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First offered by Montana Tech, freshman Luke Talich turns Notre Dame walk-on into scholarship

Luke Talich Notre Dame
Posted at 6:39 AM, Jun 03, 2024

CODY, Wyo. — This small town of roughly 10,000 stakes claim to its share of popular attractions. There's the Buffalo Bill Museum. Over 100 years of the mighty Cody Stampede Rodeo. And, naturally, a proud high school sports tradition of its Broncs and Fillies.

But Cody has never been an athletic recruiting hotbed for the nation’s most prominent universities, which makes Luke Talich’s story exponentially impressive.

“Ten, 12 … 12 years old, maybe," Luke recently told MTN Sports seated in his family's living room, estimating when his passion for Notre Dame football kicked in. "It was a while ago.”

His mother, Jen — legs comfortably crossed on the family couch — remembers Luke's first bit of Fighting Irish apparel.

“He got a stocking hat; it was a Notre Dame stocking hat and he wore that all the time,” she recalled.

The stocking hat graduated to a logo bucket hat, which Luke would wear while catching fish of all sizes. Shortly after, he started pasting Irish stickers around his bedroom.

Fast-forward to high school where Cody’s team colors just happened to nearly match Notre Dame’s. As a sophomore, Luke and his older brother Nic helped the Broncs win a state title.

“We played at home because we couldn’t go to play in Laramie because of the whole COVID deal,” Luke said of the special 2020 championship game hosted in Cody. High school football teams across Wyoming otherwise converge annually to play their title games at War Memorial Stadium at the University of Wyoming.

One year later, Luke — starting at quarterback — and the Broncs repeated, this time in Laramie. The run likely would've turned into a three-peat had Luke not broken his collar bone in the state semifinal his senior year.

As his dream of playing for Notre Dame grew, the reality of it still seemed out of reach.

“My first offer was actually Montana Tech,” Luke recalled. His team had attended a camp in Butte prior to Luke's junior season.

After his junior year and plenty of thoughtful consideration, Luke decided to bet on himself.

Summer of 2022, before his senior season, Luke and his parents made their first trip to South Bend, Indiana, for a one-day Notre Dame evaluation camp. They were eager to see if he could hit the radar.

“We felt like, when we walked away — wow, that was a lot of effort to get here and (we) didn’t feel like we were content,” Luke's father Jim recalled. "A lot of those evaluation camps, you know … they’ve kind of (already) got their people that they’re looking at.”

“It’s funny because we came home from that evaluation and we were like, well, we went," Jen remembered with a laugh. "It just felt like it was ending there.”

But at least the family had a starting point. They would drive to multiple summer camps in 2022 hoping to catch the attention of Power 5 schools — and did after Weber State's camp in Ogden, Utah.

“The next morning I got offered by Oregon State, just on the phone, which was just bizarre to me. Like, it was crazy," Luke said. "Me and my dad were sitting in the hotel room and I was like, what just happened?”

Offers started rolling in. Among them, Luke made official visits to Montana State where Jen played volleyball and Wyoming where Jim played football and Luke's brother Nic is currently a member of the Cowboys. Oregon State continued its pursuit. Then the University of Utah was offering a scholarship. According to Jim, roughly a dozen teams showed interest including Oklahoma, Boston College and Colorado State.

In the meantime, Jim checked back with Notre Dame to see if anyone had noticed Luke and to at least find out what his evaluation had shown.

“He (recruiting associate Caleb Davis) was looking at his numbers and he said, this kind of slipped through and I’m going to hand it to my boss and let’s just stay in touch," Jim said.

Before long, Luke was back in school for his senior year at Cody.

“I get a call during my history class," he said. "Just some weird number, so I’m like, not going to answer it. Then he said, 'Hey, this is Chris O’Leary from Notre Dame. I’m the safeties coach. I want to offer you a preferred walk-on spot.'”

The sudden reality was almost paralyzing as an even bigger decision now loomed.

“What it came down to was, just not wanting to regret not trying to go to Notre Dame,” Luke said.

December 20, 2022, the night before the NCAA's early signing day, Luke called Irish head coach Marcus Freeman to commit as a preferred walk-on. Then, he turned to the difficulty of phone calls to deliver that same news to coaches who had offered serious scholarship money.

“You’re getting full-ride offers from these fantastic universities and it’s hard to just let those go and say, 'No, I’m just going to go walk on and suck my parents’ money up,” Jim said with an understanding laugh.

Raised in a strong Catholic family, Luke leaned into his faith and his dream with one big caveat.

“I didn’t really tell anybody this, but I told my parents, and they knew. I was going to give it a year — give it my best effort — see if I could earn a scholarship. And if not, I was going to have to leave just because financially we couldn’t afford it,” he said.

Turns out Luke's effort at Notre Dame was nonstop. The true freshman from small-town Cody wound up not only suiting up, but playing special teams in eight games during Notre Dame’s 10-3 season. According to the school's website, his first career tackle arrived on kick return coverage in a prime-time showdown against Ohio State.

Then, late last season, the kid whose evaluation card was lost in the shuffle learned from Freeman that he’d earned a scholarship. News both thrilling and critical, allowing Luke to continue at Notre Dame.

“He (Luke) called and told us and we were like, oh my gosh,” Jen recalled with enormous relief.

“They kind of freaked out," Luke said of his parents with a smile. "Obviously, it was a big deal for them because they were the ones kind of financially supporting me.”

Not lost in this story is the revealing character of Freeman, who after Luke had committed made the effort along with O’Leary to visit a preferred walk-on in his Cody, Wyoming, home. They shared lasagna cooked by Jen before Freeman and O'Leary tagged along to one of Luke’s evening basketball practices.

The other heartfelt tie to Luke's story was forgoing the chance to join his brother at Wyoming.

“That was hard because we did always think that they might play together again. So, Nicolas is incredible ... and he is so excited for his brother and so proud of him,” Jen said, holding back tears.

As for the reality of his whirlwind year, Luke said, “I’m just some small kid from Wyoming."

A small kid who has come a long way from his Irish bucket hat ... to his Irish helmet.