That Life-Changing Moment
Room 352 of Children's Healthcare of Atlanta Hospital.
It took a few days for Tyler Newsome to get over the initial shock, but here is the place this caring Notre Dame student-athlete realized that maybe things weren't so bad, despite the fact that he was feeling otherwise.
A Jeep accident on his way home from work in May 2012 left Newsome with a broken pelvis, a fractured tailbone, a ruptured spleen, broken ribs, a concussion and some forgivable feelings of "Why me?"
Newsome, a Notre Dame senior and starting punter for the 2017 Irish football team, was just a couple weeks short of finishing his junior year at Carrollton High School, 50 miles west of Atlanta, at the time of the wreck.
He would spend 17 days recovering in the hospital, giving him plenty of idle time during his early rehab for prayer, reflection and worry.
"The first couple of days the doctor hinted and told me that I may not play football again," Newsome recalls.
"I looked him in the eye and I told him that he was wrong. I knew I would play again."
Newsome's spirit remained strong but the recovery was sometimes lonely and unbearably long—taxing enough at times to test the patience of this young patient.
One particular night, Newsome admits to just wanting to be better again, immediately, and get back to kicking a football or playing soccer or just doing anything outside of his hospital cage.
Thoughts of "Why is this happening to me right now?" were tough to shake.
That's when everything changed for Newsome.
Always one to put others ahead of himself, Newsome believes fate and perhaps a higher power helped him refocus on the message and values with which he was raised in small-town Georgia—a perspective that became clouded after the wreck.
Newsome's moment of clarity came while meeting some other patients on his hospital floor.
One was a shooting victim who suffered a bad leg injury on his eighth birthday.
Another was a gifted soccer player near Newsome's age who was battling cancer.
A third was a much younger girl whose smile lit up the room and left an indelible and life-changing moment on Newsome that he has carried ever since.
"During my time there in the hospital, I saw a lot of things that are still with me to this day," Newsome says.
"This was God's way of telling me, 'Hey, Tyler, this is much bigger than you.' Ever since that day, I've never again asked why. I've never felt sorry for myself again."
Brought up in a giving family and a caring community, doing unto others as they do unto you was nothing new to Newsome. But even Tyler's father Shane says his son gained a lasting maturity and context during his time there in Room 352.
"That whole experience, the wreck and his time in the hospital," Shane recalls, "just him realizing that all of what you have in front of you could be gone in an instant, I think it changed his outlook on life."
After several weeks on crutches and many months of relentless rehab, Tyler Newsome eventually made good on that promise to fully recover and play football again, and he also fulfilled a personal vow to never forget and always give back.
Faith, fate and fortune brought Newsome to Notre Dame as a scholarship punter, but the strong impact he's made since his arrival on campus in the summer of 2014 stretches well beyond his booming punts on game days.
Newsome spent much of this senior season at Notre Dame being recognized as one of the best punters in the country and a legitimate professional prospect. But his commitment to community and his work away from football might even outshine his performance on the field.
Be it through University functions, as part of the football program or just on his own, Newsome never misses a chance to reach out and give back. He has logged as many, if not more, service hours than any other student-athlete at Notre Dame—maybe in the country—and his efforts have not gone unheralded.
In 2016, Newsome captured the Irish Around the Bend Award, an honor given to the Notre Dame football player who best serves the local community.
The Atlantic Coast Conference recognized Newsome's community contributions that same year, honoring him with the ACC's Top Six for Service Award that celebrates dedication to community and outreach programs.
During the 2016-17 school year, Newsome became one of five Notre Dame student-athletes to earn the Community Champion Award, a prestigious University honor for student-athletes who best exemplify "the spirit of leadership, commitment and selflessness" that Notre Dame stands for. In doing so, Newsome became the first Irish football player to be recognized with this award since Mike Golic Jr. in 2012-13.
Most recently the Irish punter was named a nominee for the 2017 Allstate American Football Coaches Association Good Works Team, annual awards given to the college football players around the country who excel both on the field and in the community.
"If I have to choose, I am most proud of Tyler's generosity and his humbleness," Shane Newsome says of his son. "To win the community service award among all Notre Dame athletes, that meant more to me than anything that he's done on the football field."
Newsome admits it's impossible to specifically remember each of his individual community and service endeavors—yet there is one in particular that stands out.
Locks of Love is a charitable organization that accepts donations of human hair to make wigs for children who are dealing with permanent hair loss because of cancer treatments and other medical conditions.
And Newsome had plenty of lengthy locks to give. What a sight it was when this big strong football player allowed a young elementary school-aged girl with pediatric cancer to cut off his thick mane of curly red shoulder-length hair—always a defining part of his physical identity—so it could be used for others in need.
It was a touching and memorable moment for everybody involved as the little girl stuffed the hair into baggies and smiled as she directed Newsome's attention over to the donation rack.
"Wow, it's incredible that someone so young could understand so much about life and, after everything she has been through, still have a smile on her face," says Newsome, who's also deeply involved in a similar campus charity called Bald and the Beautiful.
"It's those things that really stick out to me when I look back on my time at Notre Dame."
It's also how Tyler and his twin brother Trevor were raised. Trevor cares for newborns at a medical center near Carrollton while he finishes his nursing degree there at LaGrange College.
"Whatever you do and wherever you go in life, leave the world better than how you found it," shares Tyler's mother, Debbie Tucker, of the consistent message she delivered to her children.
"Give back more than you receive."
And give back is what Tyler does.
As part of his volunteer work with the football team, Newsome has been involved with Football 101, Roof Sit 2016, Lift for Life, Chicago Backpack Donation, Football Service Friday, Make-A-Wish, Food Bank of Northern Indiana, Halloween Party, St. Mary's Kids Christmas, Shop-With-A-Player and Center for the Homeless, among many others.
"I'm going to be honest with you, I think I have more fun doing community service than those I am involved with," Newsome says.
"I always remember that all of this can be taken away just as easily as it was given to me. Nothing is for sure, so I need to make sure that I take advantage of everything as long as I have it and try to do the best I can with it all."
Beyond football activities, Newsome has put his time around South Bend into places and causes that include International Dot Day, Perley Fine Arts Academy, Child & Parent Services (CAPS), Dream Teams and Tarkington Elementary School. He also volunteers at hospitals locally and back home, including the one where he spent almost three weeks about five years ago.
"A punter is not a glorious position. It's a guy that nobody wants to see out on the field," Newsome says.
"But the kids, they don't care. They just love Notre Dame football. They just hear the words Notre Dame football and they get excited. Using that to try and positively impact youth is what it comes down to."
Even during the busy football season Newsome always stays involved. This year, he spent some of his precious free time hanging out with and mentoring a 12-year-old boy named Kolby McCullough as part of the local Boys and Girls Club of St. Joseph County.
"When I was asked to help mentor Kolby I really didn't know if I would have much of an impact," Newsome humbly explains. "But what the heck, why not, let's go for it. He's doing great, it's awesome and I really do love having him in my life."
One-hundred and fifty dollars—money earned from a part-time lifeguard gig—that was the net worth of Tyler Newsome back in the summer of 2013 when he decided to use his bankroll for a spot at a Notre Dame football camp before his high school senior season.
The odds for Newsome to make any kind of splash at the camp were as long as the trip from the deep south to the camp—which he explains required a collection of timely fate and good fortune for the journey to even come together.
A placekicker by trade through his first three football years at Carrollton High School, Newsome was coming to the Notre Dame camp to shop his talents as a punter, a skill he had been dabbling in for only a few months and had never applied competitively.
"I hadn't punted in a game before," says Newsome, who picked up punting to make himself a more complete kicker.
"A lot of coaches, as they should've been, were very hesitant to recruit me. I didn't let any of that discourage me."
The proper attitude was in place, but Newsome's journey was just beginning, literally and figuratively.
Newsome's life savings covered the camp fee but not the travel expenses. So calling on any favors to make this trip work, Newsome's aunt scored a couple of complimentary "buddy passes" from Southwest Airlines to cover the trip.
All set, right? Well, not quite.
Bags checked, gate ready but not yet boarded, Tyler and his father faced a setback at Hartsfield Airport in Atlanta that could've grounded Newsome's journey to Notre Dame both for a weekend camp and eventually a college career.
The flight was full.
"It was early, I was tired, I asked dad just to go back home," Newsome recalls. "He told me to wait it out."
Father knows best, so in another twist of fate just minutes before departure, Newsome said a flight attendant came "running out" of the plane door to bring father and son on board.
"Another couple missed the flight," Newsome says of this unexpected turn.
"As soon as we were sitting down and buckling in, the doors closed and the plane took off."
On the ground in South Bend, Tyler and his father arrived the day before camp started with conflicting itineraries. Father wanted to tour campus, son wanted to rest at their nearby hotel.
"It's just another school," said Tyler, who had never traveled this far north in his life. "What's there to see?"
Father knew best, again, and off to tour Notre Dame they went.
"Man, was I wrong, what a beautiful place," Tyler admits now. "I had this feeling immediately that this was home."
Camp registration opened and Tyler slapped down his $150 to participate before he was ushered into a nondescript herd of about 50 other punters on one field while four chosen ones worked separately on another field in front of Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly.
"Those were essentially the guys they already had it narrowed down to," Newsome said of the top four scholarship candidates.
So now what?
Newsome emerged from the herd by winning the punt competition within his group. But did anybody even notice? One Irish coach did.
Fate intervened again when Newsome was approached during lunch break by former Notre Dame assistant Bob Elliott, who summoned the talented but raw punting prodigy to come and meet Kelly.
That meeting changed everything. With the other campers away eating, Newsome scored a one-on-one audition with Kelly.
"To be honest," Newsome recalls, "I didn't even know who Coach Kelly was at the time, so that's probably a good thing."
The Newsomes got to know Kelly soon enough and very well when the coach called them into his office and unexpectedly extended a scholarship offer to Tyler.
"I had written off that a place like Notre Dame was going to offer a scholarship to a kid with no experience," Newsome says. "So I kind of stopped in my tracks and asked, 'Are you sure, Coach?'"
Kelly was sure and from that day forward Newsome has worked his way into becoming one of the best punters ever at Notre Dame. He is living proof that a little fate, a lot of talent and 150 bucks can go a long way.
"When I graduate, I'm gone, working somewhere, Notre Dame is still going to be Notre Dame," says Newsome, a business major.
"So that's why I want to make sure when I look back on my experience here that I did everything I could to make it the best."