FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — In his darkest moments, when he saw his teammates stumble their way to the finish line of another pedestrian season, when he heard his name less and less as a freshman sensation broke out and delivered the promise of more, Kapron Lewis-Moore was not thinking of any scenario like the one that played out Thursday.
"Never. Never in a million years," the Notre Dame defensive end said.
The medial collateral ligament in Lewis-Moore's right knee was torn, and Aaron Lynch was rocking quarterback after quarterback in his first year with the Irish. Three years of first-team reps and the 29 starts that came with it seemed to matter little, especially with Lynch racking up 5.5 sacks despite plenty of untapped potential.
Lewis-Moore may as well have been damaged goods; Lynch was the future.
An unwavering work ethic and a seemingly devastating transfer by Lynch to South Florida changed all that. And now 12 games and more than a year later, Lewis-Moore found himself fielding questions four days before the Discover BCS National Championship, dozens upon dozens of reporters seeking answers from a captain of the nation's No. 1 team that has been bolstered by its No. 1 scoring defense.
"I think about it because that kind of keeps my edge about myself," Lewis-Moore said of his ups and downs. "You've got to appreciate this game, because you can be one injury away from never playing again. I missed six games, and it was the longest half-a-year ever — I want to be out there and play.
"So this year, something that my knee injury really taught me is just how to appreciate the moment. Play-by-play, day-by-day, that's kind of like a motto I keep to myself and keeps my head going."
His 8.5 tackles for loss and six sacks are both good for third-best on the Irish. He has added nine quarterback hurries and forced two fumbles.
"He just shows the belief and commitment that we all know what we're capable of, and watching that is motivating," linebacker Danny Spond said. "Having him go from last year kind of being injured and down a little bit to now, out here and starting as a captain for us, is something that's just remarkable and something we all work for, just to be that tough, if anything."
Alabama and an offensive line with legendarily positive buzz await on Monday, and how much Lewis-Moore & Co. can get to quarterback AJ McCarron is as big of a question mark as any.
Lewis-Moore is more than just happy to be here, and remembering where he was after going down in Week 7 of last season against USC has helped him spring forward to this point and perhaps beyond.
"I went through the knee injury — that sucked," he said. "So I kind of just rehabbed, prayed a lot, had a bunch of cards and people saying, 'Oh gosh.' Stuff like that. But going back out there playing in the spring game, I knew that I had to fight for my spot back, and that's something I'm always going to do. I'm a competitor.
"Even if Aaron was still here, I was still going to compete to my best ability. And obviously it's unfortunate he left, but now being a captain of a Notre Dame team that four years ago, if you would have asked me that, I don't think I could've said this."