Blue and Gold Illustrated

Nov. 4, 2023

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

Issue link:

Contents of this Issue


Page 14 of 55

BLUEGOLDONLINE.COM NOV. 4, 2023 15 On3 Industry Ranking. De Smet's teams in Gray's freshman and sophomore years included 11 players in the state top 35 in their respective classes. Those included former Notre Dame wide receiver Jordan Johnson and cur- rently LSU All-Southeastern Conference d e fe n s ive ta c k l e Mekhi Wingo. Still, Love and Gray stood out. They earned complete re- spect from their op- posing coaches. "The thing that stood out to me [about Gray] on film was that guy never quit," Pingel said. "He never stopped on a ball. There's times he'd be coming from the other side, making an angle tackle and chasing people down." Merritt knew how special of an ath- lete Love was, but he hadn't coached against him until 2022, his first year at De Smet. His previous job was at St. Louis John Burroughs, where he coached eventual Notre Dame defensive lineman Tyson Ford. When the Cadets visited the Spartans that year, he was prepared for a battle. "We knew we had a great defense and had a bunch of good guys in the second- ary, linebackers and all that, and CBC had a bunch of offensive skill players who were really top-notch," Merritt said. "We knew that it was gonna be strength against strength." De Smet had no answer for Love, who compiled 215 yards from scrimmage and 3 touchdowns. "He was unstoppable," Merritt said. "We were surging in the second half and got it within a one-score game, and he popped off another run and was gone. He was absolutely unstoppable." RIVALS AND FRIENDS Love and Gray didn't directly match up much, due to the nature of their posi- tions. Gray spent most of his time against CBC guarding McClellan, who commit- ted to Ohio State Aug. 13, and Gray held him down for most of the night. When they did go at each other, though, it was an interesting dynamic. Not because they disliked each other; they didn't spend too much time to- gether but they knew each other and, as Love put it, they were cool. Their personalities, though, couldn't be more different. "You aren't gonna get two more op- posites in a game," Merritt said. Love is stoic. He does not say much on the field. Gray, on the other hand, is a prototypical trash-talking cornerback, to the point where cameras caught him shouting "Yessir!" after breaking up a pass near the end of the 2022 CBC game. The Cadets were up by three scores at the time. "Christian would be the first to tell you that as his new coach last year, most of my comments were, 'Shut up, Christian,'" Merritt said, laughing. When Merritt saw Gray during the recent bye week, though, he was floored by how much Gray had grown as a per- son. He told Gray before he left for South Bend that he knew how high the coaches' standards were and how high the standard at Notre Dame is, and that he had to "change his ways a little bit." Now, Merritt sees a much more down-to-earth Gray. "He came home with a tremendous maturity and a tremendous humble- ness, and I was very impressed by it," Merritt said. Love has grown substantially since he left high school, too. As the freak athlete that he is, Love often got away with just showing up at CBC, Pingel said. He didn't necessarily focus on winning every rep and finish- ing every drill, but that's changed since he started playing for the Irish. "I was never, ever worried about Jer- emiyah Love, the person," Pingel said. "I always just wanted to make sure he was ready for what would come next, and he's not only overcome that, he's really grasping it and he's dominated. It's been pretty freakin' powerful." On the field, Love and Gray are in the midst of standout freshman seasons. Gray won a fall camp competition for the No. 4 cornerback role, and he should challenge for a starting job as early as 2024. Love, in a crowded backfield, emerged as the No. 2 running back and leads all regular Irish rushers with 6.7 yards per carry. Off the field, Love and Gray have be- come close friends in South Bend. "Oh yeah. Christian, he's a familiar face," Love said. "We're both from the same city, so I can really relate to him. I know that if I need somebody to talk to or hang out with, Christian is always there." "I mostly hang out with J-Love be- cause he was my [high school] rivalry and everything," Gray said. "But he was also my friend, too." Three years from now, Notre Dame fans could look back very fondly at four years of De Smet-CBC contributions. Love and Gray have incredibly bright futures with the Irish. ✦ Gray saw action in seven of the Fighting Irish's first eight contests, and contributed 3 tackles and 1 pass broken up. PHOTO BY JOHN CROTHERS "We're both from the same city, so I can really relate to him. I know that if I need somebody to talk to or hang out with, Christian is always there." LOVE

Articles in this issue

Links on this page

Archives of this issue

view archives of Blue and Gold Illustrated - Nov. 4, 2023