- Class: Sophomore
- On the depth chart: Starting field cornerback
- Post-spring status: Ascending
In general, the more five-star prospects a program can accrue, the better its chances for championship contention. Likewise, the continuous accumulation of four-star prospects bodes well by comparison to a preponderance of three-star pledges.
And so on.
But when National Signing Day’s dust settles and the college game begins to expose weaknesses among its herd, there will inevitably be athletes like Chicagoland product Julian Love that rise to the fore – cementing a place at the top of the pecking order despite more highly touted players alongside him.
Notre Dame’s current example of a three-star prospect with four-star ability and five-star knowledge of the game, Love started the final eight games of 2016, appeared in all 12, and finished with an aggregate 10 *big plays (*TFL, PD, INT, FF, FR, Blk. Kick) to go with 45 stops.
He enters the summer locked in as the team’s starting field cornerback…unless his talents are deemed necessary elsewhere.
LOVE AT HIS BEST
Navy quarterback Will Worth was the best football player on the field last November when Notre Dame lost to the Midshipmen, 28-27. Julian Love was arguably the runner-up.
Love registered eight stops including six short of the chains and one for loss on the afternoon, playing a roving linebacker position rather than his customary defensive back role as a true freshman.
Additionally, if you’re in search of a standout effort against a higher talent level than that possessed by the always game Mid’s, Love likewise led Notre Dame in tackles (9) against USC in the season finale, with four of his stops occurring after short gains and another for loss. He forced a fumble on a punt return against Trojans game-wrecker Adoree Jackson as well.
“I think that for Julian, the thing for his development is when he’s uncomfortable, because he was so successful in high school, won a couple of state titles and he was always the best player on the field. Now that’s different where he’s not the best player on the field so he has to rely more on his fundamentals and technique and he has to be proficient in the execution of those.” – Cornerbacks coach Todd Lyght
BEST CASE SCENARIO
Improvement, because while Love ranked among the 2016 season’s most pleasant surprises, he was at the time being judged against his freshmen peers (past and present). Now it’s time to shed the “for a freshman” moniker and step up in class.
Love enters the summer as Notre Dame’s most well rounded player at one of its deepest positions. He also appears fully capable of playing safety, which is, conversely, one of the program’s biggest question marks.
As such, the best-case scenario for Notre Dame and for Love ties into the future progress of projected starting safeties Nick Coleman and Jalen Elliott. If that pair can hold down the fort on the back end, Love can remain at cornerback where he’ll likely thrive as a four-year starter.
He can then double as a safety when needed (in Nickel or Dime packages) allowing the depth of the Irish cornerbacks crew (Nick Watkins, Shaun Crawford, Troy Pride, and Donte Vaughn) to be best utilized over the 12-game slate.
WORST CASE SCENARIO
Love wouldn’t be the first freshman to shine early before suffering a sophomore slump.
And though their career arcs were different, it’s worth noting that Cole Luke was arguably better as a first-time starting sophomore than he was as a junior or senior, and Gary Gray was definitively more effective as a rugged senior in 2010 rather than as the poster-ized graduate student that scuffled the following season.
Love is on track for future captaincy and four seasons of starting in South Bend. Notre Dame’s defense can’t afford a step back from its promising youngster as it rebuilds the unit this fall.
This one’s easy.
In 2008, freshman cornerback Robert Blanton forged his way into the starting lineup as Notre Dame and embattled head coach Charlie Weis scuffled to a 1-3 regular season finish.
Blanton’s rookie season line shows five passes defended (Love had 4), two picks (Love snared one), 33 tackles (Love finished with 45 playing more snaps) and three tackles for loss (Love had 2). Both exited their rookie campaigns with promise and both entered their sophomore season’s part of a deep, talent-laden cornerbacks corps that boasted at least four potential starters heading into the summer months.
Blanton’s best season – by far – was his senior campaign of 2011. (It ranks as the best single season effort by a corner in the Kelly Era – and it’s probably not close.) The challenge for Love will be bettering Blanton’s encore performance in their respective sophomore seasons.