Spring practice notes: Can Notre Dame menace Jordan Botelho harness his 'ferociousness'

Mike Berardino
ND Insider

SOUTH BEND — Asked which Notre Dame defender has been the toughest to block this spring, Holden Staes didn’t hesitate.

“Jordan Botelho,” Staes said recently (and maybe even reverently) of the senior edge rusher from Honolulu.


“Ferociousness,” said Staes, the sophomore tight end who is no pushover at 6-foot-4 and 240 pounds. “He’s just coming to take your gap – full head of steam, putting his head down – and you’re going to take it in the chin, so you better buckle up.”

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Two of Botelho’s 4.5 sacks last season came in the Gator Bowl win over South Carolina, when he made the most of Isaiah Foskey’s pre-draft opt-out. After receiving just 79 snaps on defense during the regular season, Botelho was entrusted with a career-high 47 against the Gamecocks.

“He flashed for sure in the South Carolina game,” Staes said. “He’s got a high motor. Really physical. I think he’s going to be really good.”

Justin Ademilola, the backup Vyper and versatile chess piece, made a bold prediction after his Pro Day workout last week.

No.12 Jordan Botelho practice at Fernandina Beach High School in Amelia Island on Monday, Dec.26th, 2022.

“I’m excited to see Jordan Botelho,” Ademilola said. “He’s going to be one of those 10-sack guys this year.”

It was quite a statement considering Botelho, at 6-2 and 255 pounds, has just 24 total pressures (including hurries and QB hits) over the past three seasons.

“Botelho adds the violence,” Ademilola said. “He has the grit, the smarts and just know when it’s crunch time and you need that sack to beat Clemson, you need that sack to beat Ohio State, you can count on Botelho to get to the quarterback.

“For him it’s brotherhood first, it’s family first, and it’s always been like that for where he comes from and what he’s about. You can always count on him to get the job done.”

As the drumbeat builds and the hype machine whirs, Botelho first must convince his coaches he’s more than just a novelty act.

When it was suggested Wednesday that Botelho has been knocking on the door but has yet to knock it down, defensive coordinator Al Golden nodded.

“I agree,” he said. “It’s time for him to knock on the door. The way you knock on the door is play the system, play with poise and execute. That is it. That’s it. Because he’ll always bring the energy, he’ll always bring the fight, he’ll always bring the finish. That’s not the issue.”

Too much freelancing has been the issue.

“Prepare, eliminate (missed assignments), play with poise and execute within the realm of the defense,” Golden said. “If you do that, he’s going to do really great things for us.”

Asked if Botelho understands that message now, Golden left the door ajar.

“That’s a question for him,” Golden said. “That’s his challenge. It’s going to play out this spring whether he understands that. … If you want a promotion, you have to execute your current role. It’s pretty simple.”

Al Golden reflects on Rick Lantz

Former Virginia and Navy defensive coordinator Rick Lantz, who coached the Notre Dame defensive line for two seasons (1984-85) under Gerry Faust, died Sunday. He was 85.

Golden’s big break came in 1994, when Virginia coach George Welsh hired him as a graduate assistant after one season as offensive coordinator at Red Bank Catholic High School. For the next three seasons, Golden received a career’s worth of education at Lantz’s side.

Sep 10, 2022; South Bend, Indiana, USA; Notre Dame Fighting Irish defensive coordinator Al Golden watches in the first quarter against the Marshall Thundering Herd at Notre Dame Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

“What a great mentor, a great man,” Golden said. “He didn’t know me. He inherited me. And then he took me in and taught me everything about football. I did all the grunt stuff year one. I just put my head down and worked like a dog. He noticed it.”

Lantz steadily increased Golden’s responsibilities. In 1995 he would have the young GA run meetings or drills and made him the sideline signaler. By his third year at Virginia, Golden was coaching the linebackers on his own.

“I always try to do that with the young coaches: empower them, give them an opportunity to coach, maybe before some of them are ready,” Golden said. “That’s what Rick did for me.”

Lantz, who helped Howard Schnellenberger build powerful programs at Miami and Louisville and served as Navy's interim coach for three games in 2001, remained a trusted resource for Golden over the years.

“Rick was an unbelievable storyteller, and he was so good and so poised with the players,” Golden said. “A lot of guys ask me now: Why am I stoic on the sideline? That’s the way Rick was. Rick really didn’t move much.

“He wanted to see the game. He taught me where to stand and what to look at, and I’ve never forgotten it. Even to this day, I end up going to a spot, back and away, where I can see the game. I attribute that all to him.”

Max Bullough makes an impression

Max Bullough, hired away from Alabama as a defensive graduate assistant in February after James Laurinaitis returned to Ohio State, has made a strong early impression.

“Love Max,” freshman linebacker Nolan Ziegler said. “Awesome coach. Knows what he’s doing. He brings the juice every day, always making me better. I respect and love him as a coach.”

Former Michigan State and NFL linebacker Max Bullough, hired in February as a graduate assistant at Notre Dame after three seasons at Alabama, walks into the indoor practice facility on March 25, 2023 in South Bend, Ind.

Ziegler, who grew up in Grand Rapids, remembers watching Bullough as a standout linebacker for Michigan State a decade ago. Bullough, 31, was named first-team All-Big Ten in 2012-13 after starring at St. Francis High School in Traverse City, Mich.

Signed as an undrafted free agent, Bullough played parts of three seasons for the NFL’s Houston Texans but was released in June 2017 after receiving a four-game suspension for violating the NFL policy on performance-enhancing substances.

He was a GA for one season at Cincinnati (2019) with Marcus Freeman and then spent the past three seasons as a GA and defensive analyst under Nick Saban.

Redshirt freshman linebacker Nolan Ziegler (42) walks into spring practice Saturday, March 25, 2023, at Notre Dame in South Bend.

“Max is a great coach,” senior linebacker Marist Liufau said. “He's awesome. He’s done a great job in learning our defense already, very quickly, and coaching us up on the fly. He’s adjusting really well.”

Follow Notre Dame football writer Mike Berardino on Twitter @MikeBerardino.