Notre Dame’s Braxston Cave has one last true “home” game

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The next time Braxston Cave plays a home football game, it won’t feel much like a “home” game. That’s because every home game the Notre Dame center has played has been, well, an actual home game.

Cave came to South Bend from powerhouse Penn High School in neighboring Mishawaka (which, sadly, meant he didn’t get to play for  Mishawaka High School, whose nickname is the Cavemen), and hails from neighboring Granger. So, neutral-site Shamrock Series games aside, he’s never played a home game more than nine miles from his parents’ house. And Saturday’s Senior Day game against Wake Forest will be his last.

“A lot of the guys give me a hard time for being from around here, and being close to family, but that’s all I’ve ever known,” said Cave, a fifth-year senior. “It’s kind of crazy to think about the next time I’m playing football, it’s not going to be close to home, or anywhere near home. It really puts it in perspective how special it’s been.”

Cave, like so many other high school seniors, wanted to go far away from home, be on his own and experience a new life. He had offers from Michigan and Indiana, but couldn’t pass up the opportunity to play at Notre Dame. He quickly realized that college is college, even when it’s just a few miles down the road.

“That first week came and I had to get my own food, and you start missing mom real quick,” Cave said. “But along the way, it’s been awesome having them so close, and being able to bring other guys in and take care of other guys when they were homesick, or just getting a quick meal when you were tired of eating out, or tired of the dining hall. So it’s really been a blessing. And with my dad, he’s been someone I can always lean on. I’ve been through lots of ups, lots of downs, and he was a guy I’ve shared some great moments and also been able to lean on him in times of need.”

Cave’s fellow linemen have been coming to his parents’ house for a big, home-cooked meal every Thursday.

“They wouldn’t go over unless his mom was there,” Irish coach Brian Kelly joked. “They don’t care about Braxston Cave. They love his mom and the way she cooks.”

Cave — projected as a mid- to low-round NFL Draft pick — has started every game he’s played in since his junior year in 2010, but his first senior season was cut four games short by a foot injury against these same Demon Deacons. So he was on the sideline for his first Senior Day. His second — and last — will be all the more special for the local boy who made good.

“It’s definitely special, the last time running out the tunnel,” he said. “But I feel there’s more good to come. As far as this being the last time, I’d love to go out with a ‘W’. But there’s a better way to finish the season after that.

When asked if he could even bring himself to say, “national championship,” Cave demurred.

“Not right now,” he said. “Just gotta beat Wake. Gotta beat Wake.”

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