Newman Born to Play Football

At the age of three, Brandon Newman's future seemed obvious to anyone who caught a glimpse of him. Strangers often approached Brandon's mother, Selina Leon-Newman, to marvel at the young boy's enormity.

"Whenever we would walk around town, people would say ‘He's gonna play football when he gets bigger,'" Selina explained. "Brandon would just shake his head ‘Yes.'"

Luckily for Irish fans, Brandon did get bigger. A lot bigger. The senior nose tackle out of Pleasure Ridge Park High School in Louisville, Kentucky now measures at 6-foot-1 and 305 pounds. According to his mother, Brandon brings a lot more to the defensive line than just size.

Since his very first experience with football, Brandon has shown a knack for stopping ball carriers. When Brandon and some friends first played flag football, they did not know what to do and had trouble competing. Brandon discovered his role soon enough, though, and the team's fortunes changed in a hurry.

"Suddenly, Brandon figured out that it was his job to grab the flags. And all of a sudden, we just started winning all over the place," Selina said. "Brandon would come from out of nowhere, grab the flags, and we started winning all of the games."

Newman's defensive dominance continued when the switch was made from flags to pads. Throughout his little league football career, Brandon's exploits were documented in the local newspapers. In one game, Brandon recorded six sacks. Selina and the rest of Brandon's fans always knew where to turn when the team needed an important stop.

"When we needed a big play, we would just scream, ‘NEWMAN! NEWMAN! NEWMAN!'" Selina said. "And Brandon would go in and sack the quarterback."

Selina has been a constant on the sidelines of Brandon's games at all levels. She has loved football since high school and still roots passionately for her beloved Detroit Lions. With her deep understanding of the game, Selina knew early on that Brandon would attract major attention from college football programs.

"I'm not surprised, but I am delighted," Selina said of the many scholarship offers Brandon has received.

Selina knew that Brandon would excel on the gridiron because, in addition to great size and natural talent, Brandon possesses several critical character traits that have helped him maximize his athletic abilities. For one, he is a tireless worker.

"Brandon has always been very good, but more than that, he is just a hard, hard worker. He tends to be a perfectionist. He really cares about what he is doing," Selina said.

Selina also pointed to his competitive nature. Brandon is determined to succeed in all of his endeavors, whether he is wearing a football helmet or holding a microphone. At the US Army Game in San Antonio, Brandon won the karaoke competition with a stirring rendition of an Alicia Keys hit. Brandon received his own karaoke game as a prize and has been challenging everyone back in Louisville since returning from San Antonio.

"He plays that all the time and nobody can beat him," Selina said. "He's playing for fun, but he is going to win. I am trying to beat him. And I'm having the time of my life, but I'm not going to win."

Brandon's competitiveness has carried over into the classroom. Selina, who teaches 12th grade English at Pleasure Ridge Park High School, has always stressed academics. Brandon has approached his studies with the same drive he applies to football and Alicia Keys reenactments. He has carried a grade point average in the 3.8-4.0 range from middle school through his senior year of high school.

Colleges took notice of Brandon's rare combination of brains and athletic prowess. Letters poured in from Ivy League Schools. Jim Harbaugh tried to sell Brandon on the academic opportunities at Stanford. In San Antonio, a four star Army general continually encouraged Brandon to go to West Point.

One school stood out, though. In March, Charlie Weis offered Brandon a scholarship to Notre Dame.

"I was so excited," Selina said. "I'm an educator, so the whole combination of academics and football tradition – in my opinion, there is no better."

Selina almost gave up on Notre Dame, however, at the beginning of the Newman's first visit to campus in April. A blizzard hit South Bend that day, and Selina slipped on the ice, twisting both of her ankles. Selina almost took her accident as a sign to dismiss Notre Dame as a college destination for Brandon. The school won Selina over the rest of the weekend, though.

"It was so wonderful that it overcame even that," Selina said.

Brandon came away from South Bend equally impressed. He was particularly attracted to the academic opportunities offered to football players at Notre Dame.

"Everything about the football program was outstanding, but when Brandon went through the academic part, he said that he forgot he was there for football. He loved the academic part," Selina said. "When he said that to me, that's when I knew we were going to ND."

Of course, the Irish coaching staff also had a great deal to do with Brandon's decision to eventually commit in May. Corwin Brown handled Brandon's recruitment and made quite an impression on Selina.

"I love Coach Brown," Selina said. "He really cares about the kids. He's sincere with everything he says. And (he) being the defensive coordinator really helped in Brandon's recruitment. Other schools sent their tight ends coach or some other offensive coach. But having Corwin be the one who knew exactly how he envisioned Brandon playing for him, that just helped a lot."

Selina also spoke very highly of Notre Dame's head coach.

"As for Coach Weis, I love the man," she said. "He is definitely a straight-shooter. I've heard all the comments about arrogance, but I haven't seen that. He tells wonderful stories, and he always tells the truth. And I love that. That's what you want."

Selina said that she might have been more hesitant to send Brandon out of state for college if not for Weis and Brown. She knows that her son will be in good hands with men that she trusts.

Newman will also be with a group of classmates he loves. Selina confirmed all the media reports about the familial bond that already exists among Notre Dame's verbal commitments.

"They really truly love one another. They talk all the time, text all the time, and when they're together, they have a great time. And they really do. It's not exaggerated at all," Selina said.

Opposing staffs have tried their best to break the class up, however. While Brandon stopped taking calls from coaches, many still visit Pleasure Ridge Park High School and speak with Selina. She has been told that Weis is going to be fired. Some coaches promise immediate playing time. Others still say that Brandon should not go to Notre Dame if he ever wants to win a bowl game. Selina and Brandon remain unconvinced.

"Even though they know we don't want to talk to them, they would show up. They can say whatever they want to say, and I talk to them and let them know – he's going to ND," Selina said.

Selina said that Notre Dame's poor performance on the field in 2007 did not shake her confidence in the Notre Dame program.

"When you lose as many seniors as they lost, and you lose your quarterback who is a superstar, I don't care who you are, any team is going to go through an adjustment," she said.

Selina, who plans on attending every Irish game in the fall, expects big things from Notre Dame in the coming year. She pointed to the effort and heart displayed by the team in the final games of the 2007 season, as well as the talent and hunger of the incoming freshman class.

"The guys that were there playing, they never gave up on each other or stopped playing," Selina said. "If you look at the last few games, they were still playing and they still cared. This new group that is coming in, they want to build on that and make it even better."


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