After a lifetime of area football, ND’s Braxston Cave prepares for his final game at home
Posted: 11/16/2012 at 1:15 am
By: Rachel Terlep
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Braxston Cave (52) sings to the student section after the victory over Michigan on Sept. 22. (Truth Photo By Jennifer Shephard)
Notre Dame’s Braxston Cave (52) battles in the trenches late in the game at Notre Dame on Oct. 13. The Irish defeated Stanford 20-13 in overtime. (Truth Photo By Jennifer Shephard)
It was Senior Day 2011, and Notre Dame had just squeaked by Boston College, 16-14, in the final home game of the season. Cave, then a redshirted senior, spent the game on the sideline, a boot on his foot from an injury he suffered against Wake Forest two weeks earlier.
Cave glanced over at Gray, whose storybook senior season ended abruptly when he tore his ACL earlier that game, as he hobbled off the field at Notre Dame Stadium for the final time. The center realized he didn’t want it to end that way for him.
“You never know if you plan on coming back for your fifth year. ... You don’t really know,” Cave said. “For me, on crutches, it definitely wasn’t the way I wanted to go.”
Cave, a 2007 Penn graduate, remembered growing up in Granger and watching his beloved Notre Dame run out of the tunnel before each game. His first, strongest memory as a Notre Dame player was running out of the tunnel his freshman year.
“You grow up, you watch it, you see it, but actually experiencing it is special,” Cave said.
With his injury, there was a good chance Cave could never play football again. But the lifelong Notre Dame fan wanted to run out of the tunnel one last time.
Cave recovered from his foot injury in time to reclaim his spot as starting center for the 2012 season. After playing football in the South Bend area his entire life, Cave will take the field for his final game near home against Wake Forest on Saturday.
As a freshman, he said he didn’t appreciate the benefits of playing so close to home. Like most students that age, he was itching to get away.
“Then that first week came and I had to get my own food...You start missing Mom real quick,” Cave said. “Along the way, it’s been awesome having (my parents) so close and being able to bring other guys in and take care of other guys when they’re homesick or getting a quick meal in whenever you’re tired of eating out.”
While players like Manti Te’o relied on prayer as they wrestled with their commitment decisions, Cave sprang forward as soon as Notre Dame extended an offer the spring of his junior year.
“I didn’t even tell my high school football coach that I had committed, and that night he called me and was like, ‘Uh, is there something you wanted to tell me?’ and I said, ‘Yeah, I had to pull the trigger,’” Cave recalled. “(Former Notre Dame) coach (Charlie) Weis called me on a Wednesday and I committed that Saturday,”
Penn football coach Cory Yeoman chuckled at the memory. He knew Notre Dame was the end goal for Cave all along.
“He was getting calls from many, many teams across the country but deep down his love, his heart was always at Notre Dame,” Yeoman said.
Yeoman said Cave comes back to Penn when he can, showing up in the stands for Kingsmen football games and talking to the players when he has a chance. Seeing a former Penn player start for Notre Dame is a source of pride for Yeoman and his team.
“We are very, very proud of what he’s done there, being a three-year starter for them,” Yeoman said. “He’s done a fantastic job there. He’s an outstanding young man who has represented himself, his school and his family well.”
What started as a dream come true for Cave has evolved into an even better reality: A 10-0 season and a chance to go undefeated at home for the first time in 14 years.
“This is the season that I’ve been waiting for the entire time I’ve been here,” he said. “You can ask all the fifth-year guys. We came in as the number one recruiting class in the country. This is what we expected all along. It’s nice to see that finally coming together.”
Since offensive linemen don’t rack up the statistics that a quarterback or linebacker would — though Cave is hoping to recover a fumble in the endzone for his first career touchdown — Cave says what he’ll remember most of his Notre Dame experience are his fellow linemen.
“The biggest thing you remember is the guys being on the line with you,” he said. “There’s not those individual statistics. When we get called out for good or bad, it’s a group effort.”
Whether Cave’s future is with the NFL or in a board room, he knows committing to the school he grew up loving was the right decision.
“I was told from the get-go that if you come to Notre Dame, it’s not a four-year decision it’s a 40-year decision,” Cave said. “It’s definitely lived up to that so far.”