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April 8, 2011
It wasn't so long ago that Mike Ragone was poking fun at guys like him.
Three years ago Ragone, then a sophomore tight end, would take little jabs at former Notre Dame linebacker Maurice Crum Jr. as he played out his career in South Bend as a fifth-year.?
"I was like, 'Man, you're one old dude. What are you doing here still? Don't you have kids?'" Ragone said. "Now I'm thinking to myself I'm old. It's cool though."
Ragone didn't realize then that tearing his ACL and missing the 2008 season would put him on track to take a fifth year of his own.
The former four-star prospect from Cherry Hill, N.J., will turn 23 years old one day after the Irish play a home game against Michigan State this fall, something that hasn't gone forgotten as his last set of spring practices come and go.
Just the other day Ragone reflected on his time at Notre Dame as he watched some of the guys he played with go through Pro Day workouts in hopes of continuing their football career.
Instead of doing the same, Ragone is back for another try at making a run toward a BCS bowl game. But the bigger picture is how much the New Jersey kid has grown up away from the football field.
"I think I've grown as a person, grown into a man and everything," Ragone said. "Hopefully the younger guys will look up to me as a role model with everything I've been through and just know you keep going. A lot of guys ask me questions and I'm always there for them. I think that I've been developing as the team's developing."
Turns out Ragone's development on the field looks to be a key factor heading into the Blue-Gold Game next weekend.
Tyler Eifert and Ragone now headline a group of tight ends that includes Jake Golic, Alex Welch and incoming freshman Ben Koyack, who will enroll this summer. Couple that with Michael Floyd's absence and the veteran tight ends have been asked to do a little bit more.
Spring practice returns have been solid.
"I've been real pleasantly surprised with just the entire tight end corps," said quarterback Dayne Crist. "I think all of those guys have done a good job of playing in different positions that they may not have been accustomed to doing before.?Seeing those guys kind of make that transition and play with more athleticism in spots out in the big field, that's been a pleasant surprise for us."
At this point in his career Ragone feels better equipped than ever to handle whatever comes his way in terms of playing time or subtle tweaks in how he'll be used. He's also more than willing to do whatever he's asked.
"Whatever coach (Brian) Kelly wants us to do or wants me to do, I'm willing to do whatever he wants," Ragone said. "Whatever gives us the best chance to win. If he lines me up on the sideline; I don't care what he does. I'll do it."
Ragone has the benefit of vast experience at Notre Dame to help him through whatever comes his way, although it does make him feel like a bit of an old man at times. But that's not something he would change.
There's not a place Ragone would rather be or a thing he'd rather be doing than taking in one more year of college football.
"It means a lot," he said. "Another year to win a national championship, play against the best teams in the nation and play under coach Kelly and wear the gold helmet for another year. It's really special."