As the Notre Dame seniors prepare to play their final home game this Saturday, head coach Charlie Weis singled out safety David Bruton as one player from his initial recruiting class whose development was surprising.
"David Bruton was a skinny little track kid," Weis said. "Maybe he was 180 pounds, maybe. Soaking wet he might have been 180 pounds. Now he's 210. Runs like a deer. Doesn't run any slower than he did when he was 180. He's jumping 41 inches vertical jump, running under 4.5 in the 40. And he's going to have a nice long career on Sundays. If you would have told me that looking at him walking in the door, you could have won a lot of money off me on that one right there."
Weis was not the only one surprised by the Miamisburg, Ohio native's progress, in fact, even Bruton did not expect to be able to do what he's done.
"I have surprised myself, becoming a disciplined type of guy, you know, maturing in such a way that I have," he said. "My situation hasn't been the easiest. Especially when it comes to football, just being able to understand the game, realize that it's not just purely about physical talent, but how game-ready you are, how game-smart you are. It bodes well for how you play on the field and how good of a player you can become.
"But the physical thing, I came in like 175. By the end of the summer, I was like 218, 219, now I'm like 210. So I've put on 40-plus pounds since I've been here. I look back at pictures, my senior year in high school and right now, and I'm like, ‘How the heck did I end up playing football? I should have definitely stuck with track.' There was no way I thought I would be able to play football and gain weight. But things happen. It's funny to look back on that."
One person who was not shocked by Bruton's growth is fifth-year senior linebacker Maurice Crum, Jr.
"When we first got him, I remember pulling him aside and telling him, ‘I think you can play and I think you're going to be a really good player,'" Crum recalled. "I actually told Bruton, I was like, ‘Make sure you get in your book and just be sharp because I think you can help this team.' I'm not as surprised as Coach is."
But Crum admits that watching a young Bruton trying to make plays in the running game made him cringe.
"The biggest transformation is his body, just the way he's come in. When he first came in, he could run all day. But, you know, seeing him trying to run in the box, trying to make tackles and stuff was rough at first," Crum laughed. "But now looking at him come up, make some really big tackles, stick his nose in there, he's made a complete transformation. He's one of the guys that I've watched grow up and I'm extremely proud of."
Bruton, like most Irish players on this year's squad, credits Crum with helping him mature on and off the field.
"Through it at all, even when I'm down about things outside of football that are affecting my play, he's always pulled me aside, always told me to collect myself, keep my head on straight," Bruton said of Crum. "He's also been the one who's pushed me to study film and keep my nose in the playbook, be mentally sharp. Just in case he can't make a call, that I'm able to make a call. If it's not him, it's me. If it's not me, it's him. He's kind of helped me develop that mentality that I've got his back and he's got mine."
But Bruton's main motivation comes from his son, Jaden, who will be bundled up in Notre Dame Stadium to see his father's final collegiate home game on Saturday.
"He's a major inspiration. I was mentioning how I have his name tattooed on my right shoulder. I always tap it before the game," Bruton said. "His pictures are in my car, on my locker, in my wallet. He's everywhere. He's always with me. Even if I didn't have those things, he'll always be in my heart."