Head coach Mike Neu revisits childhood as Cardinals prepare to take on Irish
It has been booming through the speakers at Scheumann Stadium all week at practice. It can be heard down the halls and throughout the building from the weight room. The melody is engraved in the minds of Ball State Football players leading up to their Saturday showdown with Notre Dame. It’s “Victory March,” the fight song of the Fighting Irish.
In an attempt to limit its number of times played in South Bend, Ball State head coach Mike Neu said he wants to get his players sick of the song in Muncie.
“Hear it enough throughout the week of practice, and it just keeps jabbing at them,” Neu said. “Having that at practice during different segments just to hammer home the environment, the storied program and use it as a motivator.”
Having Notre Dame on the schedule has taken Neu back to his childhood days as an Irish fan. Growing up a football player in a Catholic grade school on the south side of Indianapolis, Neu was conditioned to follow Notre Dame.
Keeping up with the games, however, would be a challenge. The Neu residence of old wasn’t exactly viewer-friendly. Neu said his house contained only one television with three different channels.
Lucky for Neu, Notre Dame was on every weekend, and he wasn’t going to let any of his siblings put anything other than football on the TV Saturday afternoons.
“I’d race to beat my brothers and sisters on Saturday morning to get to the TV and hold my position so I could watch Notre Dame every single week,” Neu said. “I prided myself on getting up early enough. They weren’t getting out of bed early on Saturday mornings—they didn’t have to.”
A busy high school football schedule couldn’t stop Neu from watching the Irish. After playing under the Friday night lights for Perry Meridian and practicing the next morning, Neu would race home to catch the games.
Neu said Notre Dame Football is more than just a program and is something he still holds dear to himself to this day.
“I was very fortunate to meet Joe Montana,” Neu said. “I had a chance to coach his son at Tulane University, so I developed a good friendship with Joe. To be able to meet him knowing he put [the Notre Dame] uniform on is certainly pretty cool.”
The 2018 Irish are eyeing their first National Championship since 1988, a time Neu describes as his favorite among Notre Dame Football memories. Neu said he admires the way his childhood team plays and conducts itself.
“It’s a good, well-coached football team. When you turn the tape on, they play fast, and they play hard,” Neu said. “That’s what I appreciate as much as anything else, especially when you watch from a coach’s perspective.”
ESPN gives Ball State (1-0, 0-0 MAC) less than a one percent chance to take down No. 8 Notre Dame (1-0). Neu knows his team is an underdog, but surprises happen every year. Appalachian State entered its contest with then No. 10 Penn State with a 1.8 percent win probability, according to ESPN. Neu said his team watched the Mountaineers nearly pull off the upset in overtime.
“We’re going in with a mindset of spoiler,” Neu said. “We just got to worry about us. We got to go in, make sure we’re ready to go, make sure we can handle the atmosphere and just go out and execute.”
Neu’s players are behind his message. Redshirt junior James Gilbert said if they stick to the game plan and treat this week like any other, the Cardinals might shock the world.
“This week is a chance to show how good we are as a team,” Gilbert said. “On paper they say we’re an underdog, but we’re just ready to go out there and compete. They put their pants and pads on just like we do, so we’re not approaching it any different.”
Neu said he’s had the pleasure of visiting Notre Dame Stadium once in his lifetime when his dad took him to watch the Irish play rival Michigan. He said he’s looking forward to returning and is honored to be coaching on the field he grew up watching.
As far as getting his players pumped up for their first time in school history sharing the gridiron with Notre Dame, Neu said “Rudy” could be a must-watch on the bus ride to South Bend.
“Rudy” tells the story of a small man with a big dream to play football for Notre Dame. The odds are stacked against him, but he captures the hearts of the fans when he finally completes his mission. Neu is hopeful reality will replicate fantasy.
Ball State and Notre Dame will clash Saturday at 3:30 p.m.