WEST LAFAYETTE – Despite growing up in Osceola, about 10 minutes from Notre Dame’s campus, Frank Duong never became infatuated with the Irish.
He occasionally wore Notre Dame gear while growing up and attending Penn High School in Mishawaka, but that was mostly because his friends were fans.
He didn’t watch Notre Dame football on TV, except maybe when it played Michigan, his favorite team.
Duong, simply, has no love for the Irish.
So he’d like nothing more than to deliver an impact performance when he takes the field for Purdue today in front of friends and family at Notre Dame Stadium.
It’ll be Duong’s first real chance to play the Irish in the spotlight.
After toiling on special teams, Duong moved into a starting spot at safety this season. After the first two games, he led the team in tackles. An ankle injury prevented him from starting and limited his play last week against Central Michigan, but it didn’t stop him from taking an interception 58 yards for a touchdown.
Duong said he still isn’t healthy, but nothing could keep him out today.
“It’s something I’m really looking forward to just because it is back home,” said Duong, who worked all week to get extra tickets for friends and family. “It’s the game I look forward to every year, especially since all of my friends are Notre Dame fans. I know they’ll all be watching. They wish me as much luck as they can. It’s just always exciting to play Notre Dame, especially going back and playing in Notre Dame Stadium. The building itself has a nice little mystique to it.”
Duong has played against the Irish twice but never on a stage like this, and he’s worked hard to get the chance.
Duong started his athletic career at Purdue as a track and field athlete before walking onto the football team as a sophomore. He built a reputation with teammates and coaches as a hard worker, someone who will watch extra film and stay longer in the weight room, and for his hitting skills on special teams. Now, he’s earning the “reckless with his body” label from coach Joe Tiller with his play in the secondary.
Duong had eight tackles in his first start against Northern Colorado and was all over the field against No. 16 Oregon, registering 11 tackles, including one for a loss.
As Duong has gotten more comfortable in the defense, he’s been able to play rather than think about his assignments. He’s able to fly to the ball and disrupt plays by sending runners inside to waiting teammates or making the tackle himself.
“I’m willing to throw my body around because it’s just what needs to be done at the time,” he said.
The 5-foot-8, 178-pound senior is not only impressing with his physical skills. Tiller said Duong rarely makes mistakes in assignments. Duong’s teammates have noticed that, too.
“He’s a guy who sits in the meetings rooms and always is very attentive,” linebacker Joe Holland said. “When he’s on the field, he knows exactly what to do. I think Frank always puts himself in great positions, and he’s a heck of an athlete, too. He can flat-out fly. I think the combination of those two just make him a very, very good player.”
And, hopefully, one who gets noticed today.
“This whole experience has kind of been surreal,” Duong said. “People ask me if it’s something I dreamed would happen. If you asked me five years ago, I can’t say this is what my dream was. But this is still something that means a lot to me, just to be out there, to know all my hard work has paid off. I’ve always believed in myself and my abilities.”