The dream of donning the gold and blue, running out of the tunnel and playing in Notre Dame Stadium usually begins at a very early age. Legendary games like the 1993 contest against No. 1 Florida State or the 1988 "Catholics vs. Convicts" battle against Miami foster the desire for an aspiring football player to lace up for the Irish.
But in Texas, the Big 12 reigns supreme, and for Irish senior defensive end Kapron Lewis-Moore, landing at Notre Dame was less of a dream-come-true story than a dream dashed.
"Being a Texas kid, your dream schools are Texas, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, [Texas] A&M — the Big 12. You kind of stay close to home," Lewis-Moore said. "I was actually committed to Texas A&M my senior year in high school."
A native of Weatherford, Texas, Lewis-Moore was recruited into the Aggie program by then-coach Dennis Franchione. But following Franchione's resignation and subsequent hiatus from college football, Lewis-Moore's college football career took an abrupt 180-degree turn.
"After he resigned after [the Aggies] upset Texas that year, I was kind of in a fluster, didn't know what I wanted to do," he said. "I wanted to talk to my mom, who didn't really have any idea how the recruiting process worked, so I de-committed from Texas A&M at the time, and that's when I took some trips."
Those trips included a recruiting visit to Colorado and, eventually, Notre Dame.
"I came up here, visited, loved the school, loved the people, even though it was like negative 10 [degrees] outside with the sun shining," Lewis-Moore said. "I still had a lot of fun."
Facing the prospects of harsh winters and a life away from home, Lewis-Moore's path took another 180 when he re-committed to Texas A&M. But after conversations with close family and friends, the recruit decided to take a leap of faith.
"My mom — she was happy for me — but at the same time challenged me to do something different with my life. She challenged me to get out of my comfort zone, and my mom being a schoolteacher, she had a real positive impact in my life. Academics was always first and I feel like Notre Dame's one of the best academic institutions in the country."
It seems Mom knows best, as in his fourth year as a member of the Irish, Lewis-Moore has emerged as a pivotal player on a defense that has bolstered the Irish following a disappointing 0-2 start.
In addition to his contribution on the field, Lewis-Moore has accepted his mother's challenge both in the classroom and in the locker room. Irish defensive coordinator Bob Diaco hails the senior as one of the key members of the entire football organization.
"I would say that [Kapron] understands his place on the team as a leader and a starter," Diaco said. "He doesn't have any feeling of being threatened by anyone else. He understands how important he is to the organization and how much value he has in the organization."
After redshirting during his freshman year, Lewis-Moore earned his first start against Michigan State in 2009 in what turned out to be a thrilling victory for Notre Dame. Then-senior Kyle McCarthy intercepted a pass late in the fourth quarter, as the Irish defense came through to seal a 33-30 win.
"It was a lot of fun, but I was nervous too," Lewis-Moore said. "Running out there, 81,000 people screaming, your mind's going 100 miles an hour. I had a lot of fun, I enjoyed it and it's something I will never forget."
While walking out of the tunnel has become "old hat" for the senior, he admitted he still feels the goose bumps every time he walks onto the field. But in between the whistles, Lewis-Moore has been playing with a renewed focus as part of a core defensive line that held Purdue to just 84 rushing yards in Notre Dame's 38-10 victory last Saturday.
Lewis-Moore leads the line with 10 unassisted tackles, three for a loss, and a forced fumble this season.
"He's 290-plus pounds, and he moves like a guy who is 245, 250 pounds," Irish coach Brian Kelly said. "Quick feet plus his size give him the ability to do really good things."
Lewis-Moore and the Irish face one of their staunchest tests of the season against the prolific Air Force offense this Saturday. That challenge becomes even more difficult following an ankle injury to senior defensive end Ethan Johnson, Lewis-Moore's partner on the line.
Lewis-Moore said the two senior ends have developed a close friendship over the years, barring a minor setback.
"Ethan's a great guy, I love him," Lewis-Moore said. "Except one year, when he changed his number to 90 when he was nine. We've always bonded, but he was always on the other side of the locker, I was right here. When he changed his number, that's when we really started to [develop] a great bond."
Lewis-Moore's roommate and close friend, senior linebacker Darius Fleming said the senior is well-equipped to handle the load Saturday.
"Kap's been a leader all year, he's been doing an awesome job," he said. "Kap will be fine in that role picking up for Ethan and just carrying that D-line. That's one of my best friends. He's a character. He's funny. He's a tough kid. No one dislikes Kap."
That includes a talented duo of Irish freshmen in Aaron Lynch and Stephon Tuitt, who have slowly worked their way into the Irish rotation. Lewis-Moore has embraced the additional role of mentor for the rookies, whose development can be attributed in part to the unofficial coaching of the senior defensive end.
"He understands that these guys are going to help us be successful, so he's doing everything that he can to help them with film study, with things on the field, off the field — just being that mentor for them," Fleming said. "He's not letting the fact that they're battling for his position get into his head. He's just being the leader that he is ... At times, I look up to him."
Lewis-Moore credits the freshmen for adapting quickly to the intensity of the college game, allowing him to take a less hands-on approach and letting the freshmen develop into their own style.
"They came in and they responded well," he said. "It's not so much teaching. You can explain running down the tunnel, being at Notre Dame — how awesome it is. You're always under the microscope, always on the big stage … Playing in big games, I think they kind of feel for themselves that this is a great institution."
But the mentor admits he still has room for improvement before his final year of eligibility in 2012. Diaco said he expects Lewis-Moore's continued progression to pay dividends this season and into the future.
"Tangibly, he's going to get bigger, faster, stronger. Cardiovascularly, he's going to be able to play harder longer. He can play a lot harder longer than he could a year ago, and it's only going to continue to improve. Mentally, he'll continue to take his mental game to that next level of understanding."
A marketing major, Lewis-Moore hopes to put his degree to good use upon graduation. In the meantime, the senior looks to bolster the defense and propel Notre Dame into a 10-win season.
"I feel like we're a great team, and starting off 0-2 is kind of frustrating," Lewis-Moore said. "We're so much better than what we've shown, but I think the last couple of weeks we've shown that we are a great team and we've got to take one game at a time."
Despite the flip-flop regarding his decision to enroll at Notre Dame, Lewis-Moore said he never regretted his decision, nor his mother's advice, to suit up for the Irish.
"If I would have gone anywhere else — there's no place like Notre Dame to me. There's no place that you can have such a great institution with great people … I'm blessed, I'm lucky and I'm very privileged to be playing football for this great institution."