For a process that can sometimes take several months and spurn scores of speculatory news articles, Justin Brown sure simplified the decision of coming back to Notre Dame for a fifth year.
"I mean, it wasn't really that difficult of a decision," Brown said. "I wanted to come back, I want to be a part of Notre Dame."
Brown always knew that he wanted to return. He said that he had made his decision before last season, so last year's 3-9 debacle didn't play in his mind at all while weighing his options for his future.
"I already knew I wanted to come back anyways, regardless of how the season went," Brown said. "I just felt like I wanted to come back. I wasn't ready to leave."
Brown said that he wasn't quite ready to leave Notre Dame because of the unique atmosphere of the school.
"This is a special place. You know you always want to be a part from being recruited here to leaving here," Brown said. "You're going to miss it when you leave, and I know I am."
"I just wanted to come back and prove myself and just be a part of something special"
Brown certainly looks primed to prove himself. He started five games in 2007 after only starting one in his previous three years with the Irish. In '07, Brown tallied 30 tackles and a sack.
Expect those stats to only be a building block for Brown, though, as he rededicated himself this offseason, and looks poised for a big year in '08.
"[Strength and conditioning] Coach [Ruben] Mendoza does a wonderful job in pushing us and basically I just kind of applied a good, hard work ethic in lifting and running and just trying to get myself prepared for spring ball."
Brown's improved work ethic was not lost on defensive line coach Jappy Oliver, who expects big things from Brown this season.
"Justin really worked hard in the weight room to get bigger and stronger," Oliver said. "It's just attitude to me with Justin, if he gets that defensive mentality where he's ready to play and fight every snap, then he will, in my opinion progress, like I want him to progress"
Attitude will be especially important to Brown this season, as he looks to accept a larger leadership role on the defensive line after the graduation of senior linemen Trevor Laws and Dwight Stephenson.
"I'm slowly trying to step into that role," Brown said. "We're trying to get guys to not only believe in our system, but believe in what we're trying to do as a defense and believe in me, so we can build some type of, not only team chemistry, and not only defensive chemistry, but position chemistry because that's important."
Part of that leadership role will include integrating onto the team a freshman class that includes defensive linemen Kapron Lewis-Moore, Ethan Johnson, Brandon Newman, Hafis Williams, and Sean Cwynar.
"I'll probably interact with them over the summer, get to know them better and integrate them into our little family," Brown said of his the incoming players.
As for Brown's exact position on the defensive line, no one, not even Brown, is quite sure exactly where he'll line up for the Irish this season. Last year, Brown spent most of his time at defensive end. On Notre Dame's pre-spring depth chart, Brown is also listed as a starting defensive end. However, Brown said that he has spent time in the off-season playing defensive tackle, and that may be a spot to look for him in '08.
"Nobody really knows where they're going be playing right now," Brown said. "We're just trying out different things and different positions, and just trying to see who's the best at what position in order to help our team win."
Even though Brown isn't a linebacker, he said that he is very excited about the addition of new assistant head coach and linebackers coach Jon Tenuta, and that he was familiar with his new coach's history of success at Georgia Tech.
"I know his reputation and what he brings to our defense as far as attitude and his on the field knowledge of defenses," Brown said. "He's a blitz guru, basically."
As for Tenuta's personality, Brown knows that his new coach means business on the football field.
"I've maybe seen him laugh once, and I think he did it on accident," Brown said. "I saw him laughing with a coach, I've never seen him laugh with a player. So maybe one day somebody will get him to crack a smile."
The addition of Tenuta wasn't the only change Charlie Weis made this offseason. The head coach has been around his players a lot more over the winter during their lifting and conditioning sessions. Weis said he hopes to be more approachable to the players, and Brown sees this change as something that can only help the team's chemistry.
"When he first started coming around, people might have been kind of nervous around him," Brown said. "But I mean the more and more he was around he was just being himself and he got to see how guys were acting and got to interact with some guys."
Brown says that while he obviously hopes to play in the NFL next year, all his energy right now is concentrated on spring ball.
"Of course, everybody thinks about going to the NFL," Brown said. "But right now I just want to focus on my team, getting my team better, and getting myself better so I can get my team better."
Brown's focus will be especially strong for this season, his last with the Irish. Brown said that he was both excited and nervous about playing in Notre Dame Stadium for one more year.
"A lot of different emotions come to mind when you think about your last year, and I think you just want to go out the right way," Brown said. "So I think you just have that kind of motivation to do everything that you need to do to go out on top."
Brown's goal for this season goes beyond simply improving his football skills. He said that he wants his effort to be his defining quality on the field this season, similar Laws last season.
"I want people to look at me and be like, ‘Dang, he works hard' or ‘ Dang, he plays hard' like they did Trevor," Brown said.
For now, though?
"I'm pretty sure I'm ready to start hitting," Brown said with a smile.
It must feel good to be back.
Easy Choice for Brown
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