The Journal Gazette
Friday, January 21, 2022 11:00 pm

Notre Dame players discuss 2022: Defense

DYLAN SINN | The Journal Gazette

More than a dozen Notre Dame players spoke with the media this afternoon. All of the players who spoke were either transfers entering the program or players who could have elected to enter the NFL Draft but decided to return to the Irish for another season. Here are some of the highlights from the defensive players who spoke today, their first public comments since the team's 37-35 Fiesta Bowl loss to Oklahoma State.

Isaiah Foskey, defensive end: 

  • On why he came back when he likely would have been early-round NFL Draft pick: "I just believe in (new Irish head) Coach (Marcus) Freeman and I believe in the whole team. We can win a national championship. I believe we can do that and it's the best of both worlds: I can come back, devote myself to becoming an all-around defensive player, not just a pass-rusher and I feel this team really can win a national championship. That's the main reason I came back." Added he "couldn't leave Notre Dame with a bad taste in my mouth" after the Fiesta Bowl.
  • Defensive line coach Mike Elston leaving for Michigan surprised the line: "It did surprise us. But he did mention, around three or four days before he left, that it was a possibility he would leave, not guaranteed. ... I'm happy for him (being able to) go to Michigan, I'm always happy for him, he's my guy."
  • Foskey said he also returned for another crack at breaking Justin Tuck's Notre Dame single-season record of 13 1/2 sacks. He had 11 sacks in 2021.
  • On Marcus Freeman: "He was the first guy when Coach Kelly left, I wanted him to be head coach. That's my guy. The whole defense, all the players, have a really good relationship with him. ... He's a real players coach and I love him."

Brandon Joseph, transfer safety from Northwestern

  • On his first weeks on campus: "It's been great. Coming from Chicago, it's cold a little bit, but it's nothing I'm not used to. Getting to know these guys, getting to meet everyone in the Notre Dame community, it's been great."
  • He has worked out in the past with fellow Irish safety Houston Griffith, a Chicago native.
  • On working out with Irish strength coach Matt Balis: "Matt Balis is the real deal. He's one of the reasons I decided to come (to Notre Dame). I wanted to develop myself to be the best player I could possibly be. A strength coach like Matt Balis is exactly what I need."
  • On other reasons he came to Notre Dame: "I came to Notre Dame to maximize my potential. Joining a defense like this, having a piece like me, they're returning 18 starters and losing a guy like (All-American safety) Kyle (Hamilton), a guy like me stepping me in and filling in that piece of the puzzle is exactly what we need to take this place to the next level."
  • On his expectations: "I expect to be one of the best players in the country."
  • He was on the phone with Freeman the day he entered the transfer portal. 

Houston Griffith, safety

  • On why he came back: "I feel like there's a lot of talent on this team and I wanted to be a part of that team, to go out here and leave Notre Dame, leave my legacy and be a part of a team that wins a national championship. ... Just watching the national championship this year, I was watching with Brandon Joseph and we were visualizing being in that spot in a year from now. ... On a personal level, there's more plays for me to make. I want to work on that, my play-making ability. ... I want to be a captain of this Notre Dame football team and this offseason I'm going to work on having great leadership."
  • On Joseph: "Brandon's a cool guy. ... When I figured out he was thinking of coming to Notre Dame, I reached out and gave him my little Notre Dame spiel. Like, we can be out there on the field together."
  • On Marcus Freeman: "Nothing has really changed. He's got the head coach title, but he's still the same guy, he still makes jokes with us, he still keeps it real with us. It's a competitive mindset with, that's something he preaches with us. ... I remember being in the transfer portal last year and talking to him every single day and building that relationship. He wants to build a relationship with all his players."

Jayson Ademilola, defensive lineman

  • On coming back: "The opportunity to come back, speaking with Coach Freeman and other guys, it was something that got me excited, being able to be around the team, be a leader on this defense and play with my brother (Justin Ademilola) one more year. It was like committing to Notre Dame again like I was a ... high school recruit."
  • He had a shoulder procedure after the season, cleaning up an issue that had bothered him throughout most the 2021 campaign. He insisted he didn't let it hinder his performance even though it "it was going to try to slow me down."
  • Ademilola said Freeman's presence as head coach was a significant reason for his return: "I met Coach Freeman last January and I love him so much. I see a little bit of myself in him. We both love to go to work and we just love to be around guys who love to do the same. ... You can see the ball within him, he played college football just like us. I look at him and he gets me going."
  • He is excited to play with his brother and Foskey on the line again: "The excitement I have for next season is at an all-time high. The guys in the (defensive line) room love to go at it, we love to get after the football and we love the game. These are my brothers I've been with the whole time. ... We can't wait to start up again."

Bo Bauer, linebacker

  • On why he came back: "The bowl game left a pretty sour taste in my mouth. Being able to come back and represent Our Lady's university at the highest level, I don't think it was that hard of a decision for me."
  • He wants a new defensive coordinator, as soon as possible: "I just want a new defensive coordinator so I can start studying the playbook. I haven't been able to do that yet and I want to get an idea of what we're going to be playing like next season. For me, the sooner the better, but I know Coach Freeman has to make the right decision, so I'm ready to wait, but I'm also ready to work."

DJ Brown, safety

  • On goals for 2022: "I just want to be the best player I can be, be a leader for (the young players). As a team, we want to win all the games, go 12-0, there's no doubt about it, we have no other intentions besides to win all these games."
  • Many players who had decisions on whether to return discussed among themselves whether to do so: "During the season, you get a feel for who's coming back and who's planning on leaving. ... I feel like we're coming back with a lot of confidence, even the young guys have played a lot of football. We're really confident going into next season, playing the hardest schedule we've had since I've been here."
  • "I feel like we're the best safety group in the country."

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