LOS ANGELES – Notre Dame walk-on linebacker Joe Schmidt had plenty of support when the No. 1 Irish played USC on Saturday night in Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
The Orange, Calif., native had 60 family members and friends at the game, and the 6-foot, 230-pound sophomore was able to get everyone a ticket, according to his mother, Debra.
The family arrived at 5 a.m. to set up their tailgating tent.
This is spectacular for us, said George Lopez, who is married to Schmidt’s sister, Catherine, and played baseball for Notre Dame. Catherine ran track for the Irish.
Saturday night’s game also reunited Schmidt with some former teammates.
He played at Mater Dei High School in Santa Ana, Calif., with USC quarterback Max Wittek, who started against the Irish in place of the injured Matt Barkley, and receiver Victor Blackwell.
Joe and Max were best friends, and Max would sleep over a lot, Catherine said. They are excited to play each other.
Schmidt has four tackles in eight games this season for Notre Dame, and he traveled with the team to Saturday night’s game.
Joe lost his godfather a week ago, Lopez said. A bright spot has been Notre Dame keeps winning games, and now the family gets to see him.
Freshman quarterback Gunner Kiel did not make the trip to USC with the team.
Kiel also didn’t travel to Oklahoma this year. Coach Brian Kelly said Kiel didn’t travel with the Irish to Oklahoma because of limited space on the team plane.
Not all Notre Dame fans had to make a long trek to watch the Irish close the regular season against the Trojans.
Francesca Gist, who graduated from Notre Dame in 1986, and her family came up from Palm Springs, which is about two hours east of Los Angeles.
Gist’s father, Robert Bianco, also graduated from Notre Dame. He graduated in 1965, and he has been bringing his kids to Irish games against the Trojans for about 30 years.
And this year was pretty special for the Notre Dame alum as her school had the chance to reach the national championship game with a win over USC.
This year is different, Gist said. It kind of scares us. When we talk about it we knock on wood and say a little prayer. It’s more intense this year.