Frank Pomarico, from Howard Beach, New York, moved into the starting lineup at left guard during his sophomore year in 1971 at Notre Dame. He remained a fixture for the Irish through the 1973 season when he was named tri-captain, along with Dave Casper and Mike Townsend.

There were bigger players for the Irish, faster players, and players who went on to stellar professional careers. But no one cherished his role as a leader of the Notre Dame squad more than the 6-foot-1, 250-pound Pomarico. His journey to and through Notre Dame truly was a labor of love toward his alma mater.

Here is Pomarico's story as told to Irish Illustrated senior editor Tim Prister, the author/editor of What It Means To Be Fighting Irish (copyright 2004, Triumph Books, Chicago, Ill.)

Notre Dame was a simple choice for me. When I was growing up in New York, Gerry DiNardo and I were classmates in grade school and high school, and his brother, Larry, was someone we looked up to.

So now I get to high school, Larry goes to Notre Dame, Gerry and I are sophomores in high school, and Larry comes back talking about this guy named Ara Parseghian. Of course, Larry could have gone to any school he wanted. All the academies, Harvard…but he picked Notre Dame because I think he thought that was his greatest challenge athletically as well as academically. Our goal was, 'Maybe someday that can happen to us.'

My senior year I was recruited by North Carolina and Notre Dame. Places like Villanova said I was too small. Most other schools thought I was too small. I was 6-foot-1, about 235 when I came to Notre Dame.

Ara took a chance on me. He had success with Larry and thought, 'Let's see if we can have a warm body with Frank.'

I knew all about Ara before I got there. Ara was a very, very impressive guy. He's got these piercing eyes that make you stand at attention, and everything he said was gobbled up because we felt if we wanted to be successful as a team, as individuals we were going to try to emulate his intensity, his character. That was something that we believed in. Even if you lost games, you would still win by showing your character and strong will.

Ara instilled in us that the game may be over and we may have lost the battle, but we didn't lose the war. We were always trying to achieve and improve on the athletic field, as individuals, or in the classroom. So it was never really lost; time just ran out. He used to talk about not having a breaking point.

When I think of my greatest memories at Notre Dame, the first one was my sophomore year (1971) against Northwestern when we came out of that tunnel. It was more than just coming out of the tunnel. It was also the feeling and emotion that was shared with me by guys like Walt Patulski, Dan Novokov, John Dampeer, Andy Huff, Ed Gulyas, John Cieszkowski…They were supportive. These guys were saying, 'You're going to do it; it's going to be easier than practice!' So we go out, score the first touchdown over my hole, and went on to win, 50-7.

The most satisfying game was the Southern Cal game in 1973 (a 23-14 victory). They were national champs in 1972 and 1974, and when we played them in 1973, we were 5-0. The first four games of that year I had ripped up my ankle and I was in a cast for about a month. I came back for the Rice game and only played on an extra point. I started the Army game and I probably wasn't ready, but I wanted to come back. I knew if I didn't come back for the Army game, I probably wouldn't play against Southern Cal.

We had a strong ground game. We were going to grind it out. We weren't going to win on the big play. The buildup to that game after Anthony Davis had scored six touchdowns the year before was intense. Playing against them was an emotional, electric time.

We did (grind it out against them), but we also had an 85-yard touchdown run by Eric Penick, so we did beat them with the big play as well.

My college career culminated with the (24-23) victory over Alabama in the Sugar Bowl to win the national title. It was overwhelming. Seven years of dreaming ended in the locker room with my
father, my grandfather, and my little brother, not yelling and screaming, but just watching everybody go crazy. I don't think we had the animosity toward Alabama that we had toward Southern Cal, but it was a humongous victory for us.

That year, Ara had broken precedent by making three of us captains. I think it was very close in the voting between me and David Casper as the offensive captain. So Dave was the team captain, I was the offensive captain, and Mike Townsend was the defensive captain, so to speak. We all had different roles. I was more of a quiet leader. I tried to lead by example through hard work during the off-season and tried to do the right thing.

One time somebody asked me if the tradition of Rockne and Gipper helped us in our games, and I said, 'The tradition here is the guys I'm with right now that make it such a special place. They're the guys who help me.' Because of the people, there is no place in the world quite like Notre Dame.

Frank Pomarico, 54, is in sales in Jackson, Mich. He also coaches tight ends and tackles at Lumen Christi High School, where his son, Tommy, starred the past couple of years before accepting a preferred walk-on offer from Lloyd Carr at the University of Michigan.

"People say to me, 'How can you send your son to Michigan?' Pomarico laughed. "I tell them, 'I pray for Notre Dame but now I root for Michigan.'

Pomarico does a radio show with former UNLV football coach Harvey Hyde (1982-85) in Las Vegas and still loves talking about Notre Dame football. Like Irish fans, he sees the upcoming schedule as rigorous, but views it with encouragement and confidence in Charlie Weis' ability to take Notre Dame to new heights in the future.