At 18 years old, Matt LoVecchio was living the dream.
Just three months removed from Bergen Catholic High School in New Jersey, LoVecchio began the 2000 football season as Notre Dame’s third-string quarterback. But as if suiting up for the Irish as an 18-year-old wasn’t enough, his teammate’s injuries thrust LoVecchio into the starting lineup a month later.
In his inaugural season for one of the most storied programs in all college football, LoVecchio led the Irish to victories in each of his first seven starts and to a berth in the 2001 Fiesta Bowl. He threw 11 touchdowns and just one interception in 125 pass attempts as Notre Dame averaged 400 yards of offense per game.
“It’s definitely an honorable position to be a part of that program,” LoVecchio said, “especially with the tradition and everything that goes on there.”
It was as grand an entrance to the college football stage as any kid could hope for, but the dream proved to be short-lived.
LoVecchio entered his sophomore season in South Bend, Ind., as the starting quarterback but lost his job to Carlyle Holiday after just two games.
The only action he saw the rest of the season was in backup duty. By the end of his sophomore year his fallout with Notre Dame coaches seemed as shocking as his sudden rise to prominence the year before.
The Irish finished 2001 with a disappointing 5-6 record, and the school fired coach Bob Davie. George O’Leary was brought in to replace Davie, but inaccuracies on his resume led to O’Leary’s resignation just days later.
Eventually, Tyrone Willingham was named Notre Dame’s new coach, but a handful of Notre Dame players left the team in the wake of the off-field turmoil.
LoVecchio was one of them.
“There were a number of things (that led to that decision),” LoVecchio said. “I’ve always said I left the team for personal reasons.”
LoVecchio transferred to Indiana, where he has stepped back into the role of starting quarterback this year after an NCAA-mandated redshirt season in 2002.
The Hoosiers – who play Minnesota on Saturday afternoon at the Metrodome – have struggled to a 1-7 record this year, with the team’s only win coming against Indiana State of the Gateway Football Conference.
Through Indiana’s first eight games, LoVecchio has thrown just two touchdown passes against seven interceptions. His pass efficiency of 103.4 ranks last in the Big Ten among starting quarterbacks.
“He was a great quarterback coming out (of high school) going to Notre Dame,” said Minnesota quarterback Asad Abdul-Khaliq, who also played prep football in New Jersey. “I don’t know what happened since then.”
Part of LoVecchio’s struggles can be attributed to the fact he plays for a team that entered the season with just 68 scholarship players (17 fewer than the NCAA limit).
“When you look at his statistics they’re misleading because (his receivers) have dropped a lot of passes,” Minnesota coach Glen Mason said. “But obviously he’s a talent. If you’re good enough to start at Notre Dame, you’re awful good.”
Despite moving from one end of the college football spectrum to the other, LoVecchio expressed no regret about his decision to leave Notre Dame for Indiana.
He has no recurring dreams about praying to touchdown Jesus or slapping the “Play like a champion today” placard on his way down the tunnel at Notre Dame Stadium.
“When you’re out on the field, no matter what school you’re at, you’re just playing football,” LoVecchio said. “We’re just working as hard as we can to get better. Sooner or later it’s going to click.”
Since he is currently playing on a team still searching for its first conference win of the season, LoVecchio takes little consolation in the fact he is one of a proud few who can say they contributed to the unique Notre Dame tradition.
But there are plenty of others who can remind him of just how impressive that accomplishment really is.
“It just goes to show you there must be something special about this guy,” Abdul-Khaliq said. “If you can go into Notre Dame and start as a freshman, I don’t care what type of season you’re having now, for any quarterback to be able to do that is something great.”