Normalcy should return to the athletic life of Notre Dame freshman Julian Love this week. But that doesn’t mean that the Fighting Irish coaches don’t have an appreciation for the young athlete’s versatility, football intellect, and willingness to do whatever it takes to help his team win.
Notre Dame started Love in Saturday’s 44-6 rout of Army, which wasn’t out of the ordinary. After all, he had started every one of the last five games beginning with the Syracuse game last month. But where veteran coach Brian Kelly played Love against the Black Knights was a bit unusual.
Love earned his sixth start of the season and played in his 10th game, but the cornerback did so at the free safety position. And he played well.
“He’s a smart football player,” Kelly said after the win. “He’s got – you know – when you talk about freshman playing, you worry about the mental more so than the physical, but he has a great sense of the game, whether it be option or traditional offenses that we see.”
The former was why Kelly moved Love to the new position and will also be why he’ll return to the corner spot Saturday against Virginia Tech (3:30 p.m., NBC).
“I don’t think that is something that we are looking at right now,” Kelly said of the position switch. “The safety position was set up within defending the option that you really wanted guys that could run and hit at that position from seven-and-a-half, eight yards (from the line of scrimmage).”
Love certainly did that.
A week after making eight tackles (including one for a loss) against Navy’s option offense, Love made three tackles against Army, but it was the passing game where he really made an impact.
Against the Black Knights, Love stopped an Army drive in the fourth quarter with his first career interception and also had a pass break-up, as well as contributed on a tackle for a loss.
“His maturity,” Kelly said, “the way he handles himself is well beyond being an 18-, 19-year-old.”
That “maturity” is something that Love’s teammates noticed about him immediately.
“The kid was here for his spring break when he was in high school trying to learn and doing what he could,” Notre Dame captain James Onwualu said of Love following the game. “I can’t say enough good things about him. The kid works so hard every single day and is always asking great questions, always trying to get more time from some veterans, and he’s continued to get better every single week.”
Already this season, Love has burst into the starting lineup and he’s totaled 32 tackles, which is eighth best on the team.
“I can’t wait to see what his career becomes,” Onwualu said.
Virginia Tech will play a traditional offense against the Irish, so that means that Love returns to the corner, but the versatility is an added bonus for the Irish moving forward.
“The game changes a little bit when you get back in a traditional defensive structure,” Kelly said. “But if you were to ask me right now whether we’re making that move (permanently), there was no intention there to move him to safety, it was just to structurally defend this particular offense.”