The combination of coaching, overall team speed, and natural football talent has fueled Chaminade-Julienne's success. Over a hundred players under the tutelage of coach Place have played division one football, several of which have played professionally in the NFL. According to coach Place this years' squad is no different.
"I've coached roughly 120 division one football players, eight of which have played in the NFL, Place said. "This year's team also has talent. We have a several prospects that will play division one football."
Leading the talented Eagles squad is Brandon Harrison, a cornerback who posses the speed and cover skills to shut down wide receivers, and the strength to explode through ball carriers.
The rare combination of these football talents makes Harrison the centerpiece of the Eagle defense. Additionally, Harrison, who commitment to Notre Dame during the summer, gives coach Place something he never had before, as well as a connection to is high school playing days.
"Brandon is my first Notre Dame player," Place said. "He's the first one I'm sending there. I'm happy about that. I also feel connected to Notre Dame because I played high school football with Alan Page. He killed me everyday in practice."
Harrison's athletic talent and leadership skills will be heavily depended on this year. In addition being moved from cornerback to safety, a move designed to increase Harrison's defensive role, he will be relied on for being the vocal leader of a team that finished a disappointing 8-3 last year, and were ousted from the playoffs. Harrison is comfortable in handling these responsibilities.
"Last year we really didn't have any team chemistry," Harrison said. "This off-season we improved our team chemistry by going to the movies and eating dinner together. We are learning to trust each other and learning how to rely on each other.
"Coach has also talked to me about being a verbal leader. We talk everyday and he's said that the defense is waiting for me to step up, and not only do something, but say something. I've always done that. I've always been a vocal guy."
Despite Harrison's athletic talents and leadership skills, his recent defensive position shift has forced him to make adjustments. The position shift has also allows Harrison to recognize last seasons areas of weakness.
"I'm playing safety now," the Insiders 4-star prospect said. "I'm working on reading the guard and looking into the backfield. We also changed our whole defense.
"Last year we didn't have a lot of size, especially up front. We got run and pushed on a lot. But this year our defensive line is bigger. We also improved our ball pursuit. We do pursuit drills everyday and we are always chasing the ball."
According to coach Place, ball pursuit has not been Harrison's strength. Despite being blessed with world-class speed, Harrison needed to routinely flow to the football. Place sees this as one of many areas where Harrison has grown this season.
"He's a more complete player now," Place said of Harrison. "He's worked on run support, his pursuit angles, and even his cover skills. He's improved in all of these areas.
"Last year Brandon was strictly a cover guy. Teams would put their best receiver out there, Brandon would cover him and Brandon would either shut him down or they would just run him off. We moved him to safety because we wanted him more involved."
To regain championship form, the Eagles will have to do the little things right. The 18 returning starters must provide veteran leadership, and young and inexperienced players must emerge.
One question mark entering the season was 6-2 190 sophomore Matt Bruggeman, a player with Notre Dame roots. So far Bruggeman has exceeded expectations.
"We have great team speed," said Place. "Brandon is a 10.5 guy, and our tailback, Javon Ringer, is a 10.6 guy. The one question mark entering the season was our quarterback Matt Bruggeman. He has exceeded expectation and has done extremely well in each game. In fact, he's a Notre Dame kid. His father is a Notre Dame grad."
With the surprise of Bruggeman, and a multitude of talent on each side of the ball, Chaminade-Julienne is poised to return to the state playoffs. Whether or not this happens depends on team chemistry, coaching, and how frequently Harrison is on the field.
"Every play he's off the field is a bad play for us," Place said. "He's the focal point of our defense, and we do use him at running back, although we do have a pretty good one in Javon Ringer. It's important he's always on the field. "
Harrison is confident he will be on then field when he begins playing football for Notre Dame, but the talented defensive back says he has some unfinished business to attend to first..
"I haven't been thinking about preparing for Notre Dame football that much. I'm concentrating on my season first," said Harrison. "Once the season is over I will workout and do what the Notre Dame coaches want me to do to prepare. But when I get there I want to play. Actually, I'm gonna play."
With superior speed, great cover skills, and devastating tackling skills, Harrison should have no problem receiving early playing time at Notre Dame. Now the only question is whether he will be the ninth player under coach Place's tutelage to play professionally. That depends on Harrison, but as for now, he' happy being coach Place's first Notre Dame player.