Most 18 year-olds are uncertain of their direction, post-high school.
When I asked Cameron Ekanayake what he wanted to do career-wise, he said “my goal is to open up my own specialized cardio thoracic surgical practice.”
Notre Dame will play an integral role in facilitating that goal when Ekanayake enrolls in 2017 as not only a student with a rigorous academic schedule, but as a member of the important walk-on program of the football team.
I asked Cameron why he chose Notre Dame. The 6’2, 200 pound athlete who will get a look at safety, and possibly outside linebacker, answered:
“I want to go somewhere that has prestigious academics. I want to go somewhere where I’m going to be challenged. I want to be uncomfortable somewhere. I’m going to be forced to grow. I don’t want to be complacent and have time to sit….because I find myself thriving in those occasions.”
Ekanayake played quarterback and safety at Edwardsburg High School in Edwardsburg, Michigan which is a 15 minute drive from Notre Dame campus. His mother, a Notre Dame alumni, works in the investment office. I asked him about his senior season for the Eddies.
“We put in a lot of work in the weight room and on the field. We were the best defense in Edwarsburg High School history.”
Ekanayake went on to talk about some serious adversity he went through in the playoffs.
“I broke my thumb in the first quarter and I broke my leg (tibia) in the second quarter.”
I was sure that would’ve ended his season. He showed his toughness when I asked how he was recovering from his injuries.
“I’m good. I’m fine. I played the rest of that game and the next week too.””We eventually won that game in overtime.”
Ekanayake will put his tough determination to use while he takes on an aggressive academic workload as well as spending time in the football program’s strength and conditioning program, film study, intense practices and other football related activities.
On the weekend of Jan.21-22, Ekanayake visited Notre Dame campus with other recruits including Kofi Wardlow and Russ Yeast among others. He didn’t spend the night as he had a basketball game and was “dead tired,” as he put it.
He returned the next weekend and stayed the night with his host Arion Shinaver.
“He’s a freshman receiver. He’s also a preferred walk-on so he’s in a similar situation. Let me tell you, he’s a great guy. I cannot say enough about him. It kind of showed me the type of guys Notre Dame is producing.”
Ekanayake expressed Shinaver proved to be a great host and that other members of the football program teamed up to make him feel comfortable during his stay.
“He showed me around, showed me a great time and gave me a lot of really great information and advice. I could definitely tell going in that we’re going to be really great friends…..Chris Schilling is another great guy and Ade (Ogundeji) – he’s a great guy as well.”
Another player Edanayake found impressive was walk-on, and new captain, Austin Webster.
“I talked to Austin Webster….great guy. Again, it’s blatant to me the kind of guys that Notre Dame’s churning out.”
Ekanayake gathered as much information as he could regarding the walk-on program at Notre Dame, and his conclusion was more than positive.
“I don’t think there’s a walk-on program like Notre Dame’s anywhere else. There’s schools where walk-on’s get treated differently and where they have different change rooms, but from everything I heard, Notre Dame treats their walk-ons very well.”
I agree. Notre Dame goes about their walk-on program such that all players in the program are one. Their program philosophy is such that all their parts are created equal from top to bottom.
“Arion Shinaver said that you can’t even tell who’s a walk-on and who’s not when you look at the whole team. I really like the walk on program. They make movies about walk-ons at Notre Dame.”
I asked Ekanayake if he had an all-time favorite Notre Dame football player. His thorough response was not only interesting, but enlightening.
“Joe Schmidt. He’s such a great guy. He worked in the investment office (where my Mom works)…..He actually had dinner at my house once. We talked for a while about goal-setting. He was a testament of the kinda guy Notre Dame churns out. We talked about the process.”
It was a lot more than Schmidt’s play on the field that struck Ekanayake.
“I saw the way he structured his life to reach his goals. It really had an impact on me.””Joe showed me the chart he drew with his short, mid and long term goals and how he wanted to attain that.”
“That night I made my very own one and I hung it up in my room. It’s still hanging up right now. Right at the top it says ‘Play Football For Notre Dame’….I see it every morning when I wake up. It’s because of Joe Schmidt.”
“One of my favorite players ever.”
Many young men have been very successful, on and off the field, as a part of the walk-on program at The University of Notre Dame. The unity that carries on for a lifetime within alumni brings forth impressive opportunities. The sky is the limit for Cameron Ekanayake.