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Bob Wieneke | South Bend Tribune | December 15, 2014

Hanging the cleats

  Collinsworth returns a fumble for a touchdown against Northwestern on Nov. 15.

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Minutes after Friday night's Notre Dame Football Awards Show ended, Irish fifth-year senior Austin Collinsworth stood in an anteroom at the DeBartolo Performing Arts Center, hoping to go unnoticed.

Collinsworth hours earlier had undergone successful surgery on his left shoulder, and the medicine was still doing what it was supposed to do.

"A little loopy," was how Collinsworth described his current state. "I was maybe going to avoid media but we're already here, so let's do it."

It should come as no surprise that he plowed ahead and did something at less than 100 percent.

A couple hours before Notre Dame's Aug. 30 season opener against Rice, it was Collinsworth getting a lift to the stadium in a golf cart, a right knee injury costing the newly-elected captain the first four games of the season.

He returned in Week 5, but was a Week 6 casualty with a left shoulder injury. That meant three more weeks on the sideline.

  Collinsworth was sidelined for much of this season.
He was back for the final two home games, scoring a touchdown against Northwestern after scooping up a fumble, a sizeable feat considering he was essentially being held together by duct tape and chicken wire.

"I've got more braces than a middle schooler," said Collinsworth, the 6-foot-1, 205-pound safety from Fort Thomas, Kentucky.

By the time the USC game rolled around, being at 100 percent was a pipe dream.

"Literally like I got hit by a car," was how Collinsworth described feeling entering the Nov. 29 game against Southern California. "My knee hurt, my back hurt, my upper back and my neck hurt, my shoulder hurt.

"It was like, which one's going to go? I kinda had that feeling like something's probably going to go here, just which one's it going to be. It ended up being the shoulder."

Collinsworth underwent successful surgery on Friday, but he is out for the Dec. 30 Music City Bowl against LSU, his Notre Dame career now officially over.

"It's sad. It's the end of my football career more than likely, but going out with the guys that I went out with, I honestly -- this is the truth -- I love those guys," Collinsworth said. "I love everybody in that locker room. And to be a part of this program with those guys, it's just been such a blessing, it's hard for me to say anything bad."

Collinsworth ended up playing in just five games with only 13 tackles. There were more talented safeties on Notre Dame's roster, but Collinsworth's knowledge was a big factor in why he got the call when healthy.

He didn't entirely rule out continuing his football career next year.

"I've got to distance myself from the surgery a little bit before I make a decision," Collinsworth said. "I'm just not sure."

What is sure is that Collinsworth has earned the respect of his teammates, and it didn't take injuries for validation.

"Austin didn't need anybody to respect him any more," teammate Matthias Farley said. "I don't think anyone ever did not respect Austin, but I definitely think guys respect him that much more."

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