Gerry Faust, former Notre Dame head football coach, told Norwalk Catholic School students and parents they can accomplish anything with love and determination.
"If you love, you give, you dream and you work hard, you'll be a success in whatever you do," Faust said Wednesday at the Spirit Day rally held as part of homecoming week festivities.
Some people learn how to make a living, but not how to live a life, the retired coach told the audience that filled the St. Paul Convocation Center. Many parents and grandparents attended the rally after joining in a prayer service held in the morning and a brown bag lunch on school grounds.
Faust said he dreamed of playing football for the Fighting Irish as he grew up in Dayton. "I used to whistle the Notre Dame fight song on the way home from school on my bike after practice," he said. But when he visited the university and got a chance to work out with the team, Faust explained, he discovered he wasn't as good as several other quarterbacks vying for a spot on the team.
"There goes my dream," he said. Notre Dame offered him a partial scholarship, but he took a full scholarship to the University of Dayton and played quarterback there for four years.
Faust then set his sights on teaching and coaching at Notre Dame. "I wanted to go into teaching and coaching like my father did because I saw all the good he did," he said.
He built a football program from scratch at Moeller High School in Cincinnati, amassing a 174-17-2 record from 1963 to 1980. At Moeller, Faust's teams had seven unbeaten seasons, four national prep titles and five Ohio state titles in his last six seasons.
Faust hadn't forgotten his Notre Dame dream, however. He sent a letter to the university looking for a coaching job. Faust said the return letter from the university they thanked him for steering several of his graduates to their program, but said Coach Dan Devine didn't plan on leaving for many years. Faust said then he thought he'd never get the chance to be part of Notre Dame football.
But he still steered players to the university and visited the campus with his wife, Marlene, and three children. Shortly after a visit in which the family prayed together at the replica of the Lourdes grotto on campus, Faust said, he got a call from a priest at the university that the Coach Devine's wife was ill so he was stepping down. Notre Dame offered Faust the head coaching position.
"The dream came true," Faust said. "What a job. I was there for five years and they were five great years, but they were five tough years."
He said his tenure reminded him of a saying he has heard over the years the three toughest jobs in the country are president of the United States, mayor of New York City and head coach for Notre Dame football.
Faust said his years at Notre Dame intensified his religious faith. On a visit to Europe with his wife after retirement, Faust said, he visited Lourdes to celebrate his faith and give thanks. "I thanked Our Lady and God for giving me those five years," he said.
Faust has many inspirational stories from his career, but one he told to the crowd came from that trip.
He met a 48-year-old man suffering from cancer who had traveled to Lourdes to dip in the water in hope of a cure. Faust said six children were also in the group scheduled to use the healing waters the next day in the same group as the man he met.
Faust said the man told him he had already made his peace with God. "If a miracle is going to happen, let it happen to one of those six little kids," the man told Faust and the retired coach said he is still impressed by the man's selflessness.
Faust, who has spoken in 15 high schools over the last four weeks, said he feels it is his responsibility to help convince young people learn to work for their dreams. "We have our faith and the greatest country in the world to live in," he said.
And, he reminded the crowd, everyone can contribute.
"God wants us all to give, but there's different ways to give," he said. "Be a friend to someone who needs a friend. Help another student who is struggling in class.
"Help your teammates out. Help your schoolmates out. Help your family out," Faust said. "That's all God wants us to do."
Faust had to leave the rally immediately after his speech to take care of his current responsibilities grandfather duty. He was headed to St. Hilary Elementary in Akron to pick up his grandchildren after school.