FORT WAYNE – Notre Dame central defender Grant Van De Casteele will have a tough time having a better day than he did in February.
The Irish fifth-year senior found out he was named the Big East male scholar-athlete of the year the same day he was told he would be interviewing former Duke player and current ESPN college basketball analyst Jay Bilas for the YouTube comedy show Grant & Max 1080 that he does with fellow defender Max Lachowecki.
That was a pretty chaotic and hectic day, Van De Casteele said. I was preoccupied trying to dig some dirt on Jay to truly kind of embrace the award. After a couple of days, I talked to my parents about it and heard a little bit from (student-athlete alumni relations executive director) Beth Hunter about how much of a big honor it really was. That really made me proud.
Van De Casteele has plenty to be proud of, including his soccer skills, which will be on display at the Fort Wayne Sport Club in the Shindigz National Soccer Festival when Notre Dame plays NCAA champion Indiana at 5 p.m. Saturday.
He already has his finance degree and is pursuing a second major in economics. He co-hosts a popular comedy show, which led to him getting an interview with Bilas when ESPN’s College GameDay came to South Bend for the Irish’s game against Louisville on Feb. 9.
And he played every minute for the Irish last year as they went 17-4-1, won the Big East tournament and received a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. Notre Dame lost to Indiana in the third round of the tournament, 2-1 in double overtime.
I think we sell one of the best degrees in the U.S., and we also like to think we sell one of the best soccer educations. That’s the whole thing, Notre Dame coach Bobby Clark said. Grant is a special example of someone like that, who has the ability to do both.
Van De Casteele had his soccer intelligence tested when he joined the Irish as he moved from left defender to the middle.
The jump from high school and club to college is already a tough enough jump, but I was making that jump and at the same time, I was jumping position, Van De Casteele said. Tactically, it was a lot different for me. We ran a different formation than my club team.
I was lost out there. I’m sure people thought I was very, very bad and questioned coach Clark’s ability to recruit.
Notre Dame’s six-game, 10-day trip to Sweden and Denmark between Van De Casteele’s freshman and sophomore years was crucial in his development. He said he became comfortable at a position that forced him to learn other players’ roles in the system.
Van De Casteele helped the Irish notch 21 shutouts last year, earned the most outstanding defensive performer award in the Big East tournament and scored the winning goal against IU in a 1-0 regular-season match Sept. 26.
The 6-foot-2, 165-pounder has done all of this even though he isn’t the typical central defender, a position known more for being occupied by a big-body bruiser.
Although he is a big and is strong, he’s a pretty skillful center back, Clark said. He is not what you would call a battering ram-type player. He is much more of a thinking center back. He can be tough and can be good in the air. He gives the defense good support.