Because Alonzo Jefferson was a big recruit for Notre Dame, John Carney is a big deal at Saturday’s football game when the Fighting Irish battle Navy in Mission Valley.
Carney is among the former Notre Dame players out in the community this week, attending golf tournaments and other functions to welcome the two teams and their legion of fans.
Carney, the Chargers’ all-time leading scorer and a longtime North County resident, reached South Bend, Indiana, all because of Jefferson, his prep teammate at Cardinal Newman High in West Palm Beach, Florida.
“He was an All-American running back and the scouts were really attracted to him,” Carney said. “All the big schools were looking at him.
“So when the scouts came to see Alonzo, our coach would always push a few other players out in front of them. Jefferson would end up going to Notre Dame and its coaches kind of said, ‘what the heck’ and they took me as a preferred walk-on.”
That’s a nice way of saying you can try out while paying your own way.
Carney arrived and saw seven other teenagers looking to play for the Fighting Irish through their accurate legs. Carney was among those left standing.
As a freshman, Carney handled the kickoffs. The following year he became the place-kicker and that’s when then-coach Gerry Faust approached him before practice.
“There wasn’t a lot of pomp and circumstance about it,” Carney recalled. “He just said real casually, ‘Carney, we’re going to put you on scholarship, what do you think about that?”’
What he contemplated was phoning his parents with the good news. They were ecstatic, of course, and Carney went on to be named on Notre Dame’s all-time team.
“There is really not a college team in football history that has the following nationally and internationally as Notre Dame,” Carney said. “People have the respect for what Notre Dame really stands for and sports isn’t at the top of that list. It’s the academics, where they stand with their faith and what they stand for you. You feel that when on campus.”
Carney’s first game-winning kick came away from South Bend and Navy was his victim. The teams, which have squared off since 1927, were in a pitched battle in 1986 at Giants Stadium. Instead of winning one for the Gipper, the game came down to the kicker, Carney, winning one for the Fighting Irish.
“Navy beat us for three quarters and we were losing, 14-7, going into the fourth quarter,” Carney said. “Then we put together a couple of scoring drives, but we really had no business winning that game.
Carney lined up for a 44-yard field goal in the game’s waning moments. If he said a prayer, it was answered. If he didn’t, he probably didn’t belong at Notre Dame.
“There was a chapel on campus and one in every dorm,” he said. “On Sundays, you could find a mass at every hour of the day.”
That included in Dillon Hall, where Carney stayed. Years later, Carney’s son, J.D., is playing for Notre Dame and the Cathedral Catholic High graduate is in the same spot.
“It’s supposed to be random where they put you,” the elder Carney said. “So it’s a little ironic that he ended up in my dorm. And it hasn’t changed a bit since I was there.”
Carney switched jobs after toiling four decades in the NFL. He’s pushing others to follow in his cleat steps.
Carney Coaching in Carlsbad is the go-to spot for kickers, punters, holders and long-snappers. Hundreds have beat a path to Carney’s facility, which is geared toward making special-teams players special.
He’s hosting Carney’s Ultimate Specialist Camp at the former US Olympic Training Center in January and then he’ll branch out, spreading the gospel of the kicking game to six locations nationwide.
“That’s what I’m passionate about,” Carney said. “It’s that moment when you’re on the field with the kids and you see the light bulb come on.”
If those kids are bright, they’ll listen to Carney. If Carney is keen, he’ll say a little thank you to Alonzo Jefferson when his alma mater takes the field on Saturday night.
Contact Jay Paris at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him @jparis_sports
Sportswriter Jay Paris has written his “Sports Talk” column since joining the Coast News in 2013.
Paris, a Cardiff resident, is a longtime Southern California writer, getting his start with the Orange County Register before coming to San Diego in 1992 to cover the Chargers.
He had the Chargers beat for more than two decades with Oceanside Blade-Citizen, the North County Times and the San Diego Union-Tribune, before being named a sports columnist with the San Diego Union-Tribune.
Paris has won numerous awards voted on by his peers in the Pro Football Writers of America. He has also been a staple on countless media platforms, everything from the KPBS to MLB Network and various radio outlets.
Paris is also the author of three books, with his latest one being, “Shohei Ohtani: The Amazing Story Of Baseball’s Two-Way Japanese Superstar.” He has also written “Game Of My Life Chargers” and “Game Of My Life Rams.”
He currently covers the NFL in Los Angeles for Forbes. com and is a contributor to USA Today Sports Weekly.