Nothing mild about Notre Dame football DE Jordan Botelho when it's time to play
Somebody pulled a fast one.
Seemingly stashed the football player in one of the outdoor storage rooms at the end of a spring practice session. Or taped him to one of the goal posts and left him there in the late-morning sun. Maybe switched him out on the walk back to the Irish Athletic Center.
Whatever the case and however it happened, that certainly couldn’t have been Notre Dame senior vyper defensive end Jordan Botelho who met the media for one of the few times since he arrived on campus in January 2020 as a heralded recruit from Hawaii.
Given Botelho’s on-field reputation — the only intel we can go on during his collegiate career — you expected him to stalk into the session snarling and growling and seething with a look in his eyes that shouts, don’t mess with me.
He’d surely grunt his way through answers. He’d toss aside a reporter — and his question — with relative ease for someone who stands 6-foot-2 ½ and weighs 250 pounds and plays with a motor that usually revs north of 100 on every snap. Heck, minutes before Botelho settled in for an abbreviated question and answer session that ran barely seven minutes, this is what teammate Junior Tuihalamaka had to say about the guy he shares practice reps with at vyper.
“He has the mentality that I feel like not many people have these days. That type of mentality is kill or be killed.”
Nobody knew what to expect when Botelho arrived the last of five scheduled defensive linemen for his interview. What would he do? What would he say? Everything that could transpire was a guess, but what we got, well, nobody expected that.
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As ornery and occasionally reckless as Botelho can be and has been on the football field, he was that quiet and polite and downright humble off it. Grateful even. He shook the hands of three reporters waiting for him. He spoke barely above a whisper. You had to lean in really close to hear what he was saying when he was asked about his time at Notre Dame or his work this spring or his spot on special teams or his role in 2023.
What did he say?
Seeing Botelho practice and then hearing from him afterward rekindled memories of another former Irish defensive lineman who played like a wrecking ball in shoulder pads — Renaldo Wynn. Like Botelho, Wynn was a one-man hurricane. He played like a wild dog. Off the field, he was as gentle as a puppy. A gentle man.
When does the switch flip for Botelho?
“I’d have to say when I have the helmet on, I’m ready to go,” Botelho said as a reporter not so subtly slid said gold helmet away from the owner’s reach. “I’m a quiet guy but I just love football so my passion comes out.”
Finally found a home
Botelho’s passion doesn’t so much trickle as it erupts. He can be mean. He can be nasty. He can be aggressive. He knows only one way to work. Case in point was one practice period last week when the defensive linemen worked against their offensive counterparts and Botelho really cut it loose.
Soon after the snap on one sequence, Botelho found a crease to the ball carrier, but also found redshirt freshman left guard Billy Schrauth in his path. Botelho extended his arm and rocketed one of his meaty hands into Schrauth’s chest. Pow! The impact knocked the guard off balance — decleated him in football parlance — while Botelho continued on his way.
Botelho discarded the 6-4 1/2, 304-pound Schrauth like a dishrag. It was a whoa moment. How does Botelho play? Like that.
“That’s the mentality that we have back home in Hawaii,” he said. “We have a chip on our shoulder and just want to carry it with us with pride and passion.
“Obviously, I’m a very passionate football player.”
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A four-star recruit, Butkus Award finalist and the No. 1 prospect in Hawaii when he arrived as an early enrollee at Notre Dame, Botelho is one of those players fans believe should be playing now. Before guard Rocco Spindler, there was Botelho. Is he there yet? How about now? When? Soon? If not, why? It hasn’t happened for one reason or another. Some of those were bad, but in the end, it’s all good.
“I had to learn through my experience here,” Botelho said. “I definitely learned a lot. I definitely had many mistakes, but I feel like it helped me grow as a person and get to the man that I am now.”
And to where he is today. Experience all Botelho has experienced — being sent home early his freshman year for reasons that are still murky but supposedly pertained to ignoring protocol during COVID-19, switching positions, being close but always close enough to starting — and anyone else would’ve long packed their bags. Especially someone 4,300 miles (one way) from home. Far from loved ones. Far from his comfort zone. Far from playing the way he did in high school.
There’s no reason Botelho should still be here, working toward his degree, working toward a starting spot, sitting for the media, on the verge of being a main guy. When he had a dozen excuses not to stay, Botelho stayed.
“You just have to go through things so you can learn from it,” he said. “I’m happy I stayed. It builds character.”
Botelho was a standout outside linebacker at Saint Louis High School in Honolulu. Maybe he’d play that spot in college. Maybe he’d grow into a dominant defensive tackle. He even spent a minute at rover linebacker. Late last season, he settled into a backup role behind soon-to-be NFL draft pick Isaiah Foskey and veteran backup Justin Ademilola at vyper.
Through all the moves, Botelho remained a staple on special teams. This season, he’s worked as one of two up men on kickoff return. The guy next to him was running back Audric Estime. Try breaking through that combination to make a tackle. You won’t. You can’t.
If it was mainly special teams for his first three years, that was OK by Botelho. As long as it got him on the field.
“I just love football; I just want to play,” said Botelho, who has 33 career tackles and 6.5 sacks in 34 career games. “No matter what position, I’m just going to try my best at it.”
Foskey’s decision to skip the Gator Bowl opened the door for Botelho to make his first career start. A guy who had been knocking at that playing time door ultimately cracked it open. Botelho finished with two tackles — both sacks — in the win over South Carolina. Don’t tell him the postseason doesn't matter.
“That Gator Bowl, man, that was a really fun game,” he said. “I just had a great time playing.”
When Ademilola decided not to return for a sixth year, the opportunity door opened again. Maybe this is the year that Botelho kicks it in. Time to build off that bowl experience and do what he did that day in Jacksonville every practice and then in every game. Botelho is ready to be that every-down guy, not a once- or twice-a-game guy.
“Hey, man, listen, Jordan’s just got to take care of Jordan,” said defensive line coach Al Washington. “Jordan’s got to take care of his business. He’s got to take care of his body. He’s got to take care of the things that are important to him.
“Keep the main thing the main thing and everything else will take care of itself.”
The quiet guy off the field is ready to make some more noise on it.
Follow South Bend Tribune and NDInsider columnist Tom Noie on Twitter: @tnoieNDI. Contact: (574) 235-6153.
Notre Dame Football Blue-Gold Game
- What: Annual Blue-Gold Game scrimmage to conclude spring practice
- When: Saturday, April 22 at 2 p.m. EDT
- Where: Notre Dame Stadium (77,622), South Bend, Ind.
- TV: Game will be streamed live on NBCUniversal’s Peacock Network
- Radio: WSBT (960 AM)
- Tickets: Available at UND.com/Buy Tickets or call 833-NDIRISH