Every Play Every Day by Timmy O'Neill
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My Life as a Notre Dame Walk-On


April 12, 2007

Every Play, Every Day

Next to my family, my experiences as a Notre Dame Football coach gave me the greatest memories of my life. Each young guy that walked into my office was a new and unique chapter in that book of memories. Some were high school All-Americans destined to be familiar names in the National Football League, while some came in with a dream of that consisted of simply wearing that distinctive gold helmet, and maybe, just maybe, run down that tunnel into the blue autumn sky once during their career at Notre Dame.

By history the second group mentioned is referred to as "walk-ons."

In all candor, I tried not to separate the two categories. To me, they were all Notre Dame football players. However, the fact is that there is just a certain mystique about the walk-ons in that everyone wants to know their particular story or perhaps what motivated these young men to seek a path that is just so difficult and at times can be disheartening.

One such young man was Tim O'Neill.

In stature he probably would have been an immediate "cut." But the fact is there was no measuring device to permit one to know the true size of his heart.

His book Every Play, Every Day is a personal account of his experiences from the day he walked into my office to become a Notre Dame football player until the day he walked across the stage at The Joyce Center as a Notre Dame graduate.

It is indeed a compelling story and a must read for anyone that ever thought of walking on at Our Lady's School or anyone who happens to love the unique culture that is Notre Dame Football.

South Bend Tribune

Article published Oct 20, 2006

Former walk-on's book no Rudy tale

Early in his book about the experience of being a football walk-on, recent ND graduate Timmy O'Neill explains that he thought about naming his work, "No, Not Like Rudy."

O'Neill, he explains, came to Notre Dame to play and contribute, not just to run through the tunnel and wear the uniform. But that doesn't mean he doesn't have a little Rudy Ruettiger in him, evidenced by his sometimes obsessive single-mindedness.

In the course of his narrative O'Neill admits to being "neurotic" about his training, such as when he drops to the floor at a South Bend movie theater and blitzes through a quickie workout of sit-ups and push-ups.

"I think I should have forced myself to go out more," O'Neill admits in one candid moment, "not to drink, but just to share time with my friends."

But "Every Play Every Day" isn't a book about regrets. It is about sacrifices, and an attempt to realistically portray the ups and downs of life as a non-scholarship player in a demanding Division I-A football program . O'Neill, a 2003 ND graduate who now works in the financial world in Houston, will be selling and signing copies of the book (Expert Publishing Inc., $16.95) from 11 a.m. to noon Saturday at the Eck Center on the Notre Dame campus.

It is a book that has been a young lifetime in the making, as O'Neill fell hard for Notre Dame from an early age.

He finally began putting pen to paper after he graduated three years ago with a major in finance and a minor in theology, and was able to sell the idea to the first publisher he contacted, tiny Expert Publishing Inc. in Andover, Minn.

"Really the only reason I wrote the book wasn't to tell a story about Tim O'Neill," he explained. "It was to tell a story about setting goals and believing in yourself when other people have expectations of you."I just think everyone has faced the question of, 'Should I quit or should I keep going because I believe I can do this?' Most of my teammates could have written a book on their own about the lessons Notre Dame football taught them. Obviously my story and my perception of Notre Dame is going to be different, but the lessons and the themes are the same."

O'Neill was a standout running back for his high school in Troy, Mich., but wasn't interested in playing for a small college and instead set his sights on Notre Dame, despite the fact that he is just 5-foot-6. A fourth-generation "Domer," O'Neill fell in love with the school and the football program when Tim Brown ran back two punts for touchdowns in the first game O'Neill ever attended, the 1987 contest against Michigan State.

When the future Heisman Trophy winner and NFL star returned a letter from the young O'Neill, he was hooked for life.

In "Every Play Every Day," O'Neill recounts his five-year Notre Dame experience in abundant detail. He writes about running shuttle drills in a downpour in New York City's Central Park in preparation for an upcoming season, and about crying in front of an assistant coach after a meeting about his role with the team ends in stinging rejection.

There are also light-hearted moments -- O'Neill runs from campus police after trying to sneak into the under-renovation administration building to take pictures, and he marvels when former ND coach Tyrone Willingham drops to the ground to join his players in calisthenics in the first workout he leads."When I started at Notre Dame," O'Neill said, "I had no idea how hard I was going to work. After I had played four years and only played in a couple of games, if you had told me, 'You're going to play at Notre Dame, you're going to work hard for four years, you're gonna see the field for two plays,' that's not a very rosy scenario, right?

"(But) it was a wonderful, wonderful experience. Just to be a part of Notre Dame is an honor and something you have for the rest of your life."

For all the frustration O'Neill recalls throughout his book's 145 pages, the last few pages describe a couple of well-earned moments of glory -- one coming off the field on the first day of classes, the other during one of the team's last games of the 2002 season.

O'Neill was pleased to hear that one of the teachers at his old high school has been assigning the book to students. Above all, he wants those kids and anybody else who picks it up to understand that he didn't attend Notre Dame because he wanted to play the role of cute, undersized walk-on.

"If ever I went to sleep at night and I didn't think I was capable of playing football at the Notre Dame level," he said, "I wouldn't have done it."

Tribune Staff Writer