When Alex Anzalone announced his commitment to Notre Dame he stood in
front of a camera that shared his decision with a national audience
watching on ESPNU.
He explained his decision and answered a couple questions from the
television host in a segment that lasted barely two minutes.
But in those two minutes, Anzalone heaped expectations on himself
before frenzied Notre Dame fans could do so themselves on message
He devoted time in the announcement to talk about playing the Mike
linebacker position that Manti Te’o will be vacating and wearing the
No. 5 jersey that Te’o has made so popular during his four years in
It turned out that fans and reporters weren’t the only ones paying
attention to the announcement. Shortly after the announcement was
aired, Te’o took to his Twitter account to deliver a message that
showed his investment of the future of the program as well.
“@AlexAnzalone_24 rep that number! I know you will rep it the right
way...the way it’s meant to be worn! #5 #lineageofgreatness,” he
Minutes before that, Te’o tweeted, “I think I might have started
something special at ND.”
The connection between All-American linebacker and high school
linebacker started when Te’o sat down with Anzalone and his parents
for 45 minutes on his last visit to Notre Dame. Anzalone said Te’o
passed on bits of wisdom, opening up about things he hadn’t even told
the coaching staff, including why he came to Notre Dame, what the
university means to him and his decision to return for his senior
Anzalone left that conversation with the feeling that Te’o truly cared
about the high school linebacker.
With intentions on enrolling early, the 6-foot-2, 232- pound Anzalone
remains a football season and a semester away from joining the Irish
in South Bend. And if previous examples of Anzalone’s vast
improvements stay true, Anzalone will be well on his way to making No.
5 a well-worn jersey at Notre Dame for another four years.
Evolution into a star LB
Anzalone once thought that his future in football would be as a
defensive back. Hard to blame a kid for thinking that when he played
at 6-2 and 165 pounds as sophomore at Wyomissing (Pa.) Area High
At that point, Anzalone decided his passion for football was strong
enough to undergo a complete body change in an effort to become a
better football player. Anzalone and his father knew exactly where to
go to start a workout and nutrition plan.
Just five minutes from the Anzalone house trainer John Schaeffer runs
Winning Factor Sports Sciences with a client list that has included
Olympic champion speed skater Apolo Ohno and Philadelphia Eagles
running back LeSean McCoy.
After talking to the Anzalones about goals and the dedication it would
require to add weight, they decided that because of Alex’s 6-2 frame,
he could add 40 pounds of good weight in a year’s time.
“We talk to the parents as well as the kid because it’s a real team
effort to take a kid from one level and go into two or three levels
higher,” Schaeffer said. “It involves nutrition and consistency and
timing and work effort and ethics as far as the work effort. He had it
all. He had the family behind him. He had all the bases to work with,
it was just a matter of putting the package together, getting busy
The results started to show quickly and Anzalone was adding about a
pound a week. His daily diet of six meals required a regimented
dedication to eating the right foods at the right time — eggs, oatmeal
and fruit in the morning, a mid-morning snack, chicken or fish for
lunch, a snack after school, chicken or fish for dinner and a
late-night snack. Snacks weren’t based on hunger. Fruits, vegetables
and protein became the constant menu du jour.
“My dad was mainly the one who I relied on to help me out with eating
everything,” Anzalone said. “Sometimes he would have to force-feed me.
I think one time I threw up. It was pretty intense what I had to do to
get where I wanted to.”
As his trainer, Schaeffer could see Anzalone had all the motivation he
needed within himself.
“That’s what makes a kid like that good. They have to be
self-generating,” Schaeffer said. “They have to be really, really
hungry and motivated because there are a lot of things that they have
to do for me when they’re not with me. I never had to worry about that
with Alex. He always got it done.”
By the time his junior season rolled around Anzalone stood at 6-3 and
205 pounds and cemented himself as a linebacker and running back at
“Everybody knew that he was working out real hard and he was working
with a personal trainer with a nutrition program and everything, but
until we saw him out on the field it didn’t really register,” said
Wyomissing head coach Bob Wolfrum. “I’ve never seen a transformation
like that to tell you the truth.
“He just worked his rear off in the offseason. A lot of kids wouldn’t
work that hard. He went to work right after the last playoff game of
his sophomore year. He’s been working ever since really.”
For Anzalone, the realization of how much better he had risen above
the competition came in the first game of the season against
Pottsville. One of the first plays of the game Anzalone caught a pass
on a drag route only a couple yards past the line of scrimmage and ran
untouched down the sidelines as he burned through the nearly 70 yards
to the end zone.
Anzalone helped lead the team to an 11-1 record and frequently played
just the first half in blowout wins. Anzalone was such a clear leader
of the team, every teammate voted for him to be a captain.
“I don’t think we’ve ever had that before,” Wolfrum said. “Usually
somebody doesn’t like you when you get all those accolades but he’s
well-respected by everybody because of the way he carries himself.”
Recruitment hits high gear
Shortly after February’s signing day for the 2012 class, Anzalone’s
recruitment started gaining attention from every direction. Wolfrum’s
phone was constantly ringing.
“I don’t know how a 17-year-old kid handles that. I was on the phone
non-stop starting in February and I know he was being inundated with
stuff from pretty much every college in the country,” Wolfrum said.
“He seemed to handle it very well. I wasn’t on all the trips that his
family took, but he didn’t seem to be any worse for wear for all of
it. He handled it great.”
Sal Anzalone, a pediatrician, made sure his son was able to make
visits to whatever schools interested him. By March, the Anzalones
made their first visit to Notre Dame. Sal Anzalone was so impressed,
he bought himself a $200 Notre Dame jacket.
“I was shocked the first time we visited. I thought for sure he’d
commit,” Sal Anzalone said. “I thought it was awesome. That was a
But Alex wasn’t ready to commit and wanted to weigh other options. On
an April 21 visit for Ohio State’s spring game, Anzalone committed to
There Anzalone met future Notre Dame tight end commit Mike Heuerman
and fell in love with the atmosphere in Columbus, Ohio where they
chanted his name during the spring game.
The friendship with Heuerman would last but the commitment to the
Buckeyes would not. Anzalone told the Ohio State coaching staff that
he wanted to make other visits to make sure he didn’t make an
emotional decision and headed to Florida the first week in May.
While at Florida, a photo of Anzalone, Heuerman and Ohio State commit
Joey Bosa posing with an Ohio State fan surfaced online. News quickly
spread that the fan was Charles Eric Waugh, a convicted sex offender.
Ohio State contacted the recruits about Waugh just before the photo
started spreading around the web. Soon after, Anzalone decided to
decommit from Ohio State. The incident marked a tipping point with his
waning interest in Ohio State.
“It was tough for me,” Anzalone said. “I definitely learned from it. I
had to mature. It was tough at first, but with all the support I have,
it wasn’t too bad.”
Anzalone said in addition to his family, Heuerman helped him reset to
go through the recruiting process again.
“He’s pretty much my best friend. He’s been really important,”
Anzalone said. “He didn’t even like convince me to go to Notre Dame or
anything, he was just acting like my friend. He didn’t recruit me like
people think he has. There’s really not much to say at the point I was
Anzalone would seriously consider Florida, where his dad went to
school, and Penn State, where his older brother Nick goes to school,
before choosing Notre Dame.
Notre Dame on the horizon
There’s a video posted on YouTube titled “Here Comes the Irish” with
just over 72,000 views that’s filled with grainy footage of Notre
Dame’s campus and classic scenes in and around Notre Dame stadium.
Cathy Richardson’s version of “Here Come the Irish” plays as the
One night in July after Alex committed to Notre Dame his parents
watched the video and his mother started crying. Alex shared the video
and news of his mother’s tears on Twitter.
“I got choked up watching it too. We’re just so proud of him,” Sal
Anzalone said. “We’re just so happy that he has the opportunity. I
know Alex wants to bring glory back to Notre Dame. I know that’s in
his heart and in his mindset.”
The strong connection to Notre Dame that has already formed helped
Anzalone pick the Irish. He’s currently working out the details of
formally applying to the Mendoza College of Business, the key factor
that won Anzalone over.
Beyond academics, Anzalone has already formed tight bonds with fellow
Notre Dame commitments like Heuerman, who he texts every day, and the
Notre Dame coaching staff.
“I pretty much have relationships with all the coaches, offense or
defense,” Anzalone said. “I think that’s pretty neat about Notre Dame.
It’s not, ‘Oh, you’re with defense, so you’re going to talk to these
coaches.’ Even though that’s kind of what it is when you go there, I
thought it was cool how they all grouped up and recruited me.”
Another video is a favorite in the Anzalone household. When Alex
started playing football around seven years old, his oldest brother,
Christopher, called his dad from the football field to tell him to
stop working and come watch how great Alex looked. They wound up
taping Alex in action that season.
“He was catching. He was throwing. It was pretty wild to see,” Sal
Anzalone said. “We’ve got it on video. It’s the most hilarious thing
to watch this puny little kid wreck kids or catch the ball and running
halfback options. We knew he was special, but we didn’t know how far
it was going to go.”
If all goes well, there will be plenty more videos to come with
Anzalone wearing the No. 5 navy blue jersey and ND on the sleeves.