Blue and Gold Illustrated

Sept. 18, 2021

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

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18 SEPT. 18, 2021 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED BY TYLER HORKA I t wasn't what JD Bertrand did dur- ing Roswell (Ga.) Blessed Trinity's 21-17 victory over Cartersville (Ga.) High School in the second round of the 2017 Georgia state playoffs that former Blessed Trinity head coach Tim McFarlin remembers the most. It's what he did in the week leading up to the game to prepare himself to have 16 tackles in an effort that ultimately knocked off the top-ranked team in the state and ended Trevor Lawrence's il- lustrious high school career. "I remember a lot of plays that JD made, but for him it wasn't about the events," McFarlin told Blue & Gold Illus- trated. "It wasn't about the big plays. It was about the process. I've never seen a young man who was so process-driven." It's the process that helped Blessed Trinity win a game it was expected to lose by 30-plus points according to McFarlin. It's the process that helped Blessed Trin- ity win state championships in 2017-18 in Bertrand's junior and senior seasons. It's the process that set the foundation for one more state title in 2019 after Bertrand had already moved on to Notre Dame. McFarlin said Blessed Trinity wouldn't have won its third straight state champi- onship without Bertrand's presence in the program the previous four seasons. "JD set a standard that everybody else felt like they had to match," McFarlin said. "I don't know what it was about his personality, but the players did not want to let him down." Perhaps it was because Bertrand didn't want to let anyone down himself. Bertrand made his first career col- legiate start in Notre Dame's season opener against Florida State and led the defense with 11 tackles. He made the play on FSU quarterback McKenzie Mil- ton that was originally called a 13-yard sack but was reversed to an incomplete pass. Seminoles' kicker Ryan Fitzgerald then missed a 37-yard field goal after the lengthy pause in play. McFarlin gave Bertrand some credit for that. "To me, it still changed the game," McFarlin said. "Now the kicker gets iced. Now the kicker has to wait. Whether he gets the sack or not, that's him. That's exactly what he does." McFarlin also gave Bertrand credit for the text he received from him after the game in response to McFarlin's congrat- ulatory message. "Hey, I appreciate it coach. I can play so much better, and I'm looking forward to that." If that's not a "not going to let you down" mentality, what is? MAKING THE LEAP Bertrand's path from Blessed Trinity to starting at Will linebacker took some twists and turns. For starters, he was close to not even ending up in South Bend in the first place. Bertrand was considered a Geor- gia lean for much of his recruitment. But there was always something special about Notre Dame for a devout Catholic like Bertrand. "It's cliché, but it's hard to pass up such a good academic school and a good foot- ball school with such a strong commu- nity and such a strong network," Bertrand said. "It's just a hard thing to pass up on." Bertrand doesn't think back on his recruitment much. To him, he's at Notre Dame now. That's that. It doesn't mat- ter how he got here. He's here. And he's starting. That's not something many — possibly even Bertrand himself — envi- sioned as recently as mid-August. Bertrand started his career as a mid- dle linebacker. Good luck getting play- ing time behind the likes of Drew White and Bo Bauer, young buck. New defensive coordinator Mar- cus Freeman's arrival in South Bend, though, came with a new opportunity for Bertrand. Freeman moved him over to the Will linebacker position, and he quickly shot up the depth chart to No. 2 behind senior Marist Liufau. When Liufau went down with a sea- son-ending injury in the final days of fall camp, suddenly Bertrand sat atop the depth chart. Life came at him quickly. He didn't flinch. "First of all, Marist is one of my best friends, so it was hard to see him go down," Bertrand said. "He's been noth- ing but encouraging to me. Obviously that was a big bummer, but I just looked at it like an opportunity. "Me and Marist talked about it. God has a plan for him, and God has a plan for me. It's an opportunity I want to take the best advantage of." UP FROM HERE The text McFarlin received from Ber- trand is going to resonate with him a while. McFarlin retired from Blessed Trin- ity last winter after a 10-year stint that included eight region championships and the three state titles. He has since moved to coach at a smaller school, Ro- swell (Ga.) Fellowship Christian School, to continue doing what he loves: devel- oping young men on and off the field. Bertrand's mindset will forever be a teaching tool for him to do that for how- ever long he continues to coach. Bertrand didn't pat himself on the back. He didn't relish in glory of re- cording more tackles than anyone else wearing a golden helmet in a primetime, season-opening game against a pro- gram with so much pedigree. No celebratory nature in the slightest. Just a look ahead. Freeman couldn't ask anything more of Bertrand in that regard. He needs him to be looking ahead. The future is uncer- tain for Notre Dame at the linebacker po- sition. Senior rover Paul Moala was lost for the year with an Achilles tendon tear. Senior Will linebacker Shayne Simon, who was listed as Bertrand's backup be- fore the Florida State game, is nursing an injury of his own. True freshman Prince Kollie was TRULY SPECIAL Sophomore linebacker JD Bertrand shined with a team-high 11 tackles in his starting debut, and he's confident he'll only get better from here

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