'It's now or never.' Rock legend Jon Bon Jovi gives Notre Dame football a pep talk

Mike Berardino
ND Insider

SOUTH BEND — Jon Bon Jovi didn’t just play social-media karaoke host during his Sunday visit to Notre Dame football training camp.

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee, former Arena Football League owner and father of former Irish walk-on defensive back Jesse Bongiovi also spoke for several minutes after practice to Marcus Freeman’s first team.

“It was pretty cool,” senior linebacker Jack Kiser said. “Him being a Notre Dame parent, the first thing he said was, ‘Thank your parents.’ But then he just talked about ‘Live in the moment. Don’t take this for granted. So, just enjoy every day, and the dog days of camp are not too bad.’ “

Rocker Jon Bon Jovi hangs out on the field before the college football game between Notre Dame and USC on Saturday, October 19, 2013, at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend. SBT Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN

The elder Bon Jovi, who turned 60 in March, is coming off a 15-date whirlwind concert tour in April. According to Kiser, the 2018 rock hall inductee reminded the Irish that they “will never be around a group of 100 and some guys that we consider our brothers, our closest friends.”

The younger Bongiovi, who ran downfield for one snap in kickoff coverage against Nevada (2016) during his college career, also spoke to the team.

Notre Dame’s Cole Luke, left, and Jesse Bongiovi during Notre Dame Football Practice on Thursday, Aug. 13, 2015, at Notre Dame in South Bend. SBT Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN

“He just echoed what his dad said,” Kiser said. “He spoke from a personal experience. He’s still best friends with (director of player development) Hunter Bivin and some of the guys on (those teams). He was in Bivin’s wedding last year.”

The 27-year-old Bongiovi’s message to the current team: “Just keep those relationships going,” Kiser said.

Bon Jovi, whose Philadelphia Soul won the Arena league title in 2008, was part of an ownership group that made an unsuccessful bid to buy the NFL’s Buffalo Bills in 2014. He visited Notre Dame Stadium last season and was shown on the “Jumbotron” as the crowd sang along to his biggest hit, “Livin’ on a Prayer.”

That’s the same song Notre Dame used in a self-produced karaoke video in which players such as wide receivers Jayden Thomas and Braden Lenzy, freshman quarterback Steve Angeli (a New Jersey native, like Bon Jovi); long snappers Michael Vinson and Rino Monteforte and linebacker Marist Liufau took turns warbling for the camera.

Kiser said more linebackers weren’t included because they were still out on the field doing extra drills.

“I guess Marist did participate, but they didn’t highlight his true singing abilities,” Kiser said. “He is, by far, the best singer on the team.”

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Jaylen Sneed finding his way

Defensive coordinator Al Golden, a New Jersey native like Bon Jovi, spoke in glowing terms about five-star freshman linebacker Jaylen Sneed.

“He’s very, very talented,” Golden said of the January enrollee. “He’s physical. He’s fast. He’s fun to be around.”

Notre Dame's Jaylen Sneed prior to Notre Dame Fall Practice on Friday, August 05, 2022, at Irish Athletics Center in South Bend, Indiana.

Sneed, who is listed at 215 pounds and considers speed his separating tool, saw action at Hilton Head (S.C.) High School at a multitude of positions. Golden noted Sneed has already shown improvement through four days of training camp in areas that might not come naturally to him.

An example: Finding the ball carrier in traffic near the line of scrimmage.

“It’s hard if you’re out there playing in space all the time and now you’re in the box,” Golden said. “His ability to see pullers and tight ends going back in the box is getting better. He’s so young. Nothing but positive energy for him, and he’s just starting his journey.”

More of Marist (Liufau)

Junior linebacker Marist Liufau showed marked improvement the past two practices, Golden said, after his workload was limited to some extent in the first two August sessions.

That, Freeman said last week, was a precaution after Liufau spent last fall working back from August 2021 surgery to repair a fractured right ankle and fibula. Now listed at 235 pounds, Liufau proudly recounted his Blue-Gold Game interception when asked about it Monday.

“If you look at him physically, he’s much heavier than he was a year ago or even when we had him in the spring,” Golden said. “He knows our expectations for each other are high. The sky’s the limit for Marist. I’m really hopeful we’ll get there.”

Notre Dame's Jordan Botelho prior to Notre Dame Fall Practice on Friday, August 05, 2022, at Irish Athletics Center in South Bend, Indiana.

Flying Hawaiians

Hard-hitting junior linebacker/end Jordan Botelho, Liufau’s fellow Hawaiian, continues to bounce around as Golden tries to find the best fit for his varied skills.

“We’re making sure that we give him opportunities to do the things that he does best,” Golden said. “Jordan has been a guy that has played a number of positions, but that’s not a negative. He’s probably a combo guy. A little bit like Marist in that.”

Botelho, who played just 125 snaps on defense last season, still managed to record 18 tackles and two sacks in 11 games.

Like Liufau, Golden noted, Botelho can play on or off the line of scrimmage.  

“They can rush the edge on third down, but also play off the ball on first down,” he said. “I think we’re settling in now with him. He had a great summer. He came back really strong, a little bit bigger.”

Notre Dame's Chris Smith prior to Notre Dame Fall Practice on Friday, August 05, 2022, at Irish Athletics Center in South Bend, Indiana.

Chris Smith adjusts

Defensive tackle Chris Smith, the 310-pound graduate transfer from Harvard, looks like he can help once he adjusts to some unfamiliar requirements in the middle, especially when it comes to the 3-3-5 defense.

“New techniques for him,” Golden said. “And in our ‘33’ package, the ability to play nose and then play some shade (off center) if we end up going four down (linemen). Other than that, he’s playing with good pad level. He’s really strong. He’s a good anchor in there and a wonderful kid.”

Mike Berardino covers Notre Dame football for and the South Bend Tribune. Follow him on Twitter @MikeBerardino.