Julian Love was thrown into the action last season.
The 5-foot-11, 190-pound cornerback gained valuable experience from his rookie campaign, and now he’s hoping to carry that into his sophomore campaign.
Love appeared in all 12 games and started eight. It was the most starts of any freshman cornerback in five years with the Irish, forced into duty after several injuries ravaged the secondary. He finished with 45 tackles and an interception, showing maturity beyond his years.
"He's always had a lot of confidence in himself and I think that early on as a young player, when you have success early it does give you that confidence," defensive backs coach Todd Lyght said. "Julian can tackle in space. He can cover. Obviously we want him to get better with his man-to-man techniques and we want him to get better in his leadership role because he is a young player, but he's going to play a lot for us."
It was after the Syracuse game in which Love played 46 snaps that he knew he could succeed at the college level.
“I knew I was here for a reason and was given a chance before that game, but now I can excel,” Love said. “I just tried to have fun and think back to why I play football and just have fun. It worked out.
“Early on I was still in camp mode, trying to earn my spot. I had it, but you never know. I was making mistakes, but I was learning from them and up to a certain point you make all the mistakes you possibly can.”
Love impressed coaches with his ability to tackle, despite having a size disadvantage in most instances. The La Grange Park, Ill., native, best showed those skills during Notre Dame’s two games against option opponents Navy and Army.
Against the Black Knights, Love even moved to free safety and played the option to perfection in the 44-6 win. In that game, he intercepted a pass on the goal line and made three tackles.
“The safety position was set up with defending the option that you really wanted guys that could run and hit at that position from seven and a half, eight yards,” head coach Brian Kelly said of Love’s role against Army.
Where does that tackling prowess come from? Love said he’s always been a physical player that seeks out contact.
“Honestly, when I was younger it was just a lot of messing around with my older cousins,” Love said. “Just getting beat up a lot. I wrestled a little bit. I always loved contact and it was always a fun thing. In high school I didn’t play corner that much, I played mostly linebacker and safety. I tackled a lot, led my team in tackles, so I just love tackling.”
Love’s experience playing offense in high school — he rushed for 1,067 yards and 18 touchdowns and caught 29 passes for 662 yards and seven TDs as a senior — has benefitted him at Notre Dame as well.
“I really think my experience on offense helps me knowing how guys are trying to make moves,” Love said. “When they’re running routes and what their leverage is, I feel like I know what they’re trying to do so I am able to stop them. That’s a huge edge.”
As the Irish head into the final practices of spring ball, Love continues to see time as one of the team’s top-two cornerbacks alongside senior Nick Watkins. But with a number of younger corners hoping to crack the starting lineup — including sophomores Donte Vaughn, Troy Pride Jr. and junior Shaun Crawford — Love has plenty of work to do.
“The atmosphere of the room and camaraderie and chemistry is outstanding,” Love said. “I really enjoy being here and having fun with them and with Coach Lyght. It’s a special thing, and it’ll show going forward.”
• Talk about it inside Rockne’s Roundtable
• Subscribe to our podcast on iTunes
• Learn more about our print and digital publication, Blue & Gold Illustrated.
• Like us on Facebook.