Earlier in the year many Irish fans were surprised when it was announced that Travis Leitko would not be a member of the 2005 Irish team. Amid concerns from depth chart engineers about ND's razor thin margins at defensive end, the rumors started to fly as to the reason for his absence and many were not flattering. His reputation and character took more than a few hits and low blows.
Now however, Eric Hansen reports on a side of Leitko that not many have seen while all the attention has been on the Irish team. This fall semester, Leitko has been back at his home in The Woodlands, Texas taking care of his parents, both of whom are battling cancer.
"I've been pretty much bed-ridden since the end of May," said Travis' mom, Janice, who has been struggling to deal with internal scarring from radiation treatments to eradicate her cancer. "They say God has a reason for everything, and I pray this is not the reason this has all happened to Travis. However, I don't know what I would have done without him.Travis still has plans to return to Notre Dame in 2006 and rejoin the football team. In the meantime he will continue to take care of his parents and take classes at the local community college and University of Houston. And while I'm sure he is glad he can be home to be close to his parents, he's also keeping one eye on the Fighting Irish.
"I'm so happy for my guys," Travis said. "They're doing so well, but it hurts not to be out there. I've tried to stay out of their hair, but I've talked to a few guys and they seem to be doing pretty well.It really is a touching story that hopefully will remind all Notre Dame fans of the caliber of players who unfortunately at times get measured solely by their contribution to the weekly box score.
"I wasn't really surprised by how well they've done. I knew we had talent. I knew guys could get the job done. Especially in the spring, I could see there was a different mental attitude."
Speaking of players and rumors, one current player that has been a target of many internet rumors is Rashon Powers-Neal. RPN has been suspended from the Irish team since the Purdue game and recently was not on the field for the final home game of his final season. This past week he came clean about the reason for his suspension -- a DUI while home in Minnesota during ND's first bye week -- and accepted the blame for his mistake.
"I'd like to apologize to my family, teammates, coaches and to the University of Notre Dame for the problem that I caused with my poor decision-making on Oct. 8," he told The Tribune via telephone on Friday. "I realize I placed many others and myself in jeopardy, that I paid dearly for my choices on that day. I ask that you forgive me, and I assure you that this type of incident will never occur again."According to the article, the University imposed suspension officially ends on December 7th, at which point it will be up to Coach Weis to decide if RPN can return to the team or not.
"To my understanding, it's all up to the coaches after that," Powers-Neal said. "But I wasn't about to talk to them about it this week. I'm just going to let them worry about winning this next game."RPN also clarifies that he did not sit out of the game against Michigan State due to any suspension or punishment. The decision not to play him was solely a coaching decision, not a disciplinary one.
At this point I'd like to point out that while we like to have some fun from time to time on this site, I don't think this is the situation where we should compare Rashon's punishment to those meted out at other programs around the country. As Lou Holtz once said, "burning down your neighbor's house doesn't make your own house look any better."