Blue and Gold Illustrated


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

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10 PRESEASON 2022 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED BY PATRICK ENGEL J ames Laurinaitis' worst fear as an NFL linebacker drove him to stare at iPads full of game film and defensive call sheets until the screen blurred. As a broadcaster, it compelled him to learn the pronunciation of every player's name — even the third-string walk-on kicker — on both teams involved in his assigned game. And now, as a Notre Dame graduate assistant, it drives him to make sure he has an answer to any possible question his pupils might ask. Yes, even eight-year NFL veterans and three-time All-Americans are afraid of things. "My biggest fear in life," Laurinaitis said, "is being unprepared." Fitting, then, his role in an entry- level coaching job helps ensure the en- tire team is prepared. Even if it means he's entering data and cutting film clips instead of consuming them. After years of wanting to take the coaching plunge and finally catching a break this winter, though, he's content to do anything. The 35-year-old Laurinaitis is in his first season as a Notre Dame graduate assistant, working with the linebackers. His boss is his close friend and former Ohio State teammate, Marcus Free- man, who extended him the coaching opportunity he grew to crave during a five-year career as a Big Ten Network analyst and weekly radio show co-cost. The urge to return to the sidelines with a headset and not a helmet built up mere months after he retired in 2017. A media career allowed him to be around football. But not as close to it as he desired. "You start talking to coaches, start talking ball off the record, talking scheme," Laurinaitis said. "You start feeling that fire again. I tried the last few years. Opportunities didn't work out. I've always talked to Free. Some of that is timing — guys just don't have room." Freeman had a feeling last year, though, some defensive graduate as- sistant spots would open after 2021 due to promotions, internal or external. He promised Laurinaitis a spot on the short list if so. Sure enough, his hunch was right. And his own promotion to head coach gave him a little more sway in fill- ing those openings. He gave his friend a job at Notre Dame and told him to be ready to wear several hats. Laurinaitis quickly learned this isn't a three-hour weekly radio show anymore. A graduate assistant's salary is a hum- bling step down from NFL paychecks, too. But none of that matters when you get a shot at something you've wanted for a while. "Just like when I first jumped into UNDER THE DOME 'PURE JOY' Former Ohio State linebacker James Laurinaitis finds his latest football calling: Notre Dame graduate assistant Laurinaitis, an eight-year NFL vet and current Notre Dame graduate assistant, played with Irish head coach Marcus Freeman while at Ohio State from 2005-09. PHOTO BY CHAD WEAVER

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