. But for the Granger, Ind., native, playing at Notre Dame was always the ultimate goal.
"I was looking at a lot of different kinds of schools," Franco said. "I had a lot of offers from smaller schools, Division III schools, but I also had it in my head that I wanted to go to a Division I school because I want to see what I'm capable of and how I can compare against the best. And even if I'm not the best, I want to know if I could compete with the best."
In his first season with the Irish, Franco turned in a fine play in practice that proved he could compete with some of the nation's elite talent when he beat former Irish defensive back Raeshon McNeil for a touchdown in one-on-one drills at practice.
"Raeshon McNeil was our top cover corner at the time, and he came up expecting David Grimes and instead I show up," Franco said. "I look over and I'm like ‘I'm ready to go coach, what do you want?' and he looks at him, looks at me and says ‘[expletive] him, go run a go route.' So I get to the line, [Irish quarterback] Dayne [Crist] throws the ball, throws it deep, 40-yard touchdown pass. I caught it right at the end. The entire offense swarmed me."
A graduate of South Bend's Clay High School, Franco and his friends dreamed of one day suiting up for the Irish at Notre Dame Stadium while growing up in Michiana. He also has family ties to the school, as his mother graduated from the University with an engineering degree and his father is a psychologist on staff.
"I've been raised on Notre Dame ever since I was young," Franco said. "Me and all my friends had dreamt about putting on a gold helmet and the opportunity was there. I've really been working my entire life for this opportunity, and I've been fortunate enough to be a part of it."
Franco walked on for the Irish in the winter of 2008 after transferring from Indiana University South Bend, and he hasn't looked back since making the cut under former Irish coach Charlie Weis.
"I never doubted my decision," Franco said. "I knew from when I was younger if I could get myself an opportunity to go to Notre Dame and actually walk on the team that I was [going to] do everything I could."
Since arriving on campus, Franco has become close with his fellow walk-ons, and he says that he'll miss spending time with his fellow WOPU Nation colleagues once their playing days are over.
"We have a thing called WOPU Nation, which is what the walk-ons call ourselves — the Walk-On Players Union," Franco said. "These are the guys who when we first walked on, we're waking up at like 4:15 in the morning, going through this process five days a week. It was hell, and it was painful, and it was only for guys that really, really wanted it."
Franco, a psychology major, plans to graduate after this semester and will look to continue his studies in graduate school and work for a Ph.D. in psychology. He's mainly focused on social psychology and ultimately hopes to get into sports psychology.
"It's really something I've been interested in since I was like 10 years old, and I'm planning on going to grad school," Franco said. "I'm hoping to get into a Ph.D. program after the semester. It's always been a passion of mine."