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Football: Football for his family

Jay Fitzpatrick | Sunday, September 30, 2007

David Bruton has played many roles in his three years at Notre Dame.

First he was a special teams player.

Then he was backup safety.

Now he is the starting free safety.

But if you ask David, he is, and has been, something entirely different.

“I’m a father, and I’m a student,” he said.

Working for ‘Knucklehead’

Unlike many Division I college football players, Bruton’s main concern in his football career is not how it will translate into a professional career. He has more important things on his mind.

In November of his freshman year at Notre Dame, Bruton’s son, Jaden, was born. Bruton said that when his girlfriend from home in Miamisburg, Ohio, first became pregnant, he was unsure about how he should act as a father.

“There was a time where there was a debacle between me and my baby momma. We lost contact during her pregnancy,” he said. “In the four months before Jaden was born during the summer, I was just out having fun doing things that you wouldn’t necessarily consider responsible.”

But Bruton realized that he had to act more responsibly once his son, who he calls Knucklehead, was born.

“But as he was born and I got older, I realized the fairness of her being at home and not being able to do much, and then I’m not going doing much,” he said. “And am I going to college to have fun, or am I going to college to support Knucklehead. And I narrowed it down to I’m going to school and playing football to support Knucklehead.”

Bruton said his first few months at school were difficult because of the pressures put on him. He was trying to earn playing time at a big-time school, adjusting to life as a college freshman and trying to raise a son – all at 18 years old.

“It was just difficult because I was getting pulled back home because I wanted to be around my son and not being able to see him,” he said. “And then just being up here and all the stress of being pulled so many different ways and not being able to know how to use your time, it was difficult my first couple years. But it tended to get better as I matured and got older, and I learned what’s best and what’s not.”

Part of his maturation is his desire to be a large part of Jaden’s life. Bruton knows that he cannot be as involved with Jaden as he would like to be because of football, but he has tried his hardest to be with his son when he can.

This season, Jaden was able to come watch his father make his first collegiate start against Georgia Tech.

Bruton said the most important factor in shaping who he is today is his family – especially Jaden.

“I got a younger brother [Kendrick, a tight end at Miami (OH)] – that’s my best friend. I’ve got my little son and that’s my Mini-Me there,” he said. “I’m just more of a family guy. You wouldn’t expect that from a twenty-year-old in college.”

Getting started

Bruton started at safety for two seasons at Miamisburg High School in Ohio, earning a three-star ranking, according to scout.com. During his junior and senior seasons, Bruton tallied 11 interceptions and 112 tackles.

Bruton was a late commit to the Irish coming out of high school and did not even make an official visit until Jan. 7, 2005, during his senior year. Bruton said his biggest influences in committing to Notre Dame were his father and his high school coach Tim Lewis.

“I didn’t know about Notre Dame when I was being recruited, and I didn’t know such a big deal it was,” he said.

Former head coach Tyrone Willingham began recruiting Bruton in high school, but after his firing and current coach Charlie Weis’ hiring Bruton still decided to come play for the Irish.

When Bruton first got to Notre Dame under then-defensive coordinator Rick Minter, he was primarily a special teams player. Bruton logged 3:55 minutes of playing time his freshman year, playing in 11 games for the Irish and making 14 total tackles.

“Just having that opportunity helped with my maturity level,” Bruton said. “It also helped with my confidence and just knowing I can play D-one. It’s not like a lot of people from my high school got the chance to play D-one. It was just getting to prove to myself and to my hometown that we can play anywhere.”

Bruton continued playing on special teams his sophomore year, but was promoted to backup safety that season. He saw his first action on defense early in the season against Penn State and continued to play late downs throughout the season.

Bruton played in every game that season except against Georgia Tech, accumulating 18 total tackles – including his first tackle for a loss against Army.

He said that one of the main reasons for his success was his coaches, including special teams coach Brian Polian and defensive backs coach Bill Lewis.

“They’re patient, but you know how coaches are, they yell at you, they get on your butt about everything,” Bruton said. “And it’s just little things they help you study from. Studying yourself is something that I never learned to do.”

In his first two seasons, Bruton said, safeties Tom Zbikowski and Chinedum Ndukwe helped him mature as a player.

“They’ve always kept my head up when I’m down. They’ve always boosted me. They’ve always kept me close,” Bruton said. “Nedu always used to say I was more athletic than him. And Zibby was giving me a confidence boost when needed throughout my younger years, and it’s been real helpful in my development as a player.”

But after Ndukwe graduated to the NFL, a slot opened at safety that Bruton wanted to fill.

Making his presence felt

Bruton entered spring camp in 2007 competing for the starting safety position next to Zbikowski with, among others, fellow junior Ray Herring. Bruton worked hard throughout training camp to show his desire to make the team.

“I just went out and worked every day. I didn’t just work in defense, but I worked in special teams. I always try to work,” he said. “I always try to do my best that I can do. And there’s something I can’t do or something I don’t understand, I’ve always spent extra time to understand everything.”

Lewis said Bruton worked harder than the rest competing for the position and that put him above the rest of the competition.

“And that’s what it is, it’s all about competition,” Lewis said. “One guy against the next, and David was able to, we thought, day in and day out, outperform the other players and that’s what we’re looking for is to put the best eleven guys, and in the case of the safeties put our two best guys, on the field.”

Bruton earned his starting spot going into the fall on a high note, earning defensive most valuable player honors for the 2007 Blue and Gold Game, after he returned an interception 35 yards for a touchdown.

Although Lewis said there is not much schematic difference between Minter and current defensive coordinator Corwin Brown’s use of the free safety, Bruton said he feels more comfortable in the latter scheme.

“It’s more of a ‘just go out there and play’ type defense with Coach Brown,” he said. “You come from high school; you go out there to showcase what you do in high school. I’m not knocking on Coach Minter, but Coach Minter’s gameplans used to have you thinking so much that you couldn’t just relax and play. In Coach Brown’s you just get to play more freely.”

This freedom has allowed Bruton to become a constant presence in the defensive secondary as part of the nation’s fourth-best pass defense. Bruton is tied for second on the team with 35 tackles and made the first interception of his career Saturday against Michigan State.

“You saw the interception the other day, that was not just an OK play, that’s a guy having great range, not only just taking the proper angle to the ball, just being able to get from the middle of the field all the way to the fade ball up the sideline,” Weis said. “There aren’t that many people that have the speed to cover that much ground.”

But for David, everything – the tackles, the interceptions, the big plays – is for Knucklehead.