After a junior season that saw him go from a special teams role player to a regular in the defensive backfield, Bruton thinks the goal for the Irish should be no less than a National Championship.
"I feel that this team could be a lot better. We can compete for a national championship," Bruton said. "I feel like we can compete with the best teams out there."
In order to take the team to the next level, Bruton has stepped up to fill the leadership role in the secondary left vacant by former safety Tom Zbikowski, who graduated last year. His new duties included running off-season meetings and leading film studies with the rest of the defensive unit.
"I'm just taking on a new leadership role that I didn't get to last year," Bruton said.
In terms of stepping out of the large shadow cast by Zbikowski, Bruton said that, although he still talks to him on occasion, he can no longer look to Zbikowski to help him out on the field.
"He's not back there, so I can't look to him for a lot of help or confidence," Bruton said. "It's my turn, it's my role."
Even though he wants to be a leader, Bruton doesn't see himself doing much trash talking in games.
"I'm not so much of a talker," Bruton said. "I'm not trying to get into the little mind games."
While he prefers to let his play do the talking on the field, Bruton said that he is used to being a vocal leader, having played the role during his junior and senior years in high school.
"The vocal part I took on last year," Bruton said. "It's something I've been introduced to a couple of times in my life."
Defensive coordinator and defensive backs coach Corwin Brown also said that he anticipated Bruton taking on a greater leadership role in 2008.
"He's got a few pelts under his belt, so we'll lean on him some," Brown said. "We'll expect big things out of him."
Bruton isn't just talk either, ramping up his off-season conditioning program to prepare for his final season in blue and gold. In addition to going through strength and conditioning coordinator Ruben Mendoza's regular regiment, Bruton has been working together with the linebackers in 7-on-7 drills in order to help the defensive unit gel. If Bruton was unable to make the regular session, he would go at 5 a.m. with cornerback Terrail Lambert to work out. Bruton says he's just trying to "do the little things to put myself in the position to get a lot better and become a leader amongst this team."
Becoming a team leader this season would make sense for Bruton after he turned in a stellar 2007 campaign. After starting no games his freshman and sophomore years, and playing primarily on special teams, Bruton started 11 of 12 games for the Irish, notching 85 tackles and three interceptions.
Head Coach Charlie Weis said he thought he saw a "switch" go off in Bruton last year. Bruton, though, saw several small "switches" go off throughout the season. He pointed to last year's Blue-Gold Game, in which he was named Defensive MVP and returned an interception 35 yards for a score, as the initial switch. He also said that his interception against Michigan State and a big hit against Duke helped him learn how to play more confident and more physically.
The next step for Bruton can be summed up in one word: consistency. Bruton said he wants to play this season smarter, along with building on his confidence and physicality.
"I can't have little spurts here and there," Bruton said. "When I have a big shot, I have to take it."
Bruton also said that he hopes to play this season with a new "swagger." And just what exactly does he mean by "swagger"?
"It's just a mindset, just go out there and feel confident," Bruton said. "You don't go out there and think that someone's going to beat you or someone's better than you. You walk around with that chip on your shoulder."
Expect Bruton to keep that chip on his should all year. Even though he emerged as a star last season, Bruton said that he, and the team as a whole, is trying to put the dismal 3-9 record behind them.
"Last year is last year," Bruton said. "I may have had a breakout year, some may say, but it's not something I dwell on."
Bruton faces a challenge unique to most other college football players, as he must juggle the duties of being a leader at one of college football's premier programs with the duties of fatherhood. Bruton has a two-year old son, Jaden, who he affectionately refers to as Knucklehead. He says, though, that he has adjusted to playing the dual roles, and that, though he hopes to do big things on the football field, his son will always be his top priority.
"I'm a father first no matter what," Bruton said. "I'm not doing football just for myself anymore. It's for him."
Bruton said that his son visited and attended classes with him recently. Although he always wants to play "tackle" with his dad, Bruton thinks his son might end up in another sport.
"I think I might have a baseball player, because he's a lefty," Bruton said.
Also, Bruton has made sure that Jaden no longer addresses him as "David", but as "daddy."
"He started calling me ‘David' and I had to break him of that habit," Bruton said with a smile.
Just because Bruton is in the secondary doesn't mean he isn't affected by the arrival of new linebackers coach Jon Tenuta from Georgia Tech.
"We're still in the learning process of course," Bruton said of Tenuta's scheme. "But I feel like it's going to bring a whole different level of intensity."
Tenuta's coaching style, which involves multiple different blitz packages, should have its benefits for Bruton.
"That quarterback's going to be throwing that ball up a little higher a couple of times," Bruton said "So it'll be fun."
With Tenuta coaching the linebackers, Brown shifts to coaching the defensive backs, a position he played at Michigan from 1989 to 1993 and in the NFL from 1993 to 2000. Bruton hopes to benefit from Brown's professional experience.
"He can give you little tidbits to help you and your game," Bruton said. "It's different hearing it from someone who actually played in the NFL."
Speaking of the NFL, when professional scouts are asked which Notre Dame underclassmen are high on their draft radar, Bruton's name routinely comes up. Bruton, though, remains focused on his last collegiate season.
"I try to put [the NFL] onto the backburner," Bruton said. "If the NFL happens, that happens."
For now, Bruton is focused on making his mark at Notre Dame.
"I just want to leave a mark where I feel like I've done my best and been the best out there," Bruton said.
Bruton said his Notre Dame journey has had "a lot of ups and downs," but that he knows how he wants it to end.
"I just hope to go out with a bang," Bruton said. "I hope to go to a championship game and win it."
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