Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Top Gunner | by Pat

Last week before the Air Force game the Chicago Daily Southtown had a short article about walk-on punt team gunner Mike Anello. A special teams standout this year, Anello's hustle play to save an Eric Maust punt from going into the endzone was one of the few highlights from last Saturday. He was primarily a wrestler in high school, and came to ND as a regular student before deciding to try out for the team.

Anello, who ironically wrestled against Ruettiger's nephew in high school, didn't go to Notre Dame to play football, but once he decided to give it a whirl, there was no stopping him.

"At Notre Dame, athletes aren't in one dorm," Anello said. "They're spread across the campus. I lived in a room across from Travis Thomas, the running back. He kept me informed. Plus there was Nick Possley, a walk-on from Wheaton-Warrenville South. He encouraged me. I filled out the paperwork, and began working out to prepare myself."

It was January 2006.

"Tryouts began one morning at 5:30 a.m. If you were late, you were gone. There were about 42 kids the first day, and it was cut to 12 right after that. Then it was cut to seven going into spring practice."

Anello was one of the seven.

Anello toiled with the rest of the scout team members before getting his big break right before the Michigan game.

Before the Michigan game, Anello was being used on the scout punting team, playing the role of the "gunner," the guy who charges headlong toward the punt returner from the outside. Michigan lines up a gunner on each side of the line, so Anello got a workout.

So did the first-teamers on Notre Dame's punt return team. Defenses double-team gunners to assure they don't clobber punt returners. Anello, all 5-foot-9 and 165 pounds of him, was fending off blockers and making plays.

"I beat our guys three times in a row," Anello remembered.

Weis noticed.

"He'd have two guys doubling him and he'd go by them every play," Weis told Blue and Gold Illustrated. "I said, 'He's on the wrong team.' "

Just like that, Weis yelled, "Anello!" and Anello went, "Uh-oh. What did I do now?"

A few words later, Anello was a scout-turned-starter, with a spot on the Irish punt team.

On his first play as a special teamer, he tackled Michigan punt returner Greg Matthews for a one yard stop. Against UCLA he picked up another tackle and helped to down a punt on the Bruin one yard line . Facing the Southern Cal Trojans Anello held Desmond Reed to a zero yard gain and combined with Terrail Lambert to stop Joe McKnight after only seven yards. And then Saturday, he pulled off that acrobatic save to keep a punt out of the end zone.

There haven't been many bright spots this year, but Mike Anello certainly has been one.