Notebook: After stops at Notre Dame and Nevada, Justin Brent still chasing football career

Tyler James
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND — Justin Brent could have been in Iowa on Wednesday.

That’s where the Nevada men’s basketball team was preparing to play Florida in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Thursday. A year ago, Brent was on the bench as the Wolf Pack made a run into the Sweet 16.

Brent, who played in only three games, joined the team last year when Nevada needed help filling out its roster after some injuries late in the season. He had the opportunity to do the same this year, but he chose to spend his time pursuing a professional football career.

“I had to make a business decision,” Brent said Wednesday after completing his Pro Day workout at Notre Dame.

A week prior, Brent participated in Nevada’s Pro Day. But because he graduated from Notre Dame in 2017 before transferring to Nevada, he had an invitation to perform with his former Irish teammates as well. It was an opportunity Brent wasn’t going to miss.

“This is home,” Brent said. “This is where my son was born. This is everything. I’ll always come back here. This will always be home.”

Brent’s son, Braxton, was born August 11, 2016, when he was a junior at Notre Dame. Now Brent and his girlfriend are raising the child together in Indianapolis. The two have been dating on and off since his days at Speedway High School.

The brightest days of Brent’s football career came at Speedway. That’s where he was rated as a four-star recruit and among the top 100 players nationally in the 2014 class. But those projections never became a reality at Notre Dame. He played in nine games as a freshman mostly on special teams, but he didn’t see the field the next two seasons as he switched from wide receiver to running back.

Brent received a degree from Notre Dame, which allowed him to transfer and play right away at Nevada in 2017. Still, he struggled to find a role and caught just one pass for 21 yards. In his final season this past year, Brent moved to safety and started to gain traction. In the last game of the season, Nevada’s 16-13 win over Arkansas State in the Arizona Bowl, Brent recorded two interceptions. He finished the season with 27 tackles as a backup safety and special teamer.

Now Brent’s trying to convince NFL scouts to give him a chance after playing safety for only one season.

“It’s a lot to learn just playing it one year. The scouts know that. They just wanted to see me move and see how I looked at it,” Brent said. “I think I looked good. I’m learning a lot. It’s about being able to keep repeating it. Football’s all about repetition, so I just have to keep working at it and keep getting better.”

If the 6-foot-1, 213-pound Brent signs with a team or receives a minicamp invite, he’ll likely be competing for a role on special teams. That’s something he’s committed to.

Brent didn’t blow anyone away with most of his testing numbers on Wednesday. He clocked a 40-yard dash time of 4.71 seconds and 4.55 in the 20-yard shuttle. His best effort came in the bench press where his 22 reps of 225 pounds would have tied him for first among the 21 safeties to lift at the NFL Combine.

There’s more work left for Brent ahead, but first he’s headed back to Indianapolis to watch Nevada play on TV and break from his diet for the first time in two months.

“It’s going to be good to get to some of my favorite spots back home,” Brent said. “I’ve been home, but I couldn’t eat what I want. Now it will be cool to do that.”

No regrets for Watkins

If Nick Watkins hadn’t left Notre Dame for a graduate transfer to Houston, he likely could have played a key role for the Irish in the College Football Playoff semifinal loss to Clemson. When cornerback Julian Love left the game in the first half, Watkins would have been a strong option to replace him.

But Watkins hasn’t second-guessed his decision to leave the Irish for the Cougars. Watkins was actually in attendance for the Cotton Bowl at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.

“I don’t think I missed out,” Watkins said. “I’m happy with my decisions. I don’t have any regrets. I’m happy for my teammates, too.”

Watching his former teammates lose 30-3 wasn’t easy though.

“The game wasn’t fun, but I was happy to be there,” Watkins said. “I kept in touch with everybody throughout the whole year. I was cheering them on.”

At Houston, the 6-1, 199-pound Watkins started eight games at cornerback. He finished the season with 42 tackles, five pass breakups and two interceptions, including one returned 50 yards for a touchdown against Navy.

Watkins, who played in 35 games and started 10 at Notre Dame, said he learned to become a better student of the game with the Cougars. Now he’s trying to prove to NFL teams why he’s worth a spot. He recorded a 4.53 40 and a 4.22 shuttle on Wednesday.

“I’m a playmaker, and I don’t give up big plays,” Watkins said. “I don’t give up touchdowns.”

Three-home Holmes

Athleticism never seemed to be the problem for Corey Holmes.

The former Notre Dame, Purdue and Morgan State wide receiver always had plenty of it. The 6-1, 183-pound Holmes showed that again Wednesday. He recorded the top marks in the 20-yard shuttle (4.08), vertical (38.5) and broad jump (11-foot-1) of anyone working out in those events during Notre Dame’s Pro Day.

His marks in the vertical and broad jump didn’t quite match Miles Boykin’s performance at the NFL Combine (43.5 and 11-8), but Holmes showed untapped potential. He also recorded a 4.52 in the 40.

Those numbers should have produced more than 44 catches for 451 yards and one touchdown in five years. Holmes can only hope his testing numbers will be enough to intrigue NFL scouts. He plans to participate in Morgan State’s Pro Day next Tuesday.

“I’m going to do that there, continue to work and just hope for an opportunity,” Holmes said.

The return to Notre Dame was Holmes’ first trip back to campus since graduating in 2017. After that, Holmes spent a season at Purdue before landing at Morgan State, where he caught 33 passes for 355 yards and one touchdown last season. He’s on track to receive a master’s degree in journalism in May.

“It’s been a long two years,” Holmes said. “I had a great experience at Morgan State. It’s cool to be back meeting with all the guys I shared some blood, sweat and tears with.”

Safety Justin Brent has tried multiple positions at Notre Dame and Nevada, but he’s still chasing an NFL career. He competed at Notre Dame’s Pro Day on Wednesday.
Cornerback Nick Watkins, who spent his final season at Houston, returned to Notre Dame for Pro Day on Wednesday.
Wide receiver Corey Holmes catches a pass during Notre Dame Pro Day.