Notre Dame senior center Jacob Vicknair started to feel the finality of the moment Monday after returning home from practice with his father Ricky Vicknair, a Pioneers assistant coach.
“We talked about football like we always do,” Jacob Vicknair said. “Then I looked at him and said it was the last Monday (practice) ever. It’s crazy to think I was sitting in the film room with him when I was 8 years old saying, ‘I want to play for a state championship’ and here we are. I said let’s go do it and finish with a bang.”
Jacob Vicknair would love nothing more than to write a fairy tale end to his career, leading No. 3 Notre Dame (13-0) to an undefeated Division III state championship and in turn celebrate with his father, who has served as a nonfaculty coach with the Pioneers for the past 15 years.
Notre Dame meets No. 1 Riverside Academy (11-1) in the Allstate Sugar Bowl/LHSAA Prep Classic, at 1:30 p.m. Friday in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
“It’s almost breathtaking to think about it,” Jacob Vicknair said.
The younger Vicknair spent his formative years at the feet of his father, who joined Lewis Cook’s staff at Notre Dame in 2000 after retiring from teaching/coaching at Northside in Lafayette.
With his father serving as Notre Dame’s defensive line coach, Jacob was usually in tow, watching practices, serving as a ball boy and later began watching game film.
Because of the demands of his father’s coaching schedule, which pulled him away from many of Jacob’s youth football games, the younger Vicknair relished the day he would be united and play for his father at Notre Dame.
That alliance officially lasted two years when Jacob played defensive line for his dad, serving primarily in a reserve role when he reached a crossroads heading into his junior season.
After shaking off a proposal from Cook to move to the offensive line after his freshman year, Jacob reluctantly asked to make the same switch just before the start of his junior year.
“At first it was heart-breaking not playing for my dad,” Vicknair said. “We sat down for a whole night’s worth of conversation and decided as a family. He said he would have loved for me to play for him, but I had a chance to get meaningful snaps and possibly get a starting spot as a junior. He said to go for it, and he wouldn’t hold it against me.”
The move proved rewarding for everyone involved.
Notre Dame gained a two-year anchor for its offensive line, where the 5-foot-8, 230-pound Vicknair has earned all-district honors and made 26 consecutive starts. This season he’s helped the lead the way for an offense averaging 340 yards per game, including 250 on the ground.
“He’s as good as I’ve had at that spot,” Cook said.
Moreover, along with guidance from Notre Dame offensive line coach Todd Gray, Vicknair’s development can also be attributed to the influence of his life-long coach. They watched film together with his father making suggestions on the finer points of the position with the hope of helping him improve as a player and creating one lasting memory together.
“He said he would still work with me and here we are with a chance to accomplish the goal we set out when I was a ball boy,” Vicknair said. “It would be nice to finish the chapter with him with a win. It’s been the best ride of my life.”