Saxton sees first game at Notre Dame Stadium

Published 8:28 pm Sunday, September 25, 2016

NOTRE DAME — Alonzo Saxton moved to Niles from Cassopolis when he was a seventh-grader at Ring Lardner Middle School.

The 1986 Niles High School graduate played football all four years of high school, the last two on the varsity team, but wrestling was always his best sport.

But like most kids who grow up in Niles under the shadow of the Golden Dome on the campus of Notre Dame, he dreamed of maybe one day being able to play football inside the “House that Rockne built.”

“I was a Notre Dame fan growing up,” Saxton said. “When you grow up in this area, Notre Dame is everything, and it’s just a dream to play in a special place like this.”

While Saxton never fulfilled his dream of playing in Notre Dame stadium, on Saturday he attended his first-ever Fighting Irish football game in the iconic venue.

What made this one game so special was that his son, Alonzo Saxton II was dressed and on the field for the visiting Duke Blue Devils.

“I’ve never been to a game here until today,” Saxton said. “You don’t know how many times I envisioned myself playing at Notre Dame, but to see my son out there playing, it was awesome. It’s just surreal.”

The younger Saxton, a junior reserve safety, was a highly recruited player coming out of Bishop Hartley in Columbus, Ohio (where the older Saxton moved after graduating from Ferris State University). Ironically, Notre Dame was one of several teams that recruited the safety in high school, but after receiving offers from the likes of Northwestern, Wisconsin, Indiana and Duke, he chose the Blue Devils because of the warmer weather in North Carolina.

There were 15 family members and friends present on Saturday to help cheer on Saxton as he played special teams for the Blue Devils versus the Irish.

“We had a lot of support here today from Niles,” Saxton said. “I told them all to only expect him to play on special teams and not on defense because he is the backup to DeVon Edwards and he just doesn’t come off the field.”

While they all expected to see No. 21 in white running up and down the field covering kicks, what they did not expect to see was starting safety Edwards go down early with an apparent knee injury. The injury forced Saxton to play the rest of the way in the secondary, and on special teams.

“I hated to see it happen that way (Edwards’ injury), but he (Saxton II) got a shot today and I’m so proud,” the teary eyed father exclaimed.

While it may have been the first real defensive action the junior has seen, you would not have known it to watch him play. The younger Saxton contributed five tackles (three were solo tackles) and a pass defensed.

More impressive than the numbers was the poise with which he played after being thrust onto one of the biggest stages in all of college football: national television, Notre Dame Stadium, the Fighting Irish and 80,000 fans, most of whom were cheering against him.

“It was crazy,” the younger Saxton said. “It was a great experience. There were a lot of people, but I had all of my other defensive backs out there with me. It was fun.”

This reaction was expected, as the athlete was playing on a team that came in to the game as heavy underdogs and left with a 38-35 victory.

Saxton played in front of one of the largest crowds he has every played in front of. He was in the backyard of where his father grew up and always dreamed of playing, and he was playing against the team that recruited him, but never made him a scholarship offer.

And he was walking away with a victory.

Who wouldn’t be having fun?

As for the elder Saxton, when asked about his first-ever football game under the outstretched arms of Touchdown Jesus, the pride was visible in his face, with a smile from ear to ear as he thought about what exactly he had just witnessed.

“I can’t believe it,” he said. “God was looking down on me today. It was amazing. Amazing is all I can say, and I will be smiling until the end of next year. I can promise you that.”

While the Niles grad may live five hours away now, and though he may never have lived out his dream of playing football in the historic stadium, he says the fact that he watched his own son carry out that dream and walk away victorious is better than any dream he could have ever had of his own.