LA GRANGE PARK, Ill. - Tim Racki learned a lot about Julian Love before his first varsity snap.
Love butted heads with Racki, veteran head coach at Nazareth Academy, upon entering the program. No doubt talented, Love wanted a call-up to the sophomore team as a freshman. Racki didn’t make that move and it stung Love’s ego.
But rather than let that perceived slight turn into a setback, Love used it as motivation. He’s since turned into a national recruit, Notre Dame commitment and pivotal player for Racki in all three phases.
Love uses that initial stumbling block as a talking point for young players seeking to climb their way up the prep football later at Nazareth, which won an Illinois 6A state title last season.
“That speaks volumes,” Racki said. “And the best thing is every year, even this past season, he stood up in front of the whole program. Incoming freshmen and these kids have ambitions, and he told them that story about how he was and what he did to turn that around — when he faced that as a young football player and turned it around. It was very powerful, more powerful coming from him than from me, especially for our young kids that are talented.”
Last season Love proved how far he’d come in just three seasons.
Nazareth won its first state championship with Love playing defensive back, receiver, running back and on special teams. He racked up 749 yards and 11 touchdowns rushing plus another 549 yards and nine touchdowns on 20 receptions. That’s not to mention 72 tackles and five interceptions on defense.
In short, Nazareth leans on Love to do a little bit of everything. Now Love knows what’s expected. He’s shaped his leadership style around it.
“I actually reached out to the younger guys and started to get them up to par,” Love said. “As much as you want to say one guy can do the whole thing for everybody, you really can’t. You need everybody. You need young guys to step up, those ‘X’ factors. Things that we need — fourth down, third down. I’ve been more in a leadership role this offseason but I’ve been keeping my conditioning up because I know I need to bring it all in every phase of the game.”
Workouts, including an early morning edition two days after winning the state title, plus 7-on-7 have been a staple of Love’s offseason regimen. So was a brief recruitment.
Love chose Notre Dame shortly after a junior day visit in March over offers from Boston College, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Iowa State, Kansas, Northwestern and Rutgers. He had been pondering the possibility of making that choice before the visit even happened.
He plans to return for the season opener against Texas in a couple weeks and will likely be at most home games.
“I expect really big things from ND this year,” Love said. “I’ve been to some practices. Their work ethic is tremendous. The guys, they all know what they can accomplish and they’re all working to accomplish that goal. I know that they will make it far this year. By far I don’t mean just make it to the playoffs. I think we can make it to the championship potentially if they just limit injuries and keep working hard, plus a little bit of luck on their side.”
Putting an end to the recruiting process freed up Love to train his focus on senior year. Love expects big things of himself, as do those around him.
“He’s incredibly important in each phase of the game,” Racki said. “It’s rare to find an athlete that can impact the game in every single phase at any single time. He has that ability. Offense, defense, any special team. It’s really rare to find.”