Luke Talich has been a standout football player for Cody High School.
At 6-foot-3-½” and 190 pounds, the high school senior had already been offered full scholarships to a number Division I college programs, including the University of Wyoming, where his dad was a star linebacker in the 1990s and his brother, Nicolas, now plays.
But Talich turned down the free education for a chance to fulfill a dream – playing football for the storied Notre Dame Fighting Irish.
UW, Oregon State, Utah, Washington State, Colorado State and Montana all offered Talich full rides. But he turned them all down to be a walk-on at Notre Dame.
He said he knew he was taking a risk by turning them down.
“I decided to take a chance and walk on (at Notre Dame) and try to earn a spot just because I would have regretted not trying it,” Talich told Cowboy State Daily.
He’ll get that chance, the same one Daniel “Rudy” Reuttiger had that became the inspiration for the 1993 hit movie “Rudy.” The film recounts the journey of Reuttiger, who dreamed of playing for Notre Dame and finally had a chance to earn a spot on the team as a walk-on.
Now Talich will have an opportunity for his own “Rudy” moment.
The Coach Did What?
Talich had another once-in-a-lifetime Fighting Irish moment this week when Notre Dame’s head football coach Marcus Freeman flew to Cody to visit the walk-on recruit.
Although he was chosen for one Notre Dame’s five coveted preferred walk-on slots, that’s hardly something that normally would be worth a visit to a player’s hometown by the head coach of one of the nation’s premiere football dynasties.
“In the back of my mind, I kind of thought that wasn’t really going to come,” said his mother, Jen Talich. “You know, coaches come to recruit players and get them to come, not after they tell them they’re coming.”
On Wednesday afternoon, Freeman and a member of his coaching staff flew into Cody to visit their Wyoming walk-on recruit.
Freeman spent time with the family and got to know Luke, his parents, and expressed interest in all five of the Talich children.
“You could tell he’s a dad,” said Jen. “And you could tell he’s a great leader. You just kind of want to listen to what he has to say.”
Jen said that the visit helped her own peace of mind as she considers sending her son to a school halfway across the country.
“When you’re sending your kids far, far away for college, that he’s going to be led by these two men that were at our house – really awesome people – it just makes you feel good about sending him to be at a university that has so much pride and traditions,” said Jen, with a nod to the Catholic faith that Notre Dame was founded on and a religion the family shares.
“I do think it’s a big deal that he made the effort,” she added. “And it wasn’t one of the other coaches – it was the head coach that came in and saw us.”
Talich said he fell in love with the Fighting Irish when he was about 10 years old.
“I think I went into my parents’ bedroom and watched the game,” he said, “and I said, ‘I want to play there one day.’”
That dream stuck.
He painted his bedroom gold and decorated it with Notre Dame Fathead wall stickers and wore Fighting Irish beanies and sweatshirts, proudly declaring his loyalty to a program that has very little connection to the Cowboy State.
“He wore a Notre Dame hat when he was probably in sixth or seventh grade, and he never took it off,” said his mother, Jen Talich. “He’s just always loved them.”
Visiting Notre Dame
Even though Luke had already been noticed by a few high-ranking schools, in his junior year he told his parents that he wanted to check out Notre Dame’s program.
So, they signed him up for a four-hour “evaluation camp” at South Bend last summer, where he was put through drills, coaches took measurements, and head coach Freeman spoke to the boys at the end of camp.
“But when we left there, we didn’t really hear anything,” said Jen.
So her husband Jim, who was a star linebacker at UW, started emailing one of the school’s recruiters, asking for feedback from the camp. They started a dialogue, but the Taliches were disappointed to hear that Luke wasn’t in the running for a scholarship.
“They let us know right from the beginning that their scholarships were full, and they had no room,” said Jen. “But they only offer five preferred walk-ons a year, and Luke was definitely someone they would be considering for that.”
Luke kept in communication with Notre Dame coaches, posting highlights from his Cody High School games – and the coaches started to take notice.
The family took another trip to the campus in South Bend, Indiana, in November, this time as part of a recruitment weekend, and were able to watch the Irish trounce Boston College.
Jen said the coaching staff made them feel very welcome.
“They made us feel very much a part of it all,” she said. “For the game, we were right on the sideline, we were out on the field during warm ups – it was very cool.”
National Early Signing Day – the day when college recruits sign formal letters of intent to attend their school of choice – was Dec. 21. But on Dec. 20, Luke still hadn’t made his decision.
Should he take the offer of a free education at any number of top-ranked schools or follow his heart as a walk-on with the team of his dreams?
“Luke was struggling to make this decision, not because he didn’t know where he wanted to go, but because he was giving up full-ride (scholarships) to go do what he really wants to do,” said Jen.
When he was sure of his decision, Luke called the coaches he had been working with during the recruiting process.
“So he called them, and they were like, ‘You’ve got to call Freeman! You’ve got to call Freeman!’” Jen said.
They were given the head coach’s home number and, according to Jen, Freeman was very excited.
“He’s like, ‘Lucas, I just feel like I’m going to be telling the story of how you got to Notre Dame for years and years and years to come,’” said Jen. “I think they didn’t think that Luke would make that decision, because he had all these other full-ride offers.”
Last Game in Wyoming
At Notre Dame, Talich said he’ll play safety on defense, and he hopes to prove himself enough that the school will offer him a scholarship after his first year.
“They said depending on what my body does, if I grow and gain a lot of weight early, then maybe I’ll move on to a linebacker position,” he said.
Less than two weeks after his high school graduation, Luke will move in at his dream school – but not before playing one last football game in Wyoming.
“June 10 is move-in day,” he said. “But I’ll actually move in the 11th, because I’m playing in the Shrine Bowl (on the 10th) – it’s kind of like my last opportunity to represent for Wyoming.”
Luke said Freeman was supportive of his decision to play one more game for his home state before becoming a Golden Domer.
“We asked him about it and he said, ‘Yeah, of course, go play it,’” Luke said. “I’m thankful that he allowed me to do that.”