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Notre Dame Football

Captain Notes with Khalid Kareem | Exam Week, USC Memories, Keeping Spirits High

October 14, 2023
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No. 21 Notre Dame (5-2) will host No. 10 USC (6-0) on Saturday and that’s enough to put stress on players from both programs as it's one of the nation's top rivalry games. 

The Irish are also coming off a disappointing loss to No. 14 Louisville, but also have dealt with midterm exams last week and this week. 

Former Notre Dame captain and Chicago Bears defensive end Khalid Kareem walked in those shoes not too long ago as he was balancing cramming for exams while also preparing for USC. 

But is it really that stressful or different than any other week? 

“Exam week at Notre Dame is quite hectic,” stated Kareem. ‘Everyone is studying and the library is packed with people. People are staying up to absurd hours of the night. Personally, I lived by the mantra, ‘If I don’t know it by midnight I won’t know it at all.’ If I didn’t have the information down by midnight I was going to sleep because I had practice/workouts the next day. Granted I did graduate a year ahead of schedule (high school and college), so I had a little bit of wiggle room for error. 

“It’s definitely challenging to face a team like USC right now and then on top of that being one of our biggest rivals, when your mind is on a thousand other things.” 

It sounds like it’d be a strong wake-up call for a freshman, but Kareem figured it out. The key to Kareem’s success was reminding himself to put 100 percent of his focus on the current task whether it was studying or football. 

“You have to compartmentalize your life in those moments,” Kareem explained. “When you walk through the doors of The Gug you ‘check college at the door’ and all that matters is playing ball and how you’re going to win that weekend. The moment you leave you can worry about all the other things going on in your life, but for those 4-5 hours you’re in that facility, you worry about doing your job to the best of your ability. It’s no longer about yourself and how you’re feeling. You have 100+ guys in that locker room depending on you to get the job done.” 

The Michigan native’s first memory of the USC game was in 2015 as a recruit. It left a powerful impression, which bodes well as the Irish program will host a long list of top prospects on Saturday.

Rick Kimball/ISD
Khalid Kareem on his official visit to Notre Dame in 2015

 “My first memory of the USC rivalry was in 2015, it was my official visit to Notre Dame,” Kareem recalled. “That was an electrifying night. I want to say 10-12 guys from my class were there that night. We were all just living in the moment. It was one of my favorite memories during my recruiting process as well as against USC.

“My all-time favorite had to have been 2018 at USC to make it to the CFB Playoffs, to shut a crowd like that up, win our rivalry game and to be one step closer to our goal of winning a national championship was incredible to be a part of.” 

As a captain in 2019, Kareem also has been in the shoes of the current Notre Dame captains as he had to lead the Irish through some tough times. 

That fall, Notre Dame fell to Georgia and to Michigan, which required keeping spirits high and continuing to lock in to finish the 2019 on a strong note. 

“Keeping the spirits high in moments like these is why you play football,” stated Kareem. “Obviously the main objective of winning a national championship is kind of out of the equation now. It’s still a possibility but a lot of things would have to go in your favor for those things to happen. Plus it’s out of your control so you have to focus on what you can control and go from there.

“The way to keep guys motivated is to remember why you play the game in the first place. Yes, you play to win and there are still 5 guaranteed opportunities for you to go out and play with your brothers because that’s all that matters is the guys in that locker room. All the people on the outside, your family, honestly the coaches, none of that matters. It’s all about the lasting legacy you leave.” 

It’s a powerful statement, but it’s also how Notre Dame rebounded from the long night in Ann Arbor to finish the season on a six-game winning streak, including the 33-9 bowl victory over Brock Purdy and Iowa State. 

“The story is still unwritten and my mindset was I’ll be damned if I left my legacy and story at Notre Dame in someone else’s hands,” said Kareem. “That’s why in my last game at Notre Dame, where it didn’t ‘mean’ anything, I still played and gave it my all.

“I had a torn labrum and was going to prepare for the NFL combine in the following weeks. I still played for the love of the game, but most importantly for the love of my brothers. I was going to play and leave Notre Dame on my terms, do it with the people that mean the most to me.” 

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