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Notre Dame finds needed veteran at safety in Northwestern transfer Rod Heard II

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 23 SRS Distribution Las Vegas Bowl - Utah vs Northwestern
COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 23 SRS Distribution Las Vegas Bowl - Utah vs Northwestern

Notre Dame may have found the veteran safety it needs to pair with unanimous All-American Xavier Watts in 2024. Northwestern defensive back Rod Heard II announced on Wednesday that he will transfer to join the Irish defense with his final season of eligibility.

Heard made 85 tackles last season, with four of them for loss, while knocking down five passes, intercepting one and forcing two fumbles. At 5-foot-11 and 190 pounds, he could also be a nickel back candidate, but Notre Dame already hauled in Arizona State veteran Jordan Clark, a more likely nickel back starter.

“I can see that [Irish head coach Marcus Freeman] and the coaching staff are putting something together,” Heard said to Irish Sports Daily. “I think it’s going to be a great year.

“I think it’s a great collective of guys who have already had success, but I think what’s coming next year and all the pieces that have been added to the team, me included, and the coaching staff that they have. I think it’s going to be a very successful year.”

Aside from Watts, Notre Dame has no proven commodities at safety, current freshmen Ben Minich and Adon Shuler the most experienced pieces, combining for seven tackles this season. Having a unanimous All-American to lead the way is obviously a solid starting point for the defense’s back line, but adding a veteran of 46 career games with 194 tackles will further embolden Watts.

In theory, Heard can be the assignment-focused safety while Watts continues to embrace his ball-hawking knack that yielded a nation-leading seven interceptions in 2023.

Heard played in all of Northwestern’s 37 games in the last three seasons, growing his counting numbers in each year. In that stretch, he totaled two interceptions, five forced fumbles and one fumble recovered, not quite the penchant for the ball that has turned Watts into a star but certainly a threat to complement the Irish veteran in making lives miserable for opposing offensive coordinators.

Heard also pondered transferring to Michigan or Michigan State since jumping into the transfer market on Dec. 28.

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