SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Her son is in his senior year now, so Carol Boyd has her game-day timing down to perfection.
She zeroes in on the eyes of the conductor of the Band of the Fighting Irish. That’s her tell. The conductor’s arms will slowly drop, and the band will cease playing.
Then, almost on cue, out come the screams. Those loud, endearing, all-too-familiar screams that often send Boyd’s son, Sheldon Day, into a shell, while earning Boyd the approval of Notre Dame teammates.
“THAT’S MY BA-BY!
“I got it timed that quick little second,” Boyd said. “I think Sheldon would ignore me. I hollered for Coach [Brian] Kelly once, and he looked up in the stands. I don’t know if he could see me, but I’m like, if Coach Kelly can hear me, I know [Sheldon] can hear me.
“So then I knew he was ignoring me. I’m like, OK. Let me know you hear me. It could’ve been he thought the other boys were teasing, but I’ve had the players come up: ‘Mama Carol, you can yell for me if you want to.’ And I do.”
Boyd’s vocal chords have been tested lately. Her son, Day, has reaped the rewards of returning for his final college season by leading the Irish in tackles for loss (eight) and hurries (10). Day has become indispensable to a line that has been stretched thin due to injury and attrition. And, as a two-time captain, Day has discovered he has a voice of his own, too.
Even if it simply cannot rival his mother’s.
“Sheldon has always been a guy that people easily relate to and connect with, so I think he's just more aware of that now,” fellow captain Joe Schmidt said. “And that self-awareness has allowed him to be more consistent in his approach.”
Kelly has said that Day has played with “his hair on fire,” which has had a cumulative effect on the line. Day’s big brother-little brother bit with Jerry Tillery has become something of a running sitcom within Showtime’s weekly television series tracking Notre Dame, with Day ribbing Tillery by calling him “Terry Jillery” and poking fun for everything from Tillery’s practice habits to his girlfriend.
The freshman has rolled with it, having endured harsher jabs from three older sisters growing up.
“He’s been where I want to be,” Tillery said of Day. “He’s been where I want to go. He knows the position in and out and that’s where I want to be.”
Day was the youngest of Boyd’s three kids, so he has taken advantage of this newfound position of seniority. He does not get Showtime at school, but his mother has made a point to call him after episodes, joking that Day and Tillery could form their own comedy act once football is over.
As for Day’s athletic exploits, Boyd has been a constant presence from the time he was 9 or 10, when Day’s older brother, Shane, would coach him on the hardwood and gridiron. Boyd recalled one church-league basketball organizer asking her to come and cheer for some of the kids in the program who lacked the support and motivation that Day had.
The awkward looks and glances came then and even still come now, but that has not quieted her, with players such as Matthias Farley even doing his best Boyd impression recently at a news conference.
“I thought I was going to get in trouble the first time I heard it because we were actually warming up, and she said: ‘Boy, if you don't look at me …’ ” Day said. “So it was kind of like, do I look at her? What do I do? What do I do? So now I give her like a little hand sign so that she knows that I heard her. But the first time, definitely it was scary.”
Day says he feared Boyd more than Kelly, since she has that maternal ability to get under his skin while being his best friend. He can no longer help but smile whenever he hears her calls from the stands.
The D-line’s youth has offered Day few breaks, as he has played both inside and out while enjoying his first injury-free season as a starter. While that resolve will be tested during the Irish’s final five games, the payoff should come this spring, as the 6-foot-2, 285-pounder is playing his way into an early round draft spot.
No one would be more excited about that than his mother, a Community ProHealth worker in Indianapolis who has only recently begun to take notice of famous football moms.
And who has her eyes set on a future gig in advertising.
“The only one I am recently paying attention to is the Campbell’s [Chunky] Soup mom,” Boyd cracked, “because I want that job.”