Friday, December 13, 2002
Where Are They Now? Michael Stonebreaker
By Marc Connolly
There might not have been a better name suited for football than "Stonebreaker." And Michael certainly lived up to his last name as a bone-crushing linebacker for Notre Dame in the late '80s/early '90s.
After serving primarily as a special-teams standout as a freshman and missing his sophomore season for academic reasons, Stonebreaker erupted on to the college football scene in 1988.
You may recall that was the season the Fighting Irish were the consensus national champions after completing a 12-0 season when they defeated teams ranked first, second and third in the polls at the time of each game. Third-year head coach Lou Holtz had himself a young group of talented offensive weapons, including name players like Ricky Watters, Raghib Ismail, Derek Brown and one of the most elusive quarterbacks in recent memory in Tony Rice. But it was the defense that spurned on this Irish juggernaut. And Stonebreaker was the main man on a linebacking crew that featured standouts Wes Prichett and Ned Bolcar.
Stonebreaker said he hasn't seen a better defense at that level. It was a unit that prided itself on hard work.
"During those years, we were so dedicated to preparing ourselves for the season," he said. "We were all friends, we joked around a lot, we had parties together and we worked out together. But when it was time to practice, we practiced really hard."
As the Irish's eagle linebacker, the River Ridge, La., native was a consensus All-American linebacker after registering 104 tackles in his junior season. He also finished third in balloting for the Butkus Award.
Stonebreaker missed the entire 1989 season after breaking a kneecap and dislocating a hip in the off-season, but he came back with a vengeance the following season.
In 1990, the man The Sporting News once called a "Jack Lambert clone" had a dream season for a squad that spent six weeks as the No. 1-ranked team in the nation before finishing sixth in the final polls. Stonebreaker finished third for the Butkus once again and earned unanimous first-team All-American honors. Known for his overall football instincts and superior pass-coverage skills, the 6-foot-1, 228-pounder's 95 tackles led a Notre Dame defense which also featured NT Chris Zorich, LB Demetrious DuBose and CB Todd Lyght.
Stonebreaker always had a knack for making huge plays at the most critical of times. He said it was easy for him to get up for such battles.
"No matter who we played, everybody's big game was Notre Dame," he said. "We were their biggest game of the year, so we had to play at the highest level to keep winning. As a team, we always had a unique sense of urgency in those games."
As a senior, he was responsible for the Irish's three biggest late-game defensive plays of the season. The workhorse linebacker made game-deciding interceptions in the fourth quarter against Michigan and Michigan State. In a classic battle versus the second-ranked Miami Hurricanes, Notre Dame pulled off a 29-20 upset victory after Stonebreaker's fourth-quarter fumble recovery at the Irish 2-yard line sealed the deal.
The following spring, the Chicago Bears selected Stonebreaker in the ninth round of the NFL Draft. Never being able to play his true position of inside linebacker, he only played one season with the Bears before making briefs stops in Atlanta in 1993 and then New Orleans in 1994.
After playing in the World League for the Frankfurt Galaxy in 1995, followed by an appearance in the St. Louis Rams' camp that spring, Stonebreaker decided to call it a career.
"At that point, football had become an uphill battle, so I decided I had more to offer than chasing grown men around," said Stonebreaker, who only watches football as a fan now and then.
When people look back at his exceptional playing days in South Bend, the former Golden Domer wants them to recall what his teams accomplished, rather than his personal accolades.
"We took a team that was mediocre in the early '80s, before Holtz got there, and put them back on top of the college football world."
Marc Connolly is a senior writer for ABC Sports Online.
|Michael Stonebreaker was a force on the Notre Dame defense.|