Right Decision for Brockington

Notre Dame lost several key starters from last year's 10-3 team. Easing the transition is the return of nine fifth-year seniors to provide needed experience. One of these players is linebacker Joe Brockington, who started the final nine games of 2006. With a year of eligibility left, it was almost a no-brainer that he'd return. Brockington's decision, though, was more difficult than assumed.

"It was a tough decision because my career here had been pretty rocky," Brockington said. "Things didn't go the way I thought they should have went. It was a decision I had to sit down and talk to my family about to see if it was something I really wanted to do."

Brockington has not always been a fixture on the defensive side of the ball. Before 2006, it was a roller coaster ride for the native of Palmyra, PA. For the first three years at Notre Dame, Brockington toiled on special teams and as a reserve linebacker. This was after a high school career that saw him selected to the Army All-American game and named to the PrepStar All-American team as a senior. Also hampering Brockington was a nagging back injury that kept him on and off the field with most of time spent in the trainer's room.

Brockington's chance to show he belonged came in the fifth contest against Purdue. Starter Travis Thomas was out with an injury sustained on the final play in the win over Michigan State and head coach Charlie Weis selected Brockington to fill the void in the lineup. He made such an impression that Brockington never left the starter's position again in 2006. Brockington finished the season with 59 tackles, good for sixth on the team.

Still, he wasn't sure whether he'd give it another go. Rick Minter was replaced by Corwin Brown and a new defensive system was going to be installed. Brockington consulted with his close family as to what to do. They told Joe to make the final decision about the fifth-year.

"They left it up to me," Brockington said. "They told me regardless of what you do, we'll support you. I went over some pros and cons. The pros were that I'd still be in college. The cons were all the off-season stuff to get ready for the season. It took me awhile. I was probably the last one to decide. I think it was a good decision."

Brockington said his back, which kept him off the field and from competing for playing time, is as good as it has been in long time. The fifth-year senior has more time now to concentrate on football-related issues instead of health ones.

"It's nice not to show up to the training room every day and get healthy," Brockington said. "I just show up to practice, get dressed and go out to the field. Before, I'd be at the Gug hours before practice and getting treatment. It was time consuming. Now, it's pain free."

What also is pain free is the new defensive system for Brockington and the other defenders. Last season, as was the case in 2005, the Notre Dame defense struggled mightily to guard against the big play. Opponents were constantly gaining huge chunks of yards during games. If Notre Dame fans need any reminders, review Purdue's Selwyn Lymon's eight receptions for 238 yards and two touchdowns performance or LSU's JaMarcus Russell's dissection of the Irish secondary. In the three losses, Notre Dame allowed 47, 44 and 41 points. Weis made the move to replace Minter with Brown and the different philosophies of the two defenses are apparent in the players' comments.

"With our defense last year, we would have one call and then have another call," Brockington said. "If there was a different formation, we would change to that call. We had to know two defenses. You'd come out and look at the offense and say, ‘Okay, it's this formation so we have to run this defense.' Sometimes it was hard to recognize the formations and people in motion would mess us up.

"Now, we just line up and play. He's eliminating the thinking between the time we break the huddle and the snap of the ball."

Brockington said this defense has something to prove, and rightfully so. With the expectations nearly not as high as last season, Brockington believes that this group could sneak up on some people. For Notre Dame fans, the hope is that it can't get any worse as it relates to the point and yardage totals in the defeats.

For Brockington, he has a home at one of the inside linebacker spots in Brown's 3-4 personnel defense. The fifth-year senior has another veteran playing right beside him. Maurice Crum is a two-year starter and was the team's leading tackler in 2006. These two should be vital parts of the new scheme and their experience can rub off on some of the younger players. Brockington finally feels comfortable this spring after uncertainty at the beginning of last season.

"Last fall, I wasn't sure what I was going to do," Brockington said. "In the summer, I was told that they were moving Travis in front of me whereas now it's my spot to lose. It's a big difference between now and fall, when I wasn't particularly happy about the situation. But I'm definitely happy and excited about the situation now."

The waiting game for Brockington paid off. The experience could be used as an example to other players on the Notre Dame roster that perseverance can one day be rewarded. The chance to earn playing time last year after three-plus seasons taught him a valuable life lesson.

"I learned to be patient," Brockington said. "This is going on my fifth-year. It wasn't until the fifth game of my senior year that I got a chance to play. I've learned patience through it and when the opportunity comes to take it. That was a big step for me because I thought I could play. It was a matter of getting an opportunity and I thought I did well."

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