In the first half of the season opener against Georgia Tech, Brockington showed everybody the type of warrior he was going to be for the Irish the rest of the fall.
Early in the game, the 6-foot-2, 240-pound Brockington knew something was wrong with his right thumb, as he got up off the Notre Dame Stadium grass. Quickly shaking his hand while walking back to the huddle, he looked down and saw his thumb was out of place. Not wanting to miss a play, Brockington pulled on it trying to MacGyver his hand back together.
"It hurt, there's no question about that," Brockington said after practice on Wednesday. The Irish (1-9) are preparing for the final home game of the season against Duke (1-9) this weekend.
A few plays later, Brockington was finally able to come off the field, and quickly sought out head athletic trainer Jim Russ.
"When I came to the sideline I told Jim I think I broke my hand," Brockington said. "He was pushing the sides and the top and asked me if that hurt and I told him no. But no one knew it was actually hanging out the bottom. It wasn't until halftime until we knew it was that bad."
Brockington played the rest of the game with the pain lingering from his dislocated thumb. He finished fourth on the team with seven tackles in the 33-3 loss.
Up next was the game at Penn State, and Brown wasn't sure if was going to have Brockington, a Palmyra, Pa. product, available for the game.
"When it happened, they weren't really sure I was going to be able to play the Penn State game," Brockington said. "I talked to (inside linebackers) coach (Brian) Polian on Monday and he asked me how I felt, and I told him I was alright. And he asked me what I was going to do and I just told him I was going to play. There was no way I was going to miss that game. So we made a cast, patched it up as best as possible and just went out there and played."
All Brockington did was recover a fumble and tie Trevor Laws for the team lead in tackles that evening with 10. The finger healed itself over the course of the season, but Brockington said it never felt perfect until game eight against USC. Regardless, he has racked up 92 tackles ranking second on the team, six behind Laws, which is way more than the 59 stops he had last year in his first season as a starter. And there is two more games to go.
"It was the Penn State week that kind of really showed us where he was as a person and as a player," Brown said. The Irish ended up losing 31-10. "Sometimes you don't really realize what you have in a player until there is adversity or until you really look at him and say, ‘Wow, this guy's done this, he's done that.' Joe has done that. He plays through injuries. He does exactly what you ask him to do, and you are always going to get his best effort, always. He's got the best attitude.
"Coming in, I didn't know these guys anyway, but I really didn't know that about him," Brown continued. Brockington has led the Irish in tackles four times this year. "The Penn State week was like, with all the respect I had in my body, he got a lot of it that week because of his preparation and some of the things he had to deal with. He's been good."
While the thumb constantly bothered Brockington, there were also many other nicks and pains to occasionally slow him down. Numerous times, Brockington would slowly get up after a big collision, or gingerly walk back to the sideline after a possession. But he always bounced back for more, during a season where it would've been easy to quit.
"I think it's just kind of the way I grew up playing," Brockington said. "When I played back in Pennsylvania, the type of football we played was kind of like that, it was kind of a smash-mouth type of game, line em up and see who is the toughest man."
That was likely Brockington, who was invited to play in the U.S. Army All-American game, but ironically, an injury held him out.
"If it's not sticking through the skin, he's going to play and that's what you want," Brown said. "Especially for the older guys, guys like him, I would have liked for it to be a little bit different results for him; for guys like Joe Brockington. Trevor (Laws) is great, a great player, but for guys like Joe Brockington and Ambrose (Wooden), it's just unfortunate, but it has been a pleasure, I will say that."
Brockington said he still gets goose bumps when he comes out of the tunnel for home games. He'll have them one final time against Duke.
He's overcome a lot during his time in an Irish jersey. Brockington did not play his freshman season and lined up mainly on just special teams the next two years. Last season, it looked like more of the same until he finally cracked the starting lineup four games into the year. Brockington hasn't given his starting job up since, beating out sophomore Toryan Smith in a close battle during the spring and fall leading up to the Georgia Tech game.
"I'm not really sure until it really happens, but definitely the long journey," Brockington said of what he'll be thinking about on Saturday. If the NFL doesn't work out, he stated that he'll probably go back to school. "Ups and downs will be one of the things.