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Hiben’s journey comes full circle

Joey Hiben

If you’re looking for an unlikely comeback story, Eric Hansen of the South Bend Tribune presents Joey Hiben.

For those that have followed Notre Dame football for some time, the name should ring familiar, but not nearly as memorable as many suspected when the Gatorade State Player of the Year from Minnesota chose Notre Dame over a slew of suitors to join a talented tight end depth chart that included future NFL’ers Athony Fasano and John Carlson.

But Hiben’s dreams of becoming an architect conflicted with his ability to practice with the football team, and after a freshman season that saw Hiben appear in seven games, he made an unlikely choice -- Architecture.

“It came down to architecture being more important than football to me,” Hiben told the Observer back in February of 2006. “During the fall I realized that there would be a point in time where I would have to pick architecture or football because at this University, it’s impossible to do both at the same time. I had known that this would have to happen.”

From there, Hiben’s journey got far more complicated. I’ll let Hansen take it from there:

Hiben left ND after his freshman year. And while he enjoyed the anonymity at Minnesota, his missed the competition. He eventually contacted both the track and football teams about competing in the 2007-08 school year.

But shortly after joining in the football team as a defensive end in the fall of 2007, Hiben suffered a broken wrist that would take the better part of two years to heal.

“I only dressed for one football game and never saw any action,” he said. “I thought maybe that was a sign that football wasn’t meant to be for me.”

Hiben’s weight soon swelled to 300 pounds. He felt sluggish and empty.

“I finally decided to get my stuff together,” he said. “I lost 50 pounds and got in the best shape of my life. But that wasn’t the final piece. Notre Dame was.

“When I originally made the decision to pursue architecture, it wasn’t just architecture in general, it was architecture at Notre Dame. I really wanted to come back here and finish what I started.”

The program normally runs five years, but for Hiben it will span seven. When Hiben returned in the fall of 2008, his fourth year in college, ND designated him as a sophomore. He then went to Rome in 2009-10. He’ll graduate in the spring of 2012.

Back on campus in the fall of 2010, Hiben was surprised when coach Brian Kelly’s regime reached out to him. Though he was out of eligibility, Hiben was warmed by the gesture.

“From my understanding, coach Kelly met with the faculty to open lines of communication,” he said. “I think both sides wanted to make sure moving forward that you can do both architecture and football at the same time.”

Hansen wrote a wonderful article and paraphrasing it doesn’t do much justice, but Hiben is back associated with Notre Dame “athletics,” and will be making his Bengal Bouts debut this week as a 6-4, 250-pound heavyweight who received a bye all the way into the semi-finals. Good luck to the poor kid that has to fight Hiben, and more importantly, congratulations to Joey Hiben for persevering through what had to be an incredibly difficult struggle. While he didn’t accomplish as much on the football field as he hoped, he certainly embodied much of what Notre Dame looks for in a student-athlete.