SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Daniel Cage has gone from getting four restless hours of sleep a night to playing his best football at Notre Dame. There’s a connection there.
Cage, the 310-pound junior nose guard, was diagnosed with sleep apnea in the spring. He underwent a sleeping test that showed he would stop breathing for about 30 seconds every 30 minutes, and he would wake up without the kind of energy a student-athlete at Notre Dame needs to get through the day.
Staying awake in class was difficult, as was practicing effectively.
“It was really bad,” Cage said.
But the Cincinnati native now sleeps with a CPAP machine, and the on-field results of his improved rest have been clear this month. Cage was credited with a tackle to stuff Nevada on a fourth-and-one attempt deep inside Irish territory on Saturday, and also was credited with a pass break-up on a play that nearly resulted in a fumble at the Wolf Pack’s goal line, too.
“He's getting the kind of rest that he needs to be the kind of player that we thought he could be,” coach Brian Kelly said. “He's had two really good weeks.”
Cage was able to deal with his lack of sleep during high school, where his schedule wasn’t as strenuous.
“I was kind of used to it, not being able to sleep,” Cage said. “It wasn’t worrying me — (as in), ‘is something wrong with me?’ — but then again I just got used to not being able to sleep. And when I came here, the schedule we had was really hectic, so I had to figure something out because I was too tired. It was hard to move around and do my job.”
Cage developed into a Rivals three-star recruit at Winton Woods High School in Cincinnati and wasn’t offered a scholarship until late in the class of 2014 recruiting cycle, after Brian VanGorder took over for Bob Diaco as defensive coordinator. In fact, Cage was favored to commit to Notre Dame’s Week 3 opponent — Michigan State — before his late decision to head to South Bend.
Cage also feels like he’s playing more effectively after shedding about 20 pounds in the offseason. That weight loss was aided, too, by his improved sleeping patters.
“It's a trickle down from there,” Kelly said. “He's getting the right nutrition, which is giving him an opportunity to train better at a higher level. So I think all of that is kind of inter-twined. Being healthier, all of those things together, he's in a good place academically.”
Between a well-rested Cage and a healthy Jarron Jones, Notre Dame has a solid rotation to roll with at nose guard throughout the season.
And with Michigan State’s run-first offense behind bruising running back LJ Scott rolling into town, that interior rotation — complete with Cage playing the best football of his career — could be key to pushing past the Spartans Saturday night.