Blue and Gold Illustrated

March 2022

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

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BLUEGOLDONLINE.COM MARCH 2022 33 be around for just one. He wanted a new challenge and a place to put him back on the first-round course. He realized himself — and NFL feedback confirmed to him — that a Day 1 selection wasn't the likely outcome if he turned pro now. First-round projections last spring gave way to mid- to late-round ones by December. Joseph's run defense and tackling dipped. His coverage numbers did, too. Both were plausibly the result of Northwestern's defensive coordi- nator switch. Still, he made 80 tack- les, picked off three passes and broke up four more. Any dip only downgraded him from All-Ameri- can to impact college football player. But that made a difference in the NFL's eyes. "My personal goal is being a first- round draft pick," Joseph said. "It didn't look like that was going to happen this year. My goal was to go somewhere I can maximize on the opportunity to become the best safety in the country. I thought this was the best place for that." Notre Dame has as much riding on get- ting him back there as he does. The best safety in the country played for the Irish last year, an eraser whose long strides chewed up real estate with the ease of a cheetah and whose instincts often turned promising offensive plays into duds. But Kyle Hamilton is a pro now, and his Fiesta Bowl absence highlighted Notre Dame's lack of top-end talent behind him. Enter Joseph — one All-American replacing another — and his own knack for zipping around center field and play- ing run support. There's still belief in it, despite some 2021 bumps. He has nine interceptions in just 21 games since 2020, including six that first season. In many ways, he's still playing offense. "I truly think I'm a receiver," Joseph said. He remained one even after shift- ing his focus to safety back in College Station. Huff said he rarely uses play- ers on both sides of the ball, but Joseph was an exception. His ball skills were too valuable to limit to defense. Joseph even hauled in a game-winning 29-yard touchdown in overtime to give College Station an important district win his senior year. "If the ball is on the ground or in the air and in his vicinity, somehow, he al- ways ends up with it," Huff said. "I don't know what it is. He's like a ball magnet." Former Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields is one of Joseph's many victims and on the wrong end of his career highlight — he pilfered a Fields end zone throw with one hand in the 2020 Big Ten Champion- ship Game. Not only was the pick itself impressive, but he lined up in man cover- age against projected first-round receiver Garrett Wilson and navigated around a rub route to stick with him. Turns out, the tracking ability of a receiver, the range of a free safety and the IQ of a former quarterback are one powerful blend. "All those things merge together to make me the best ball-hawking safety I can be," Joseph said. All told, Joseph (6-1, 192 pounds) looks like an immediate starter. Barring something disastrous, he will be one. "If not," Joseph said, "I did something wrong." SETTLING IN Admittedly, the attention was flatter- ing. The former three-star recruit out of high school became a portal grand prize when he put his name in the transfer database. "It felt like I was a five-star," Joseph said. He narrowed his choices to Notre Dame, Oregon and Baylor, but made just one visit: to South Bend on Jan. 7. Classes started on Jan. 10. If he wanted Notre Dame, he had to commit while on campus. He did. He's roommates with long snapper Michael Vinson and Arkan- sas State transfer kicker Blake Grupe. It's the old "captain's house," and he inherited former nose guard Kurt Hinish's room. Home is starting to feel like home. So is his position group. "He'll mesh right into not only the locker room but our safety room," grad- uate student safety DJ Brown said. All that's missing is a go-to coffee shop for Joseph, a self-admitted coffee fanatic. And, of course, getting on the field. Spring practice is Joseph's first chance to not only lock down a start- ing job, but to begin re-raising his draft stock. He's the opposite of a long- term developmental project for safe- ties coach Chris O'Leary and the to- be-determined defensive coordinator. Everybody in the building understands he's here for refinement, not rebuilding. At the same time, no detail is too small to overlook for someone with first-round dreams and physical traits. Notre Dame will push Joseph. And that's just how he wants it. "Constant improving is my biggest thing," Joseph said. "If I'm not improv- ing on something or fixing my little mistakes, I'm not becoming the best version of myself. Regardless of what the NFL says, I know what I need to fix. "Having conversations with Coach Freeman and Coach O'Leary, I think we're all on the same page." Coaching suggestions will be wel- comed. ✦ Joseph is expected to step right into the starting for the Fighting Irish in 2022. PHOTO COURTESY BRANDON JOSEPH "My personal goal is being a first-round draft pick. It didn't look like that was going to happen this year. My goal was to go some- where I can maximize on the opportunity to become the best safety in the country. I thought this was the best place for that." JOSEPH ON TRANSFERRING TO NOTRE DAME

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