"I felt like I was making plays and making strides," sophomore-to-be safety David Bruton said of the spring. "I didn't really know that they were taking notice of it. I was just going out there and playing, and I really didn't know anything was being said until one of my classmates came up and said you are in the Observer, coach Weis is talking about you and Ray. I really didn't expect it but I appreciate his compliments and his confidence."
Coach Weis was asked about the safety play this spring and singled out both Bruton and Herring.
"We have been very pleased, almost surprisingly pleased, with the play of Ray Herring and David Bruton," Weis said. "The jury is still out because very seldom are we taking them to the ground. It's full speed to set them up, but I'm not trying to lose people all the time, but we have been very pleased, knock on wood, with the progress of both these guys."
Bruton got a taste of the field during his first season in an Irish uniform, mostly on special teams, but he did play sparingly in the secondary. He played in 10 games registering 10 solo tackles and 13 overall. He also broke up a pass as an undersized player.
A product of Miamisburg, Ohio, Bruton arrived at Notre Dame a skinny 6-foot-1, 175-pound kid fresh off track season.
"(Strength and conditioning coordinator) Coach (Ruben) Mendoza was always on me, constantly daily every time we were in the weight room, you need to hit the weights harder, you need to eat more, follow the nutritional plans, started drinking more shakes," Bruton said. "Then a lot of weight since coming in, I came in like 175-179 over the summer because of track and I'm like 196 now. It will be a lot easier once we get out of spring ball to put on more weight because I'm not burning as much."
Four meals a day and protein shakes were a huge help to Bruton. So was mother's house. "I just storm her kitchen right when I get home," he added.
Bruton has noticed his new found strength when he has to take on a tight end or when he is pushing up more weight when working out. "It feels normal, it doesn't feel like I've lost a step or anything," he said.
It was that fast step that helped Bruton get down the field first a lot of times on kickoff coverage. He had a huge game at Purdue where he made five solo tackles, three times stopping the return man inside the 20. "I felt like it was my job, it was my role as a team player to help the team win on special teams," said Bruton, who returns to his role on the kickoff coverage team this season. He is currently on the punt return first team and the kickoff return second team, but not as a return guy.
Bruton really misses the days where he was an electrifying return man for Miamisburg. His senior year he averaged 41 yards on four returns. He has tried to throw his name in the return hat at Notre Dame. "I asked (special teams) coach (Brian) Polian, because we had some difficulty back there, and he said he was going to let me know. But I guess I'm staying on the front line," Bruton said with a laugh.
Even with seniors Zbikowski and Ndukwe returning, Bruton was told before spring ball that every spot is open. He feels like he is really pushing Ndukwe. "Every time I push hard he pushes harder," Bruton said of Ndukwe. "It's whoever is the best who gets to play on field and my goal is to start, so whatever I have to do, and his goal is to start, so whatever we have to do to be the starter, just do whatever it takes."
If Bruton is able to earn a some more public praise, then maybe he has a chance.