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Ben Smith

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Local players set for likely last South Bend game


– It passes so quickly, in the end. One minute you’re running out of that tunnel for the first time, and it’s worlds removed from those Friday nights against Snider or Luers or, down the playoff line, Lowell or Cathedral. The next ...

The next, the leaves have gone russet and gold and wine-red, one last time. You’re walking into the stadium with Touchdown Jesus at your back, one last time. And there goes four or five years, vanishing between one beat of your pulse and the next.

“It just flies by,” says one Dwenger guy, tight end Tyler Eifert, who’s likely playing his last game in Notre Dame Stadium on Saturday afternoon.

“It’s crazy, really crazy,” says the other Dwenger guy, wide receiver John Goodman, who’s definitely playing his last home game.

He smiles.

“Thinking about what Manti (Te’o) said earlier, that guys that play here and win championships here are legends no matter what. If you’re a star or not, people remember you. Just to be remembered: That’s going to be really special.”

And to have something to remember, that’s special, too. It goes hand-in-glove with the aforementioned, given that, after two decades in the shade, the sun is falling on the place again. When the Irish run out of that tunnel Saturday afternoon, they’ll do it as a 10-0 football team, and that hasn’t happened since 1993. They’ll be a national player for the first time since at least that long. And how cool is that?

“I enjoy this place,” Eifert says. “Being undefeated has made it that much better.”

And, of course, it’s different for him than it is for Goodman. If Eifert leaves with another year of eligibility after this season – and good luck getting a definitive answer from him on that – he’ll leave to play football on Sundays. Goodman, on the other hand, leaves having never been the player he wanted to be in South Bend, even if he grew to be a greater teammate than anyone could have imagined.

“He’s a good teammate,” Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said of Goodman this week. “The relationships that he has on this team strengthen that group. You know, I think he’ll look back and say, ‘Yeah, I would liked to have caught more and made more touchdowns and done all those things,’ but he’s going to look back on the relationships and the strength that he’s provided as a senior in this football program.”

Fine with him.

“I came in and thought there was high expectations,” says Goodman, who missed three games with back problems this season but caught his third career touchdown pass against Boston College last week and, ironically, will likely see more playing time this week with DaVaris Daniels out. “I felt like that every year, but things didn’t work out.

“When things don’t work out, you can’t get down on yourself. And so I just led the younger guys and helped out the team as much as I could.”

And now, too quickly, twilight is coming down. Goodman looks back, and he remembers the touchdown pass he threw to Michael Floyd, and the touchdown pass to his old Dwenger teammate, Eifert, that didn’t quite happen. And Eifert looks back and can’t believe the wings four years have sprouted.

“When you’re a freshman,” he said Wednesday, “all you want to do is get out of here. And by that I mean you can’t wait until you’re an upperclassman and have been here awhile.

“It just flies by. People say that, and you never really believe them. But it does.”