Notre Dame CB Julian Love juggles goals, eyes more interceptions in junior season

Mike Vorel
South Bend Tribune

Julian Love is taking chances.

Just look at his face.

The bottom half of it is suffocating under a finely groomed black beard, a bold makeover for Notre Dame’s standout soon-to-be junior cornerback.

“I’m trying something right now. Spring’s the time to do it,” Love explained on Tuesday, following Notre Dame’s third practice of the spring. “I went home last week and my mom didn’t like it at all, so that might change my decision in shaving it soon.”

Regardless, the 5-foot-11, 189-pound corner is determined to add a few more risks to his repertoire, an outlook that has also made its way onto the field.

“This spring I’m going to try to be very aggressive,” Love said. “That’s 50/50 balls — not just trying to break up the play, but trying to catch it and really make a difference. I think if you do that in the spring and take chances, that just goes right into camp and the season.

“My goal last year was like, ‘All right, try to look for the ball more. Try to get your hand on it at all times.’ Now this year I’m trying to catch the ball and have my interception numbers go up rather than a lot of (ball disruptions) when I feel like I could catch the ball.”

Granted, Love didn’t get his hand on every approaching pass in 2017 … but he came closer than any previous Irish corner. The Westchester, Ill., native broke up a program-record 20 passes, seven more than runner-up Clarence Ellis in 1969. He also intercepted three passes, two of which he returned for touchdowns.

“I didn’t know they kept track of that, really. I didn’t know there was a record to be broken,” Love said of the 20 pass break-ups with a laugh. “I was just having fun playing ball. I think when you set goals for yourself, good things happen.”

Speaking of goals, Love has another one.

Notre Dame has already named three 2018 captains, with one more to be added at the conclusion of the spring.

He wants to be the fourth.

“I just want to give the team the best version of myself,” Love said. “I know there’s great people also in line to be a captain, but I know I can offer the team something special. I think that’s through my character and who I’ve always been here. I really care about it.

“If I’m not a captain, I still need to be that leader for everybody, because I know people are relying on me. No matter what I will be the same person.”

He will still be confident. He will still be aggressive.

He will still lead, regardless of his title … or the black stubble suffocating half his face.

“I was telling some of the younger guys last week or a couple weeks ago that college football, in my opinion, is not all about physical traits,” Love said. “I think it’s all about your mental game and your confidence levels. Everybody thinks there’s a huge change from freshman to sophomore year in terms of how strong or how fast you are. We’re getting that here, but it’s also just your confidence levels and how you’re thinking about the game and your ability to take chances.

“Guys get that and they make huge jumps purely, I believe, off of confidence and playing the game. For me that was huge. I knew I could do it. I know I can do it. So now I just have to implement it into my game.”

Love’s confidence is clear. His leadership is evident. His goals are unmistakable.

The junior corner wants to add an aggressive edge, and Brian Kelly wants to help him.

“We’re expecting him to elevate his play,” Notre Dame’s ninth-year head coach said on Tuesday. “So part of it is through what he’s doing in the offseason in his conditioning and his weight training, and part of it is with our teaching. We’re going to be doing some things that I think are going to accentuate his ability to be a guy that can play press coverage.

“We want to play some press, and it’s something we haven’t done much here. But I think that’s something he brings to our football team, and when you can press some guys and have the physicality like he has I think it elevates his game.”

It may be hard to imagine that Love has another level, especially after the rising junior nabbed 113 tackles, 23 passes defended and four interceptions in his first two seasons. But that’s what the goals are for.

The gains will come later.

“No matter where the ball is, I want to be in the play,” Love said. “So if it’s a run play breaking through the middle I want to make the tackle. That may not come up in your typical corner stats like picks and pass deflections, but I think it will show what type of player I am.

“I may not have the stats, and that’s OK. I just want to make an impact. That’s my goal. That’s all I really care about. Stats will be their own thing, but I just want to make an impact. I want to make a bigger impact this year.”


Twitter: @mikevorel

Notre Dame’s Julian Love (27) celebrates scoring during the Notre Dame at Michigan State NCAA football game Saturday, 23, 2017 at Spartan Stadium in East Lansing, Michigan. Tribune Photo/MICHAEL CATERINA