SOUTH BEND —Five years ago, after committing to Notre Dame to play football as a walk-on, Chris Finke was told he had no chance to succeed by his own family.
"I had a relative at a family reunion who heard that I was going to play football at Notre Dame, and she said I was too small and that I'd get my butt kicked," Finke said.
Now, as he enters his final season in South Bend, Finke will be one of seven captains for the Irish. The 5-foot-9, 184-pound graduate senior has gone from walk-on, to on scholarship, to now a leader for the Fighting Irish.
"If you had told me when I came in here as a walk-on freshman that I'd be a captain eventually, I don't know if I would've believed you," Finke said. "It's kind of a surreal moment. It's a tremendous responsibility to lead this team. We have a great group of guys. I'm really excited about it."
Coach Brian Kelly said Finke received nearly 70 percent of the vote from the players and coaches, which "in any election, that's a landslide."
"That means a lot to me, knowing so many of my teammates think I am cut out for the job. It's a big job, so just knowing that I have their faith and their trust means a lot to me," Finke said. "It's a lot to live up to, so I'm looking forward to it."
As for the family member who doubted him, Finke hasn't seen them since that family reunion. It inspired him to keep a list of people who questioned him, though, serving as his motivation to make an impact with the Fighting Irish. Sixty-five catches, 795 yards and four touchdowns later, Finke has done more than prove the doubters wrong.
"Nowadays, I play more to prove people right and the people who've supported me along the way — mom, dad, coaches and friends, all of that," Finke said. "It used to fuel me a little more, thinking about all the people who think I can't do it … but nowadays I think I play more to prove people right."
MOTIVATED BY DISRESPECT
A few years ago, the safety position was seen as the weakness for Notre Dame. Now? It's potentially their biggest strength.
This was apparent when two safeties — Alohi Gilman and Jalen Elliott — were named captains for the Irish on Saturday. It was one of two positions on the Notre Dame team to have two captains named, with defensive line — Khalid Kareem and Julian Okwara — also garnering two captains.
Elliott joked if he had been asked to be a captain and Gilman wasn't, he would've given up his captainship. The senior has been motivated since his freshman year to prove the safeties are not the weakest link of the Notre Dame defense. In the 2016 season — Elliott's freshman year — the Irish had seven defensive interceptions. Last year, they had 12, including a team-high four from Elliott.
"We took that personal. We were tired of the days where it was like, 'Well, we have to get to the quarterback up front because we know our back end isn't going to do it,'" Elliott said. "We took that personal, and we competed. Having two captains in a room is unbelievable. It's an unbelievable honor … our work is just beginning. We have to continue to push."
Gilman has gone from Navy transfer to Notre Dame captain in two seasons. He hopes the leadership traits learned from his time at the Naval Academy transfer over to being a captain for the Irish.
"It's definitely a collective effort, but as an older guy, as a guy that's been here, as a captain now — just to be able to se the standard of how we operate here, be an example, continuing to push guys as much as they push me, being that guy they can lean on," Gilman said. "I know how it is coming into a new program. I've been to two programs now. Just be a guy they feel comfortable with."
Derrik Allen, a sophomore who was expected to be a backup safety for Notre Dame this year, officially announced he was transferring to Georgia Tech on Monday.
"Sincere thank you to Coach Kelly and ND Football for giving me a chance to pursue my dreams," Allen tweeted Monday afternoon. "To all my teammates, coaches & University faculty and staff thank you. I'm a better student athlete and young man than when I arrived."
Kelly said Saturday he talked with Allen and his father about the decision to transfer.
"We FaceTimed with his dad. That's an individual decision that they made as a family," Kelly said. "We wish him the best. He's going to find a place that obviously suits him, and we wish him the best."
Austin Hough can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 574-533-2151, ext. 325. Follow Austin on Twitter @AustinHoughTGN