Blue and Gold Illustrated

May 2021 Issue

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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Page 28 of 47 MAY 2021 29 BY PATRICK ENGEL Not long before Joshua Burnham and his family sat down to watch Notre Dame's game against Clemson Nov. 7, he saw his phone buzz with a FaceTime request. It was from one of Notre Dame's assistant coaches. Yes, they really were taking time out of their pregame routines before facing the nation's No. 1 team to give him a call. "It was just showing how much they care," said Burnham, a four-star linebacker from Traverse City (Mich.) Central High School. "There's no greater feeling. Just knowing there's someone there to always talk to, it's great." The family looked on and joined in, still a bit stunned they actually were important enough given the circumstances. "They're an hour away from tak- ing pregame warm-ups, and two and three coaches are FaceTiming Josh," said Burnham's father, Sean. "They went way out of their way. We're all gathering together to watch it on the big screen, and they're reaching out to us. "It was just a little different." Burnham wanted to be different, too. "I grew up in the state of Michi- gan. I didn't really want to make that my limit," Burnham said after an- nouncing his commitment to Notre Dame over Michigan and Wisconsin on March 17. "I definitely wanted to be open to everything. That's exactly what I am." Burnham became the 11th com- mit of Notre Dame's 2022 class, announcing his decision in an out- door ceremony undeterred by sleety weather. Picking the Fighting Irish over the home-state school, though, was rooted in the prospect's comfort with the coaching staff and school as much as it was a desire to pave a dif- ferent path. The 6-3, 200-pound Burnham was originally a top target for for- mer Irish defensive coordinator Clark Lea, who offered him in June 2020. Sixth months later, Lea left to be Vanderbilt's head coach after the 2020 season. There was no starting over or con- tact tailing off. Notre Dame replaced Lea with Marcus Freeman, who had offered Burnham in his job at Cincin- nati and carried that same interest in him over to his new role. But to put all the focus on Free- man's impact is to ignore one con- stant and critical presence from the start who bridged the gap: defensive analyst Nick Lezynski, Lea's assis- tant who was and remains active in linebacker recruiting with Freeman. "It was really Coach Lezynski," Burnham said. "He's been there ev- ery step of the way. And with Coach Freeman, there's something special that's there and you get a feel for it." "He's probably more of the core," Sean Burnham added. "He's the one who has made all this even more spe- cial. He has made a lot more of those real personal connections. He was a huge, crucial part of the comfort and relationship building. "When that transition was happen- ing, Coach Lezynski was the first one to reach out." Notre Dame had to feel like a fit, too, though. Enough Zoom calls — and there were a lot — will make any recruit an expert on a team's depth chart at his position, the aca- demic opportunities and campus life. In addition to all the members of the coaching staff, Burnham Zoomed with athletic trainers and academic advisers during the re- cruiting process. One takeaway that stuck with him was the sense of community. The football team doesn't operate as its own entity that lives in an all-athlete dorm and is unofficially walled off from the rest of the student body. The smaller class sizes were emphasized and intriguing. It all sounded good in theory. The Burnham family wanted to see for themselves before making a decision. When a rare Saturday without a basketball game popped up for Josh in late February, the family went to South Bend for a self-guided visit. They couldn't meet the coaching staff in person because of the ongoing re- cruiting dead period, but went while class was in session to get the best possible sense for daily life and ac- tivity. With Lezynski's help, they put together an itinerary. All told, the trip was enough to leave a strong impression that put Notre Dame in pole position. "Just seeing everything there, it felt like home," Burnham said. "That was really the main part." And in a way, the final part. "The way the whole process for us as a family has been handled, that's what stood out," Sean Burnham said. "We're greatly appreciative of what every school has done in recruiting him. There are coaching changes and changeover at all schools, and the way this one was handled and all the other ones that haven't changed made this the most comfortable." ✦ COMMITMENT PROFILE JOSHUA BURNHAM Notre Dame's Nick Lezynski Plays Key Role In Landing Four-Star Linebacker Burnham — the nation's No. 5 inside linebacker and No. 141 overall player per Rivals — wasn't deterred by Notre Dame's defensive coordinator switch because of his relationship with another assistant. PHOTO COURTESY RIVALS.COM FILM ANALYSIS "You can go down the list of the top qualities you want in a middle linebacker, and Joshua Burnham checks all the boxes. He's ideally sized for the position, he's a good athlete, he's honed his leadership while playing quar- terback on offense, and he understands the game. "At this point in his development the whole is not quite equal to the sum of its parts. Once Burnham can focus just on being a linebacker and not have to juggle the responsibilities of running the offense as well, I expect his devel- opment to shift into overdrive." — Rivals Midwest analyst Josh Helmholdt

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