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December 23, 2011
He started the season with so much hope and promise, both individually and as a member of a football team hungry to put its past failures behind them.
"I didn't come to Notre Dame to get a mediocre education or to get a mediocre football experience," said senior defensive end Ethan Johnson in August. "I came here to win every game. I want that. I haven't had that. This is my last chance to win every game, and I'm not going to take anything for granted."
Two games out of the box, the Irish were staring at an 0-2 record, no shot at the national title and no margin for error for a BCS game. Then came the high ankle sprain in the Oct. 1 Purdue game that put him on the shelf for more than a month.
With just 14 tackles and no sacks during his fourth and final season with the Irish - coupled with the team's four losses - it hasn't been the final hurrah Johnson was anticipating.
But as he looks ahead to the Dec. 29 game against Florida State in the Champs Sports Bowl, Johnson is as optimistic as that day in August when expectations and hopes were at their highest level.
"It is such a blessing from God, it really is," said Johnson when asked what it meant to him to wear the Notre Dame uniform one final time.
Physically, there are no lingering effects for the Portland, Ore., product who suffered a high ankle sprain against the Boilermakers in the first series of the game.
"It's as good as I've felt all year. One hundred and ten percent," said Johnson, who missed most of the Purdue game as well as the Air Force, USC, Navy and Wake Forest games.
"Nothing from an injury standpoint is preventing Ethan from playing at the highest level," added Irish head coach Brian Kelly.
Johnson won't leave Notre Dame with eye-popping numbers. With 46 games and 36 starts under his belt, he enters the Florida State game with 97 tackles, 12 ? sacks, and 18 ? tackles for lost yardage.
Johnson's greater contributions have been his dedication to the cause, a high level of maturity that has set a great example for his teammates, and his relentless approach to the game on a daily basis.
"You always want to leave the field, especially the last game, feeling like it was your best game," said Johnson of his Notre Dame finale.
"I mean, every time I feel like I get the opportunity to play the game I've enjoyed and worked so hard for, I feel like it's a blessing from God. Just to go out there and do it one more time is a blessing."