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Notre Dame Football

Confidence, Compete Level Key To Ben Skowronek's Success

October 30, 2020
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When Ben Skowronek first showed up to train at Traction Athletic Performance in Fort Wayne, Ind., the middle-schooler didn’t particularly stand out, at least not to Dre Muhammad.

Traction receivers coach certainly wouldn’t have projected Skowronek as a future Power-Five wide receiver.

“A year after, I wouldn’t have been shocked, but when he first started, it was hard to see that he would be where he is right now,” Muhammad says of Skowronek, who is playing wideout for Notre Dame as a grad transfer this season following four productive years at Northwestern.

But within the first couple years at Traction, formerly known as AWP Sports, a few things happened.

In general, Skowronek developed as an athlete and as a receiver, but Muhammad recalls two small, but vivid moments that foreshadowed what was to come.

As a ninth-grader, Skowronek proved to himself, Muhammad and anybody else in the facility that he wasn’t going to take anything from anybody, no matter who they were.

“We were in practice one day and he was going against one of our top DBs at the time, who was committed to Indiana,” Muhammad recalls. “In the middle of a play – something must have happened previous to the play – but in the most disrespectful way, Ben kind of just slapped the dude.”

Muhammad compares the slap to one from the final fight scene between Simba and Scar in The Lion King.

“It had a sound effect to it and everything to it,” he says.

“When he slapped him, I said, ‘Oh snap, this dude is about to beat the hell out of Ben.’ But the dude controlled himself and didn’t retaliate on Ben. I looked at Ben and said, ‘Damn, this dude is a competitor.’”

Not long after that, Skowronek was again able to prove to himself, Muhammad, and anybody else who was watching that he could compete against the very best just like Austin Mack, a more heralded wide receiver prospect in Skowronek’s class who also trained with Traction.

“We were at a showcase in Michigan,” says Muhammad. “He was going against Damon Webb and at the time, Damon Webb was one of the top players in the country at his position. Ben caught a simple slant, nothing spectacular.

“From that moment forward, whenever I watched him do something, he always competed at such a high level. That’s when his development started to turn in terms of him growing.”

Skowronek (left) visited Notre Dame as a high-schooler with Muhammad (center) and Mack (right).

Muhammad is a big believer in compete level as a key indicator for young prospects.

“Competition is obviously one of the few things that sets players apart,” he said. “At that age, when you have somebody who is fearful of competition, it hinders their development completely.”

That was never a problem for Skowronek.

“That’s really Ben’s number one trait, he’s competitive as hell,” says Muhammad.

“Ben is the player you love to have him on your team and you hate to play against him. That’s Ben Skowronek.”

The confidence he developed allowed him to play better. Playing better led to even more confidence and increased performance and so on and so on.

“That’s when everything started to turn, when he caught that pass against Damon Webb and it was history from there,” Muhammad says.

Skowronek drilled down on the fundamentals of the positions and the results were clear.

“He was running better routes as a sophomore and junior in high school than some dudes who were in college,” Muhammad says. “For him, it’s always been skills.”

Muhammad is convinced Skowronek would have been one of the highest-ranked wideouts in the nation had he clocked some quicker times during his high school days.

“Now, obviously for me, he was one of the top players regardless,” he says.

Skowronek signed with Northwestern as a member of the 2016 recruiting class and was one of only a few Wildcats to see the field as a true freshman, finishing with eight catches. He earned one of the starting spots at receiver coming out of preseason camp as a sophomore.

He combined to catch 90 passes for over 1,200 yards and eight touchdowns as a sophomore and junior at Northwestern. He caught 12 passes for 141 yards in three games as a senior captain in 2019 before suffering a season-ending injury.

After graduating from Northwestern, he decided he was ready for a new challenge and eventually wound up with the Irish.

“It’s completely about proving that he can play at that level and not just play at that level, but he can prove himself right,” says Muhammad. “Ben has so much confidence and he should because he’s proven himself.

“Ben knows what he can do. Sometimes we settle after we know what we can do. Ben doesn’t want to do that.”

2020 is also giving Skowronek the chance to show that he can play beyond his current level.

“He definitely wants to play at the next level,” says Muhammad, who sees some similarities between Skowronek and Chase Claypool. 

“The unique thing about Ben is he’s a really big receiver who can be a hybrid at the next level; be a really good receiver or a hybrid tight end. Notre Dame provides that platform to prove he can play there and at the next level.”

The ACC

Skowronek definitely turned eyes against Pitt last week, snatching a 34-yard touchdown grab before pulling in a bomb that went for a 73-yard score.

“Saturday was just a glimpse of his potential,” says Muhammad. “I don’t even think anybody has seen what he can really do once he starts to get going.”

But while Skowronek is focused on taking care of personal business during his stop in South Bend, he’s finding time to serve as a mentor of sorts for some of the younger players on the roster.

“I think it speaks to his character and I think it speaks to his growth,” says Muhammad. “Everybody wants to win and they disregard assisting other people in that process.

“It’d be so easy for people to just focus on themselves, but for him to take another player under his wing tells you he thinks, ‘Look, I’m still going to go out and get everything I can. I want the team to win. I want to be on a championship-caliber team and that involves more than just me being about myself. I want to leave a legacy, not just of performing at a high level, but giving a young player something that I have so they can be successful in their career.’ 

“It’s been tremendous and awesome to watch him get to this point.”

 
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