The last fullback of Notre Dame

The last fullback of Notre Dame spent his final Saturday night surrounded by a half-dozen or so friends and family members, two pizzas and a handful of Miller Lites in brother Andrew's house while Floyd Mayweather fought Robert Guerrero on the television screen.

Asaph Schwapp wanted more moments like this one. Just knowing that Mayweather would ultimately win the bout, he spent much of that May night discussing plans for the summer, telling the gathering how they all needed to get together more often for cookouts in the coming months.

This is the way it often went with "Ace," whether it was helping a third-grade classmate with simple multiplication problems, calling a junior high friend he had no relation to his "cousin," or -- as the buddy quickly discovered -- threatening to beat up said junior high friend if he dared tell anyone that they were anything other than cousins.

That was something that the last fullback of Notre Dame could have done with ease, what with a 6-foot, 257-pound frame during his playing days with the Fighting Irish. One of former coach Charlie Weis' first recruits, Ace "just looked like muscles on top of muscles," Weis said.

He was talking about the Ace he had first met, the 17-year-old prospect out of Weaver (Conn.) High.

"He came in as if weightlifting was something he had mastered," Weis said.

In the nine years since committing to Notre Dame, Ace became his state's player of the year, totaled 160 yards over four years with the Irish, signed with the Cowboys as an undrafted free agent, got cut, joined his hometown United Football League team, tore his ACL twice and worked for Merrill Lynch.

He was also diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, in March of 2012. Four months later he was still bench-pressing 400 pounds, while squatting 500. Two months after that he went in for what seemed like his final PET scan, after chemotherapy, only to get word that his body had not properly responded -- and that another, stronger round of chemo would be needed.

"It's obviously not what anyone wanted to hear, but all I can do is stay positive," Schwapp said at the time.

Ace did just that right until May 8, when he died at the age of 26. The last fullback of Notre Dame will be honored Saturday before the Irish open their season against Temple, when brothers Alvin and Andrew, along with their uncle, Clarke King, present the national colors on the Notre Dame Stadium field.

"That's the place where he made a name for himself and grew and became the young man we were all very much proud of," Alvin said. "So to be on the field that had such a tremendous impact on his life will be moving. It'll be an emotional moment."

Ace's mother, Evelyn, died of colon cancer when he was just 9. He moved in with Evelyn's sister, Loretta, and her husband, Clarke, who raised him. When he was diagnosed last year, he moved in with oldest brother Alvin, his wife and his three daughters. He spent his final months living with Andrew, his other older brother.

"He really genuinely had the patience of a saint," Alvin said through a laugh, "because little things he'd do with my girls, whether it was being captured on video doing silly things or having his nails painted or whatever, he engulfed in all of that just for the love of it, to see the joy in them. So that's a fantastic uncle."

Uncle, brother, friend -- Ace wore many hats for those around him, touching everyone with his infectious charisma. He might have been most proud of his hometown of Hartford, so much so that Alvin joked that the only people who said they loved the city more than his youngest brother were politicians.

Malcolm Harrison moved to Hartford from Canada in 2003. Born in Jamaica, Harrison never really had a place to call home before coming to Connecticut and attending Weaver with Schwapp. Ace was one of the first people he met after the move, and Harrison was blown away by how much his new friend cared about his new city.

"He always said there's a lot of kids out there like him, and he also wanted them to grow up with the proper education or the right people there to tell them what to do," Harrison said. "He talked a lot about guiding these kids. He wanted to make sure that they were not alone and could make it with hard work and dedication."

Ace's cancer, simply, was no match for that message.

"When the doctor gave him news he didn't want to hear, he was positive," Harrison said. "I'd text, 'Are you OK?' He'd be like, 'I'm fine. I'm all right. How are you today? Did you go to the gym? Did you study?' You would never know that he was hurting or that he had cancer, because he was so positive about it and always more worried about you and how you were doing."

Alvin, a 47-year-old retired cop and member of the Army Reserve, called Ace the bravest person he ever met. He had learned that Ace's desire was to keep his loved ones from knowing the battle his body was engaged in every day, instead choosing to enjoy every precious moment he had with them, like that final weekend of pizza, beer and boxing.

"I believe he didn't want to burden anyone with his problems," said his cousin, Andre King, who was with Ace that Saturday. "I think he was the only one who knew how sick he really was."

Four days later, he was gone, surrounded in his final hours by dozens of friends and family members in his hospital room. Six days after that, on May 14, came his viewing and funeral. A line formed around the Carmon Funeral Home some two hours before services were set to begin. Extra parking lots were needed for the roughly 1,000 people who showed up to pay their respects.

An hour into the service, visitors were invited up to share their favorite memories of Ace. A two-minute limit was given. Every bit was needed.

The third-grade buddy with multiplication problems, Alicia, stood before the audience and said that she coined the phrase "Asaph Energy," a term she would ask people for whenever they complained.

The junior high friend-turned-cousin, Ray Ray, came up and said he had suffered a broken leg in flag football because of Asaph. All would be forgiven, he joked, had Ace hooked him up with Pro Bowl tickets in the future.

There were more, many more: an old friend who said Ace broke his ankle, forcing him to miss the playoffs one year; a buddy who said Ace inspired him to lose more than 100 pounds; current Washington Redskins defensive end Chris Baker, who recalled sharing the same NFL dreams with Ace when both were Hartford prep stars.

They went on and on, stories of laughter and injuries and dreams in the making.

"Not that it's a bad thing," King, Ace's cousin, said sheepishly, "but that was probably the longest funeral I've ever been to."

King said he does not get too sad about Ace, reminding himself that his cousin did more in 26 years of life than most do in 80.

"He had such a good spirit about him that he could take over a room without being the center of attention," Alvin said. "People would normally gravitate toward him."

A fullback's job, by definition, is to block and pave the way for those behind him. He goes mostly unnoticed, and he has been gradually phased out of today's game in the era of spread offenses and multiple receiver sets.

The last fullback of Notre Dame will return Saturday, though. Through the presence of his family and all the lessons they have carried, the man who played the position that everyone forgot will continue to command the legacy of a guy everyone loved.