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Watching From Afar

September 6, 2013 | Anthony Oliva, WNBA.com

Everyone makes associations with their hometown. Maybe it’s a friendly face, the smell of a favorite meal or the familiar feel of a childhood bed.

For Skylar Diggins -- who’s nearing the end of a rookie year that’s been full of adjustments for someone that's been away from home for essentially the first time -- there is one more reason: college football.


Photo taken by Skylar
The South Bend, Ind. native will be spending her first fall -- a season known simply as football season where she comes from -- away from the shadows of Notre Dame's campus.

“It feels so weird,” Diggins said. “This is something that became a tradition of my family and I, as far as embracing Notre Dame football, maybe even going to the games together. It felt so weird not being there for the opening game because I’m always there for the opening game. I like drop everything for Notre Dame football games, especially the opening game, so it feels kind of weird.”

Football in South Bend – like in many football-crazed regions around the country – is a way of life, and every Autumn brings with it hope and excitement. The same holds true for Diggins, a Notre Dame graduate.

“It’s such a great experience,” Diggins said of following the football program. “The tradition is so huge and I always get super excited talking about it because I’ve been at Notre Dame games, not just when I went to Notre Dame, but when I was in the seventh and eighth grade and all throughout high school. It’s always been near and dear to my heart. Of course, in my opinion, there’s nothing like a Notre Dame football game.”

So this weekend, when Skylar’s beloved Fighting Irish travel to Ann Arbor, Mich. to take on their rivals, the University of Michigan, you can bet Skylar will have a strong vested interest.

“Oh my gosh, you don’t even understand. The Michigan-Notre Dame game is one of the biggest games,” Diggins said. “There’s certain games you get up for like USC-Notre Dame, but Michigan-Notre Dame, to me, that was the best game to be at. There was always so much tension between the two schools, it’s such a big rivalry in my opinion. I’ve been to games in Ann Arbor and I’ve been to games in Notre Dame, dozens of them, and that game is bigger than any other game to me.”

The game is at 8 p.m. ET and Diggins is hoping that her travel schedule -- Tulsa plays San Antonio the next day -- does not interfere with her ability to watch the game.

“We go to San Antonio and I feel like we’re going to be there in time for the game and I cannot wait,” Diggins said. “You don’t understand. I’ve been talking about it all week. I see people on different sports networks saying that Michigan is going to win and all that stuff, but I just think we’re going to pull it off.

Watching the game in San Antonio, Diggins said, will not compare to the near week-long celebration that occurs on campus for a home football weekend. Diggins said that fans, who come from all over, start arriving on campus on Wednesday to check out the stadium, wait for the players after practice and, of course, raid the book store for Notre Dame apparel.

“That all happens on Wednesday. And I see kids. I feel like kids miss a few days of school just to come to a Notre Dame football game,” she said with a laugh. “These kids are missing Wednesday, Thursday, Friday of school. That’s how big of a deal it is and I think that’s so exciting.”

The next big event of the week is on Friday when the school hosts the pep rally.

“That’s when the fans get hyped,” she said.

The culmination for Skylar, however, was Saturday itself.

“On gameday, you can never get up too early on a Saturday when Notre Dame is home,” Diggins said. “You can never get up too early. I’ve been up at like 7:30am and headed out to campus. Or if I was on campus, I’d wake up at 7:30am anyway and head out early and maybe people who were cooking for two or three hours would be there.”

All of these things help create the storied history of Notre Dame that Diggins said heavily enticed her to attend the university in the first place. And, with her almost unprecedented success on the women’s basketball team during her four years there, Diggins has, as one of the more decorated Notre Dame athletes in recent memory, become a part of that history.

“For my name to be among some of those great players or people who have just changed around their program or brought their program back to an elite level, that means a lot to me because I have a lot of respect for those athletes,” Diggins said. “To be among their names is a good feeling.”

And although she’s graduated, Diggins says the Notre Dame community has left a lasting impression on her.

“The person I am today, I don’t know if I’d be that person without some of the people I met at Notre Dame,” Diggins said. “Some of my biggest mentors are coach (Muffet) McGraw and (assistant coach) Niele Ivey. Some of the people that have been the most influential in my life have been people I’ve met at Notre Dame and just how much they care about me, not just as Skylar Diggins number 4 on the Fighting Irish women’s basketball team, but Skylar Diggins the person, friend and student athlete. It was so much bigger than basketball there and I’ve said it so many times over and over again that the relationships that I’ve made there at the University of Notre Dame, those are the things I’m going to miss the most.”

Well that, and the football games.

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