Avery Sebastian knew Notre Dame would fit him without setting foot in South Bend. Finally, this weekend the Cal transfer will see his future home in person. First, he sat down with Irish Illustrated on his home turf to talk about the move, why he left Cal and why he’s prepared for Brian VanGorder’s defense, even before getting the playbook.
Q: You grew up in Florida but played high school ball in Georgia. When did you make the move to Atlanta and how did you get into football?
Sebastian: I grew up in Fort Lauderdale and moved around a lot. I was born in Columbus, Ohio. My mom went to Ohio State and the whole family likes Ohio State, actually. There’s a little corner in the house with just Ohio State gear, and so I snuck a Notre Dame hat in there. We’re going to have to convert them.
So, I lived in Florida for 14 years. After my eighth grade year, we moved to Georgia.
I played football a little bit in Florida, but I was much more into hockey. I am the youngest of three brothers and I think we drove my mom crazy. She said I needed to play a winter sport. I chose hockey and loved it for years. I was one of the top players in the state of Florida coming out of middle school. I played everything, but mostly left wing and defenseman. If I had more time at Notre Dame, I’d love to try out for the team.
My freshman year I went to Sandy Creek, and everybody was playing football and they didn’t have a hockey team. So, I just started playing football.
Q: Playing at three different high schools (Sandy Creek, Union Grove, Eagle’s Landing Christian Academy) in four years, how did that affect your playing career and subsequently your recruitment?
Sebastian: At Sandy Creek I played linebacker for the two years I was there, and that’s when I got that linebacker mentality. I went to Union Grove for my junior year, and that was my first time ever playing safety. I had a breakout year then. For the most part senior year at Eagle’s Christian Landing I played corner. Half the schools recruited me as safety and half recruited me at corner. I loved safety, though. At corner it’s cool you can cover the same guy and lock him down all game, but I feel like at safety you can cover more people, get interceptions, make a lot more tackles and be involved in a lot more plays.
I had a lot of SEC schools coming after me. I was pretty fortunate to have a lot of schools that wanted me. But when I went out to Cal to visit, it was very similar to what I grew up around in Florida with the sunshine and weather. There’s a lot of stuff to do outside of football. The academics were great, and I liked the campus a lot. They had a lot of alumni there. I ended up majoring in sociology with an emphasis in media and business to get niche of everything.
My final four were South Carolina, Oregon, Cal and Michigan. I took official visits to Oregon, Michigan and California, and I committed to Cal the day I took my last final at the end of December because I was going to be an early enrollee.
Q: After playing special teams as a freshman and starting six or seven games as a sophomore, it seemed like you were primed for a breakout junior year. Then you tear your Achilles in the season opener. What was your mentality surrounding that situation?
Sebastian: I was so mad. I got chop-blocked on the play. I limped off the field and thought it felt weird. I thought I had just rolled my ankle, so they wrapped it up. After the game they did an x-ray on it and found out I tore it. That year we had a lot of different coaches and really struggled as a team, but I personally gained a lot that year. I led a lot from the sidelines and in the film room. I got ahead in school and was able to take an extra class, which led me to be able to graduate early.
Q: Senior year you’re healed and ready to go only to suffer a quad injury. How much did that affect what you could do on the field?
Sebastian: It turns out the quad injury was misdiagnosed, and it kept me out longer than I wanted. They thought it was less of an injury than it really was because it ended up being a strain and needing more attention. It kept me out of a couple of games. The coaches wanted me to be out there being able to contribute, so I gave it my all.
Q: At what point did you decide to transfer and what were the main reasons behind that decision process?
Sebastian: After the season ended, I sat down with my family and then my head coach and told him it would be best if I moved on. It was kind of hard telling him. He wanted me to stay and come back, but it was in my best interest to move on. It’s a unique opportunity I have right now to not only play at Notre Dame but to get my Masters in one year. Most graduate programs are two. I’m looking at the Mendoza School of Business and I want to do management.
And at Cal, they didn’t have anything of my interest for grad school and no programs started in the spring, so I wouldn’t have been able to contribute to spring ball.
After I made my mind up, I talked to a lot of my coaches in Georgia and Florida and they told me Notre Dame had a need at safety. From there, we started contacting each other. Honestly I don’t remember who contacted whom first. I had inquiries from a lot of schools. The ones my coaches told me about were Auburn, Oregon, North Carolina and Georgia Tech. But I liked Notre Dame from the beginning.”
Q: What was it like getting recruited again?
Sebastian: Coach (Brian) VanGorder and coach (Bob) Elliott were the main coaches I talked to in the beginning. After we got to know each other some, and they found out my grades were good and that I was healthy, most of the stuff involved them talking to my coaches. They probably more so talked to my high coaches. They may have talked to some Cal coaches, I’m not really sure. I made the decision to commit after talking to coach (Brian) Kelly, Cody Riggs, Isaac Rochell, and after taking the advice of my coaches in Georgia and Florida. Coach Kelly liked me on film and liked that I was really into my academics. He really liked how I represented myself as a person and thought I would fit in well with the ND family.
Q: How much of a role did Cody Riggs play in your decision to come to Notre Dame and did you know him growing up in Florida?
Sebastian: I knew his coaches and I saw him at some combines, but I didn’t really know him personally. Before I committed to Notre Dame, I talked to him about everything he’s doing. It’s a very similar situation. I got the full spectrum of what to expect when I get up there and how to approach things. One of the two things he really stressed was time management because you’re coming from undergraduate and now you’re taking graduate courses. It’s more demanding and a more group-like environment when it comes to academics. Bringing over leadership, experience and personality on the football field is the other piece of advice he gave me. After four years you learn a lot, especially living so far away from home. Last year we had a very young team. I feel like a natural leader in a lot of areas of my life. I do a lot of community service, and I was the president of my fraternity at Cal.
Q: You mentioned Rochell during the process. What was his message to you?
Sebastian: I really liked playing with Isaac and his older brother. He was the skinny, tall and goofy guy at Eagle’s Landing. He had all good things to say about Notre Dame as well.
Q: What was it about Notre Dame that had you so interested from day one?
Sebastian: It doesn’t get better than Notre Dame. It was the school I dreamed of going to. I was recruited a lot by the Pac-12 and SEC out of high school. I got a few letters from Notre Dame, but that was about it. It’s a school everybody knows about. They’re always on TV, and the academics are amazing.
At Cal, you can get caught up out there. There’s so much to do outside of football. You have to block that out, especially during the season. That was another thing I liked about Notre Dame. There’s not a lot of stuff to do around the Midwest, and that will be a good change of pace.
Q: How do you see your personal playing style fitting into what VanGorder wants to accomplish on defense?
Sebastian: I really like coach VanGorder’s defense. Last Saturday night, just chilling at the house, I watched the Notre Dame vs. Stanford game. They get their safeties to do a lot of stuff. My first two years at Cal we had Clancy Pendergast as our defensive coordinator who also coached at USC and in the NFL. His kind of defense mirrors VanGorder’s defense. They’re both NFL defenses. There’s a lot of man coverage and the safeties really get involved.
Q: Has VanGorder defined your role in any way yet?
Sebastian: I want to be able to do whatever the coaches tell me to do. You have to have a lot of those type of guys on the team. You’re going to have starters that need to be on special teams. I’ve done that all four years. Play defense, go out for kickoff and kick return, and then go back on defense. I’ve always been that kind of guy. It won’t be anything different.
I played mostly in the box and post my first two years at Cal. My junior and senior years we played cover 3 and cover 4, and I actually played both free and strong safety. I don’t know what I’ll be doing at Notre Dame, but I can play both. Coach Pendergast knew how to get the most out of his players. He loved how I could blitz, so I did a lot of that.
The easy part is over. Now comes the hard part. The hard part is learning the playbook when the time comes and adjusting to a new culture and new teammates. I’ll know the concepts, so it will just be new terminology. I’ll pick up on it pretty quickly.
Q: What’s your mentality as a player fighting for competition at a position that has two returning starters (Max Redfield and Elijah Shumate)?
Sebastian: Anywhere new you go there’s always going to be people with experience already. I think coach VanGorder is a very sincere guy and will play the best person. As a competitive guy, I’m used to it. I love competition. I don’t think it would be fair for them to give me a starting job. My work ethic and what I do when I get up there will affect the outcome. I see myself as a really good player and leader, and everything else will take care of itself. Let the (practice) film show who should be starting up there.
Q: Now that the whirlwind of ending your career at Cal and committing to a new school has ended, what does this spring hold for you?
Sebastian: I’m working at this financial advising firm helping people if they want to make a change in the direction of their business and helping them make that transition. I really get to make my own hours which is nice. When I’m not working, I’m training with Jerald Brown, who plays defensive back for the Montreal Alouettes. Coming out of my sophomore year, I had no idea what I was doing when I was making the change from linebacker to safety, and he trained me. He’s very experienced and a great player. Every year he comes back to the states. I had my biggest improvement when I was working out with him. Lift-wise, we are working out the little muscles, injury-prevention stuff, and lots of stretching. Field-wise it’s all mobility, hips and footwork.
Q: Are you currently nursing any lingering injuries?
Sebastian: No, not all at. My quad was healed for the last two games and I was healthy. I didn’t start those last two games because of the time I had missed. You don’t just throw somebody out there after they’re coming back from injury.
Q: Something that shows up on your film is your physicality. Is that something you’ve carried with you throughout your entire career?
Sebastian: I’ve never been afraid of anybody. I don’t like to be messed with. Football is so fun because you get to show a different side of you. I’m not a dirty player, but I like to make my presence known on the field.
Q: You will visit Notre Dame for the first time this weekend (Friday and Saturday). Were attempts made to set up a visit during the recruiting process?
Sebastian: I didn’t think I needed to visit Notre Dame to make a decision. I’m really excited to get up there this weekend. I’m going with my mom and older brother. I saw that it’s supposed to be negative two up there. It might be a good time to buy a winter jacket.