How does a humble, hard working, salt of the earth kid go from living in laid back Southern California to moving 2,000 miles across the country and playing football in the frozen tundra of South Bend, Indiana? Kory Minor, upon hearing some stern advice from his mother while on Notre Dame’s campus in the dead of winter, left behind his sunny California days and began his journey to play football for the Fighting Irish. During his tenure at Notre Dame, Kory totaled 245 tackles, over 40 tackles for loss and 22.5 sacks. When he stepped foot on campus in 1995 he was in good company, joined by fellow freshmen Mike Rosenthal, Jerry Wisne, Jarious Jackson, Jamie Spencer, Autry Denson, Bobbie Howard, Benny Guilbeaux and Jimmy Friday. Adjusting to the academic rigors and climate of Notre Dame was no easy feat for Kory — however, he did it with great determination, graduated with a degree in Marketing from the Mendoza College of Business, and set out to begin his NFL career. Now a successful motivational speaker and book author, Kory’s path has taken several twists and turns since his NFL days. Come with me and walk the journey of Kory Minor.
Q: After growing up in Southern California, how did you end up playing football at Notre Dame and not near home at USC or UCLA?
A: “Ever since I was six years old I had a dream to attend and play football at Notre Dame. Every Saturday morning I would sit and watch Fighting Irish football. I would be there for hours watching them play. Every time they scored, I scored. I would run around our apartment (Kory and his sister Koi were raised by their mother who was a single parent) and celebrate. The neighbors downstairs would come up every week and tell my mom, ‘Please get Kory to settle down!’”
Notre Dame typically brings its top recruits to campus during the weekend of the football banquet at the end of the season. Kory’s high school (Bishop Amat Memorial High School) was still playing in the California high school playoffs and he was unable to make his recruiting visit that weekend. Instead, Kory made his recruiting trip to Notre Dame in the middle of January. “It was freezing cold that weekend and there was a fair amount of snow on the ground.” The ND recruiters did the best that they could to shield Kory from experiencing the South Bend cold. “When I got to the airport I saw Coach Mike Turyovac and told him, ‘there is no way I am coming here, it’s too cold.’ And he told me, ‘no, no, no, just give us the weekend.’ They backed the van right up to the airport, opened the door and I went from inside the airport straight into the van; never touching the outside at all. In fact, I never even went outside until my hosts (Cliff Stroud, Renaldo Wynn and Shawn Wooden) took me out Friday night. The coaches and recruiters did their best the entire weekend to keep me as heated as possible.”
“My mom came with me on my recruiting trip and she was so excited about the opportunity that was in front of me. She was so gung ho about it. We were getting ready to be transported from the stadium to the academic advisors office when my Mom asked the recruiters if they could give us a minute and let us walk on our own. This was our come to Jesus moment. We are standing there, outside of touchdown Jesus, when my mom says, ‘you see that over there? I can buy you a winter coat, but I can’t buy you a Notre Dame education. I can’t afford this. Take advantage of this full ride opportunity that Notre Dame is offering you.’”
Kory committed that weekend.
That’s not to say that other schools didn’t try to lure Kory away from Notre Dame. USC, UCLA, Washington, Tennessee and Miami were all in heavy pursuit of Kory’s talents. “As a top recruit, there was a lot of pressure being put on me by many different colleges. Early on in the recruiting process the NCAA came to my house and spoke with me about what I could and couldn’t do during the recruiting process. That is very intimidating for a young man.”
“Cliff Stroud was my host for my recruiting trip. Notre Dame was my fourth recruiting trip. I had one more trip planned after Notre Dame (UCLA) but I cancelled it after my weekend at Notre Dame. For the record, Notre Dame was my strangest recruiting trip. Renaldo Wynn and Shawn Wooden took me out and their car broke down. It was negative 800 degrees and snowing and here I was outside helping change the tire. But I realized the opportunity that had been placed in front of me and I took it.”
“My first year at Notre Dame, I must have talked to my mom four times a day. At one point I broke down and told her I wanted to come home. Her response? ‘I bought you a jacket, suck it up.’”
Q: I understand that all of your dorm mates at ND were non-athletes. Did you like that? Would you do that again?
A: “I wanted to experience people I didn’t normally deal with all of the time. My best friend on the football team was Jamie Spencer, and he and I were inseparable through weights, training tables, and practice. But when we weren’t doing football I wanted to live with people who didn’t play sports, who were just average guys. I wanted some of that to rub off on me. I wanted to be around people who I could appreciate, who I could learn from and who could make me a better person.”
Q: Do you think starting players as freshman is a good thing or a bad thing?
A: “I think that decision is up to the coaches and the players. If a player can perform on the field AND in the classroom academically, then they should play regardless of whether they are a freshman or not. You want to play the best 11 guys in every situation. Why make a guy wait to play if he can help the team today? When I went to visit the University of Washington, they were pretty deep at the linebacker spot and made it very clear to me that while I had the potential to be great I probably wouldn’t start right away. But my feeling was if I could beat everyone out I should play right away. When I got to ND I was told that if I progressed, I would play. That helped me make my decision.”
“As I was getting ready to start my first game as a freshman, I was sitting at my locker thinking, ‘oh my God, I have arrived.’ Robert Farmer came over to my locker and says, ‘Kory, are you starting?’ and I replied, ‘yes.’ Robert said to me, ‘if you’re starting, you’re starting for a reason, because you deserve it.’ He may not have known it at the time, but what Robert said to me made a huge impact on me. It changed my whole thought process. It helped me regain focus and took away my jitters. Those few simple words were huge for me.”
Q: What is your best Notre Dame football memory?
A: “Off the field, my favorite football memory was my Mom speaking at the Friday night pep rally before my final home game against Louisiana State (LSU). She walked to the podium and surprised me and the filled to the brim Joyce Center crowd with a moving `thank you’ to the Notre Dame community for taking care of me during my four year stay at the University.” Kory sat there in the first row of players’ seats, with tears of pride streaming down his face as he carefully listened in appreciation of the moment he was experiencing. That night his collegiate journey was nearly complete.
“On the field, my favorite memory took place in a game against Ohio State my sophomore year. I was on a blitz from the left side (the press box side). It was a perfect call. I got to the QB Stanley Jackson, had him by the neck and knocked him down. It brought a fourth down for the Buckeyes. We got off the field to punt and I could hear the whole stadium chanting, ‘Kory! Minor!’ about six or seven times. It gave me chills. It was an insane moment. I can’t even put the feeling into words of hearing the WHOLE stadium cheer your name. Absolutely unforgettable.”
Q: What was it like playing for Lou Holtz? Bob Davie?
A: “It is impossible to compare Coach Holtz to Coach Davie. You’re talking about a hall of fame coach in Lou Holtz. He had so many principles that he shared with us that we could apply to our lives. When he came to my house to recruit me, he told my mom, ‘your son will leave you a boy and you will get him back a man.’ He had great leadership qualities both on and off the field. His nurturing way, his commitment to excellence, his values … he is one of a kind. Holtz and Davie coached in entirely different ways“
Q: How do you remember your NFL draft?
A: “My NFL draft was absolutely horrendous. I shouldn’t have watched the draft. In my house, we always had a draft party every year, with pancakes, steak and eggs — it was a huge deal for us. But my draft day was rough. It was a tremendously humbling experience going in the 7th round. It made me work hard, focus, and even more determined to be successful. There were people who went ahead of me that I thought should not have gone ahead of me, but the pain of going the second day really made me the person I became. It developed a great deal of character in me. I was the no. 2 ranked outside linebacker in the country going into the draft, was a starter all four years, and a starter as a true freshman. How did I not get drafted higher than the 7th round?”
Q: What was it like playing in the NFL?
A: “I played for four years in the NFL. I was drafted by the San Francisco 49ers and then went on to play for the Carolina Panthers from 1999-2002. The game didn’t tell me to go, but when they wanted to trade me to Cleveland, I didn’t want to go. It was time for me to use that degree I earned from Notre Dame.”
“The highs of playing in the NFL? Most definitely playing with such high caliber athletes. Getting to play with Jerry Rice and Steve Young at the 49ers was tremendous. The men that I played with in the NFL were awesome. Those game day experiences, you can’t make those up. I will never forget that. The camaraderie that we had in the locker room was what kept you going week after week.”
“The highlight of my NFL career? Without a doubt, the big hit I made on Monday Night Football against the Green Bay Packers.”
“The lows? The entire 2001 season. We started off the season on the road at Minnesota and dominated them that game winning by a score of 24-13, and then we went on to lose the rest of the games that season. Finishing the season 1-15, that was rough.”
Q: What was your biggest challenge as a Notre Dame student-athlete? How did Notre Dame prepare you for life after college?
A: “My biggest challenge was realizing that I could compete in the classroom with all of the brainiacs at ND. I had a 3.5 grade point average as a student in high school but when you get to Notre Dame it’s a whole different level. I knew I could compete on the field, but I never thought I’d be able to compete off of it. I remember on my first day in class a guy raised his hand and asked a question and all I could think was ‘what did he just say?’ At that point I was not sure if I’d make it. I didn’t understand what one of my peers just said, how could I compete with him in the classroom? I called my mom and said, ‘It’s going to be a long four years.’”
“Then I realized that my education was all about my mental state. If I could compete and be successful on the football field, then I needed to believe that I could do it in the classroom as well. I learned time management and how to balance football with my studies. Once I did that, I became the student my mom always knew I could be.”
“Notre Dame helped me learn how to network and meet people. It helped me to become a man. You left your home, were on your own and were responsible for getting up each day, going to class and football practice, getting your work done; you didn’t have anyone telling you what to do. My time at Notre Dame even helped me to become a better Christian. It gave me the framework and mindset to be my best in whatever I did.”
A: “I’ve always been told if you can master two skills you can do anything. One, how to sell yourself; and two, how to market yourself. My first career path after the NFL was working for an insurance company, Northwestern Mutual Life, in North Carolina, doing sales and client services. I did that for a couple years and got really good at it. I became okay with hearing the word ‘no,’ and worked in partnership with my wife. Eventually, we decided we wanted to move back to California and the Northwestern Mutual Life office in Los Angeles was too long of a commute for us, so it was time to do something else.”
“I went to see Coach Holtz and his wife in South Carolina, I told him my wife and I wanted to move back to California, and that I was looking for a new job opportunity. He recommended me for a sales position working for this wine company, E & J Gallo Wines, and I did sales for Gallo for three years. By this time I had been bitten by the entrepreneur bug big time and wanted to start my own business.”
“From Gallo wine I transitioned into the pizza business. I started as a general manager with Dominos for six months after which I became eligible to buy my own store. I went on to develop my franchise business operating five Dominos Pizza locations and employing over 80 workers. I did this until 2012.”
Q: Can you tell me about your new book? And how you came to write a book?
A: “In 2012, I founded my company, Kory Minor Industries, a personal development and training company to get people (both individuals and organizations) ‘off the sideline and into the game,’ with a focus on winning every day. I do a lot of sales training and keynote speaking, I coach people in their personal lives and/or in their businesses/careers and I love what I have been able to do in this personal development space.”
Kory is the Founder and CEO of Kory Minor Industries (KMI) which is a training and development company for individuals and organizations specializing in helping clients to Get Off The Sideline And Get Into The Game, by fostering the concept of WINNING every day.
“I had wanted to write a book for a while and I had compiled all of these notes and I decided I could really help people. I wanted to keep it football themed and that’s how I came up with the title of ‘Make A Touchdown Out Of Your Life.’ I wanted to share my story, things that I did, what I overcame. I believe everyone has greatness inside of them. Most people just don’t know how to pursue it. So many people have amazing talents; they just don’t know how to apply them. And that’s what the book came to be: me giving people the tools they need to win, to give them confidence.”
“The thing about me is that I’m just really ‘real.’ One of my coaches told me I was just too darn humble, that I never tell anyone about what I’ve accomplished unless I am asked. I do this because I want people to like me for me, and then they can find out about the rest of me later. With my new company and the book I’m trying to open up a little bit more about my accomplishments.”
Q: What advice would you give current student athletes?
A: “One: Be yourself … don’t try to be anyone else.”
“Two: Embrace the moment. You’re only in college for four or five years, live in it every day because eventually it will be over.”
“Three: The personal high that you get will never be as big as it is in those four years of college so embrace it. Network, connect with alumni, your fellow students, and don’t be afraid to network and use your name and what you’ve done to make connections.”
“Four: Enjoy the journey. It’s going to be four or five years that are going to go by so fast. Live in it, embrace it, and most of all find a way, every day, to make someone else’s life that you come into contact with better.”
Q: Can you talk about your involvement with Play Like a Champion Today?
“Working with Coaches & Sport Leaders to Shape a Positive Sports Culture for All Young People.”
A: “I absolutely love what Play Like a Champion Today is doing. They are teaching people to respect the game, whether you are a parent, player, coach or referee; respect the game. I came aboard with the foundation five years ago, and I’ve been helping out with camps all over the country. The next one is in September. I was just at Notre Dame in June for their annual meetings, and their message is something I feel very passionate about. The game of sports is life. Be accountable to your team first and not yourself, in order to develop better character. “
Kory currently lives in California with his wife Lisa, and their three children, Ilyana (8 years old), Noah (6 years old) and Julian (3 years old). You can find out more about Kory on his web site www.koryminor.com, and on Facebook and Twitter.
I’d like to give a big thank you to Kory for stopping by the blog. It was an absolute pleasure to walk through his journey with him. Stay tuned for many more great stories in the “Where are they now?” series! If you enjoy this series, you can also read more stories in my new book, “Echoes From the End Zone: The Men We Became” available for purchase on August 1st.