Everyone makes associations with their hometown. Maybe its a friendly face, the smell of a favorite meal or the familiar feel of a childhood bed.
For Skylar Diggins -- whos nearing the end of a rookie year thats 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 Im 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.
Its 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 Ive 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. Its always been near and dear to my heart. Of course, in my opinion, theres nothing like a Notre Dame football game.
So this weekend, when Skylars 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 dont even understand. The Michigan-Notre Dame game is one of the biggest games, Diggins said. Theres 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, its such a big rivalry in my opinion. Ive been to games in Ann Arbor and Ive 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 were going to be there in time for the game and I cannot wait, Diggins said. You dont understand. Ive 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 were 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. Thats how big of a deal it is and I think thats so exciting.
The next big event of the week is on Friday when the school hosts the pep rally.
Thats 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. Ive been up at like 7:30am and headed out to campus. Or if I was on campus, Id 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 womens 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 shes graduated, Diggins says the Notre Dame community has left a lasting impression on her.
The person I am today, I dont know if Id 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 Ive met at Notre Dame and just how much they care about me, not just as Skylar Diggins number 4 on the Fighting Irish womens basketball team, but Skylar Diggins the person, friend and student athlete. It was so much bigger than basketball there and Ive said it so many times over and over again that the relationships that Ive made there at the University of Notre Dame, those are the things Im going to miss the most.