Safety Litchfield Ajavon's journey to Notre Dame program unique
If not for a youth football coach recruiting players at a local basketball court, Notre Dame commit Litchfield Ajavon may have never fallen in love with football.
But before he was able to put on pads and a helmet, Ajavon had to convince his grandfather.
"He was reluctant for me to play football," said Ajavon, who was born in a Liberian refugee camp in Ghana and moved to the U.S. when he was six years old with his grandfather and mother.
"He didn't know what football was. All he knew about it was that it's violent and I could get injured. Soccer was the sport he played. He didn't want me to play. I had to try to convince him every day that I wanted to play football. He eventually let me play, and I'm pretty happy that he did."
It was within two years of living in America that Ajavon discovered football. His lessons in the sport came fast as he was thrown into several different positions.
"I started playing on the offensive line, then I worked my way to tight end, then running back," Ajavon said. "At that point, I started playing different positions. I tried to play running back, quarterback, linebacker, punter, kicker, all that."
Football became a passion, but Ajavon had no idea it could become his future. The possibility of playing college football on scholarship hadn't even crossed his mind until Michigan extended him an offer following his sophomore season at Alexandria (Va.) Episcopal.
"I was shocked to hear that the head coach of the University of Michigan wanted to see me in my coach's office," Ajavon said. "I wasn't into the world of college football. Everything was just a shock for me. That's what makes it rewarding now knowing you have the potential to do something like that."
In the coming months, the offers started flooding in: Georgia, Notre Dame, Virginia Tech, Clemson, Duke. Then came his visits to different schools. He became regarded by some as one of the top safety recruits in the country. Rivals rates Ajavon as a four-star recruit and the No. 5 safety in the 2019 class. 247Sports pegs him as a three-star recruit and the No. 51 safety.
While grateful for the college opportunities, Ajavon didn't enjoy all the attention and questions that came with being a big-time recruit. That made his commitment to Notre Dame last Saturday that much more enjoyable.
"I always told people I wasn't a big fan of the recruiting process," Ajavon said. "I just didn't like it. It feels good and relieving that I could commit to Notre Dame and get it over with."
His interest in the Irish developed over three campus visits and countless conversations with defensive coordinator Clark Lea, defensive backs coach Terry Joseph, cornerbacks coach Todd Lyght and head coach Brian Kelly.
The 6-foot, 185-pound Ajavon visited Notre Dame in June and in September for the Miami (Ohio) game last year. He returned to campus April 12 for what would be his final trip to South Bend before committing.
Ajavon named Lea as one of the closest relationships he had with a coach from any school, but he stressed that his decision was not made with any coach in mind.
"In the world of college football, a coach is here today and gone tomorrow,'' he said. "I'm going to Notre Dame because I fell in love with the school of Notre Dame, not for any particular coaches."
One of the staples of Notre Dame's recruiting strategy has been describing the college decision as a commitment to spend four years working for a degree that will impact the next 40 years of your life. That's what sold Ajavon, who plans to study finance.
"Everything just felt right there for me. I took multiple visits just to make sure that it was actually where I wanted to go," Ajavon said. "I love the '4 for 40' idea, and I really bought into that. I have the best chance there to continue my holistic development as an athlete and as a person. I have the chance to do that there better than I'd have the chance to do at other schools."