Fifth-year senior grows athletically, academically
By TIM CASEY
Assistant Sports Editor
The class met every Friday and Saturday night in the spring of 1997 and 1998.
For a few hours, several football players, who were struggling academically, sat in the football office, studying and reading, while an assistant coach looked on.
Its name? Davie 101.
"That was a last ditch effort," said Mary Ann Spence, the assistant director for Academic Services at Notre Dame, who helped the football players deal with academics. "It was one more way to get their attention."
Among the attendees was Mike Gandy, currently the Irish's starting right guard.
"I was a frequent member," Gandy said.
During his first two years at Notre Dame, Gandy needed any additional help he could receive. A low grade point average, a minimal work ethic and a tendency to skip classes combined to put Gandy in a difficult situation. He was on academic probation more than once, according to Spence.
So in addition to the tutoring sessions and guidance provided by the University, Gandy was ordered to attend Davie 101, a study hall started by coach Bob Davie and his staff.
"I wasn't very mature," Gandy said. "I kind of coasted by. It put me in a pretty big hole that I had to get out of."
At times, Davie thought the hole was as large as the Grand Canyon.
"There was a point where I wasn't sure if he would make it here," Davie said. "He always had enough ability. But overall, I wasn't sure."
Whenever Jim Jones views photographs of Gandy as a freshman, he has the same expression.
"Every time I take a look at that in the game book, I kind of laugh," said Jones, a fellow fifth-year senior starter on the offensive line. "It's like, if these guys see his picture, they can't be too intimidated."
Said Gandy: "I was a pencil-neck."
Pencil neck to top recruit
In the fall of 1996, the 6-foot-4 inch Gandy weighed a mere 235 pounds. He had started playing football only three years before. After knocking out four front teeth during a soccer game, Gandy decided to give up the sport he had been playing since early childhood.
The switch proved to be a relatively easy task for the athletic native of Garland, Texas. Gandy played on the junior varsity squad as a sophomore before starting at tight end and defensive end his final two seasons. By the summer of 1995, Gandy was pursued by the likes of Texas, Texas A&M, Michigan, Florida State and Ohio State. Some schools wanted him on defense, others on offense.
But they all wanted him.
"Guys were at my house every day," Gandy said. "People don't understand, the phone is literally ringing all night long. After awhile, it became the biggest hassle and pain I've ever gone through. I wanted to get it over as quickly as possible."
After making three visits, then-Irish linebacker Bert Berry hosted Gandy and showed him the campus life. Two days after arriving, while eating breakfast at Lou Holtz's house, Gandy made his decision.
He started his Irish career as a tight end and wore No. 82 [because Bobby Brown had No. 88, Gandy's high school number] but never played in a game as a freshman.
During the winter months, Gandy was moved to the defensive line before going back to tight end in the spring.
When he arrived for his second season, Gandy switched to offensive guard.
After playing tight end in a run-dominated wing T offense at Garland High School, Gandy had little difficulty changing positions again. A few days prior to the Oct. 11 Pittsburgh game, Gandy suffered his first major on-field setback.
During a practice drill, Gandy got "leg-whipped" by a teammate and tripped. Before he could get up, several players piled on top of the sophomore. Gandy broke a bone above his left ankle and dislocated his foot from the ankle socket. He missed the rest of the season.
"It was so frustrating being away from football," Gandy said. "It's like a part of you was gone. I had no friends because they were all at practice. It was just traumatic."
Gandy spent the next several months stretching, lifting and doing anything possible to return to the field. He had daily sessions with Irish trainer Jim Russ, who Gandy credits for providing motivation.
But despite the success in rehabilitation, Gandy continued his classroom woes. The academic pressures caused Gandy to consider his situation.
"I thought I could go back to Texas and play," Gandy said. "You have that feeling but my mom didn't want me to leave. She realized if I left, I would be taking the easy way out."
Ladeta Gandy influenced her son enough to stick through the rough times.
By the spring, the cast was removed and Gandy participated in the 15 practices.
He began the 1998 campaign alternating with senior guard Tim Ridder and even lined up at fullback in goal-line situations during the Baylor game. When Jerry Wisne suffered a knee injury against Navy, Gandy was thrust into the starting role. He has started every game since.
"He's 10 times better than he was two years ago," offensive line coach Mike Borbely said.
Besides the football improvement, Gandy's grades and motivation also increased.
"It got as bad as you can get," Spence said. "I encouraged, nagged, pleaded and begged."
Finally, Gandy decided he would listen to his mother, Spence and the coaches.
"One day I just made up my mind I didn't like the way I was living my life," Gandy said. "I didn't like that I was letting so many people down. When I started doing things the right way, everything fell in place."
Bringing it all together
On May 21, 2000, Mike Gandy walked across the stage in the Joyce Center auditorium and received his diploma from one of the nation's top 20 universities. As he glanced at the thousands of people watching the graduation, Gandy saw his mother, aunts and grandmother, who had made the long trip north.
Tears flowed from each of their eyes.
"It was like an epiphany," said Gandy, who had over a 3.0 grade point average in his last two semesters. "That whole day I thought about the troubles and the hard times I went through. Then I looked in my hand and had my diploma. I was with all my friends. It's still a good feeling right now."
Now, Gandy is a fifth-year senior starter for the 2-2 Irish. He has gone from a self-described "tall and lanky" to a 300-pound NFL prospect.
"He'll be an NFL player, no question," Borbely said. "There's no doubt in my mind. They'll love him."
But when his football career ends, Gandy still has dual degrees in sociology and computer applications and is also taking business courses this fall. His favorite is a class in entrepreneurship, a field he may pursue.
"I want to start my own business, have something of my own and watch it grow," Gandy said.
For Gandy's family, coaches and academic advisors, they have already seen a 17-year old boy develop into a 21-year old adult.
"The Mike Gandys are what make all this [coaching] worthwhile," Davie said. "That's what you do this for."
"It wasn't easy or pretty. But it got done," said Spence.
From Davie 101 to doing well in 400-level courses, Gandy has emerged as not only an on-field leader but as a model for maturity.
"It's almost over for me," Gandy said. "I never really appreciated anything until right now. But I've been fortunate to be around great people who helped push me when I didn't want to go forward. I'm more of a man now."
All Sports Stories for Friday, October 6, 2000