Blue and Gold Illustrated

Nov. 12, 2022

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

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BLUEGOLDONLINE.COM NOV. 12, 2022 15 BY TODD D. BURLAGE M arcus Freeman didn't need long last week to gloat about senior linebacker JD Ber- trand when asked about his team's commitment level, study habits and general football IQ. "I would say, JD Bertrand sets the standard," the first-year Irish head coach said of his team captain. Freeman even shared a story, with a laugh, of how Bertrand's attention to detail and insatiable quest to improve became evident the day Freeman arrived as Notre Dame's defensive coordinator and linebackers coach in January 2021. Bertrand was an anonymous junior Irish special teams ace and scout team player when Freeman came to Notre Dame from Cincinnati. "Religiously, JD would say, 'When can we watch film?'" Freeman recalled. "It could be 6 or 7 in the morning, or it could be 7 or 8 at night." Freeman admitted to not knowing much about Bertrand when the coach and player first connected that winter. But like a lit- tle brother who will never leave big brother alone, Bertrand was determined to sponge all he could off of his new position coach and coordinator. "He would come in ex- actly when I would say come in," Freeman said of those early engagements. "Almost to the point sometimes where you roll your eyes like, 'Man, you're back. Shoot, you remembered.' But that's him." Freeman went on to not only cele- brate Bertrand's dedication to study and practice, but also his leading tackler's attention to other day-to-day details, including sleep patterns, nutritional preferences and lifestyle choices. "He probably doesn't want to hear me say it," Freeman shared, "but I don't know if he has as much ability as every- body in that linebacker room. But he maximizes what he can be because of the way he prepares." All the personal preparation and hours of film work paid off when Bertrand en- joyed his coming-out party in 2021. The sturdy and smart 6-foot-1, 230-pounder led the Irish with 101 tackles last season by a wide margin, becoming the first Notre Dame player with triple-digit stops since Te'von Co- ney recorded 123 in 2018. And through eight games this season, Bertrand again easily led the Irish with 48 tackles, including 4.5 for loss. And that's after Bertrand missed parts of three games and more than four full quarters of football when he incurred second-half targeting penalties in con- secutive games against Cal Sept. 17 and North Carolina Sept. 24. A physical player who's always around the football, Bertrand was flagged for a third targeting penalty against UNLV Oct. 22, but that call was overturned and Bertrand's participation was preserved. "It's never meant to be malicious," Bertrand explained when asked about h i s m u l t i p l e ta rge t i n g v i o l a t i o n s. "You're always trying to finish the ball carrier, make sure they feel you. But ev- erything happens so fast. It's a split- second thing." Bertrand said he's been spending some time after practice to improve his "strike zone" aim and accuracy on tackling dummies, though he's not ex- actly sure how much that extra work will help. "It's hard because you slow things down on replay, and everything looks more malicious," Bertrand said. "I've had my head up in all the situations, so it's just making sure that I shoot a little lower on the body." And while the missed time slowed Bertrand's production — he made only 6 tackles against North Carolina and BYU when he had to sit out the first halves of those two games — his rise to the top of the Irish tackle list soon followed. Bertrand made 25 tack- les in the three games against Syracuse, UNLV and Stanford, including a career-high 13 stops against the Cardinal. Be r t ra n d , wh o wa s rated as a four-star re- cruit and a top-30 line- backer out of Blessed Trinity Catholic High School in suburban At- lanta, has become one of the most productive Irish linebackers in con- secutive seasons since Coney made 239 tackles in 2017-18 and Jaylon Smith re- corded 226 total stops in 2014-15. Freeman was asked what makes Ber- trand so successful and irreplaceable, and the coach said it has to be the genes. Freeman referenced JD's older brother John Michael Bertrand, a former Irish All-American who became the ace on the Notre Dame pitching staff and a central piece to the team's run to the 2022 College World Series. "They are two young men that maxi- mize their abilities," Freeman said. "And that's the challenge that I think our en- tire team could really learn from — if we can get every individual to maximize their God-given abilities like JD Ber- trand does." ✦ Bertrand led the Irish in tackles last season with 101 and paced the team with 48 through the first eight games this year. PHOTO BY CHAD WEAVER SETTING THE STANDARD Head coach Marcus Freeman wants everyone on his team to have the commitment to improve that senior linebacker JD Bertrand displays

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