Notre Dame's junior day spawns commitment from 2021 safety Justin Walters

Carter Karels
South Bend Tribune

The moment Justin Walters knew he wanted to come to Notre Dame made him laugh.

Just before his one-on-one meeting with head coach Brian Kelly, Walters felt he heard a resonating sentiment not necessarily intended to be deeply interpreted.

“When you know what school you want to go to, you know.”

The three-star safety remembers the words, but not the spokesman. He had conversed with so many coaches and players that some parts of Notre Dame’s junior day recruiting event on Saturday seemed like a blur.

But it was if that unfamiliar coach had been reading his mind. Since taking his first trip to South Bend for Notre Dame’s Sept. 14 home game against New Mexico, Walters’ interest leaned heavily toward the Irish. 

As Walters trekked back to Bolingbrook, Ill., hours later, he shared those feelings with his younger brother and parents. Then he phoned defensive pass game coordinator Terry Joseph, committed to the Irish and made the news public on Sunday.

Joseph told Walters Notre Dame would take just two safeties in the 2021 recruiting class. Then, Walters said, Joseph would not recruit any other safeties that cycle. So Walters felt he needed to end his recruitment, passing on Michigan, Michigan State, Wisconsin, Nebraska and others.

“I knew I wanted to take all of my official visits,” Walters told the Tribune. “I knew I wanted to take visits in the spring. But why would I waste my time? Why would I waste these coaches’ time when I knew in my heart I wanted to go to Notre Dame?”

As Notre Dame's first defensive back commit in 2021, Walters joins quarterback Tyler Buchner, wide receivers Deion Colzie and Lorenzo Styles Jr., offensive linemen Blake Fisher and Greg Crippen, tight end Cane Berrong and defensive tackle Gabriel Rubio. 247Sports and Rivals both rank the class No. 3 nationally.

Touring the facilities, one-on-one meetings with Kelly and academic advisors, being introduced to players and recruits and partaking in a photoshoot were the highlights of Walters’ visit.

“It was the feeling of community there and the feeling of being loved,” said Walters on the New Mexico trip helping stage this decision. “Most other games that I went to, you just go there, talk to a couple coaches for a couple minutes, you watch the game and then leave.

"At Notre Dame they cared for us, they gave us food, we got to talk to the coaches for a while and they gave us a campus tour afterwards.”

The 6-foot-2, 170-pound Walters brings a violent, bruising style and could play either safety position, CBS Sports Network recruiting analyst Tom Lemming said. 247Sports ranks Walters as its No. 18 safety and No. 411 overall player in the 2021 class, while Rivals pegs him No. 14 at the position and outside its top 250 overall players.

Enrolling a semester early remains an option for Walters, but he won’t know until May.

“He’s got really good range, can hit, great hands, good leap — he’s got all the tools to be an outstanding safety,” Lemming said. “He’s a really good catch for Notre Dame.”

Fellow Bolingbrook High product Micah Dew-Treadway, a defensive tackle for Notre Dame before playing a graduate transfer season for Minnesota in 2019, contacted Walters after he received his scholarship offer in September.

That a player who transferred away from Notre Dame reached out to Walters about the news made an impression on him. He then wanted to connect with the Irish coaching staff and players. Joseph also made Walters feel like a high priority. Defensive coordinator Clark Lea, offensive coordinator Tommy Rees and Joseph each visited his school during the contact period last month.

Walters’ talk with junior safety Houston Griffith and early enrolled freshman cornerback Ramon Henderson during junior day made an impression on him, too. He enjoyed hearing the perspectives of a player with experience and another with his foot just in the door.

Kelly familiarizing himself with Walters’ family also left him satisfied. Though, Walters already knew his path just before that conversation.

“It was the perfect situation. Everything is perfect about Notre Dame,” Walters said. “(Kelly) seems like a really good person. What made me like him more was he seemed so genuine. He was joking around with my brother. He was not really making fun of him, but cracking some jokes.

“It really felt like a genuine experience.”

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Bolingbrook (Ill.) High's Justin Walters (22) committed to Notre Dame on Feb. 2.