Very few people have been a part of the Notre Dame Football program longer than the area’s favorite center, Braxston Cave.
The Penn High School graduate committed to the Irish a little less than six years ago, but his love for Notre Dame goes back even longer than that.
During a Christmas-time interview, Braxston remembered how his success at Notre Dame has affected others, "I was out the other night and had a guy come up to me saying 'thanks for getting me on TV' and I was like 'what are you talking about?' and he was like 'you know that highlight they show of you from high school. That was me.'"
Braxston said he didn’t know whether to laugh or give him a hug, “It was pretty funny to finally put a face with it."
Five years later, Braxston’s ride is almost over. The senior will never run out of the tunnel, or sing the alma mater at the Notre Dame Stadium as an Irish football player ever again.
But what a journey it has been.
As a mom, Kim Cave was excited to have her son so close by, “I was elated he stayed here at Notre Dame because everyone knows, Braxston is my baby. I don't care how big he is, he's always going to be my baby."
Family means everything to Braxston. A little over two weeks ago he was able to celebrate what may be his last Christmas with his entire family for a while. With a career in the NFL on the horizon, it is very likely Braxston will spend his next few Christmases away from home.
"It's special. I'm the hometown guy but what people don't realize is that I don't get to see my family as much as people think,” said Braxston, “Getting the opportunity to hang with everybody and spend some quality time--it's time I will definitely cherish."
Kim Cave gets teary eyed just thinking about her son being away from home, but it’s a reality that the family will probably deal with soon.
When asked what it means to be on the team that brought Notre Dame back from “irrelevance,” Braxston says it means everything.
“I've been a Notre Dame fan my entire life. To be a part of the team that is getting back to the national championship level that you always heard about growing up. I can't think of a better thing to be a part of. This is the biggest moment I've been a part of in my entire laugh so far. I'm really looking forward to the opportunity."
After the victory at USC which clinched Notre Dame’s spot in the championship game, Braxston said he just tried to put all of his emotions in line, “You don't really realize what you've done until you get a chance to think about. I don't think it’s really even sunk in yet. Just really trying to embrace it."
Braxston's parents made the trip out to the Los Angeles for the game, along with 20 members of the extended Cave family. When the game ended, Braxston’s first instinct was to look into the stands and find his family. Amid the cheers of the Coliseum, Braxston Cave could be heard shouting, “where my family at?!”
Reflecting on that moment he said, "I had no idea where they were. I just started yelling for them. My dad was standing up jumping up and down. I spotted him out."
With a little help from Bennett Jackson’s dad, Rick Cave stood on a chair just so he could make eye contact with his son on the field. It was a moment of complete celebration Rick says, “I didn't think he was going to see, I kept standing. He kept scanning."
The entire cave family hopes to repeat the moment of the USC celebration down in Miami.
“Let’s put those SEC people in their place huh?” said Mrs. Cave.
According to Braxston, that is exactly his plan.