With football season commencing, many students get their football fill by cheering on the Fighting Irish and binge-watching other NCAA and NFL games each weekend. But for those who want to get out on the gridiron themselves, Notre Dame has no shortage of options.
Last weekend kicked off the seasons for men’s and women’s interhall football. Reigning champions Welsh Family Hall and Stanford Hall look to defend their respective titles this year amid large and fiercely contested fields.
Senior Matt O’Brien, captain of Stanford’s team, played football in high school and was thrilled at the opportunity to get out on the field once again. He said the Sunday afternoon games are more than just a chance to throw the ball around; competition in interhall matches is often surprisingly good. O’Brien said his team’s intensity is one of the keys to its success, and something he hopes to carry forward into this season.
“We had a great group of upperclassmen who have helped us since I was a freshman,” he said.
Stanford junior Peter Ryan, who scored the decisive touchdown in last year’s final, and again this weekend against Keenan, is “probably the most dangerous wide receiver in the league,” O’Brien said. Every Sunday, all-star athletes take the field alongside other determined players to compete for their dorms.
“Winning an interhall football championship is one of the best moments of your life,” O’Brien said. “But even making it to the finals is quite an achievement. Each championship game is played in the Notre Dame Stadium in front of hundreds of fans, making it an unforgettable experience.”
Senior Michele Pennala is the captain of Breen-Phillips’ flag-football team this year and said the sport is just as much about dorm participation as it is about competition.
“It's one of the ways to get more involved with community and I think BP also had a really fun tradition when we were coming in as freshman, making it seem like it was a fun experience and you get to be more active with the dorm,” Pennala said. “And then it just transitioned to be a bonding experience with various classes. It also just releases that competitive side that a lot of people had in high school and that they might not be able to embrace in college by not playing a competitive sport.”
Pennala said the team is usually comprised of 15 to 20 girls and last year Breen-Phillips made it to the semi-finals, winning their first playoff game, but then losing their second.
“The best part is when someone got an interception or had an amazing run play,” she said. “Not only would the players on the field, but also the people on the sideline and the coaches would just start screaming and flailing their arms and just going crazy. That’s always an electrifying feeling.”
Pennala said not everyone on the team had played flag football before, but that some players were looking to try something new.
“It's actually a really big mix, some people haven’t played flag football before or maybe they signed up for a powder-puff game in high school,” she said. “People just wanna go out there and be a part of the dorm.
“Everyone just gets a chance to participate and it makes it that much more exciting to have that opportunity to discover a different side of themselves.”
Finalists get a small taste of what the Fighting Irish players feel every week as they step out onto the field, as all four of last year’s competitors battled strong winds and temperatures in the mid-thirties. The challenging conditions did nothing to dampen the players’ excitement, though, and O’Brien recalls a moment when, “just around dusk, the lights came on and flooded the field.”
This year is O'Brien's final season of interhall football and he said he looks back on his interhall memories fondly.
“I genuinely feel like I’ve been living on borrowed time, to have the opportunity to put on a pair of shoulder pads and play a game of competitive football every week,”O’Brien said. “Of all the traditions we have here at Notre Dame, when I look back on my college experience I can honestly say that I couldn’t have gotten this anywhere else.”