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Joe Brockington: Playing the waiting game

Jay Fitzpatrick | Thursday, November 15, 2007

On Sept. 30, 2006, Notre Dame’s starting defense took the field against Purdue with one key addition – outside linebacker Joe Brockington, who made his first career start for the Irish after nearly four years on the roster.

“It was my coming out game. There are some games I played in last year and this year that I enjoyed because I thought I played pretty well in,” Brockington said. “Overall, in my college career, I think that’s it because it sort of sums it all up.”

Brockington has started every game since – in both former defensive coordinator Rick Minter’s 4-3 defense and current defensive coordinator Corwin Brown’s 3-4.

Brockington’s journey to Notre Dame began in central Pennsylvania, where his mother raised him and his sister on her own.

“She worked two jobs pretty much since I was born – supported my sister and I by herself,” Brockington said of his mother. “We’ve had hard times but she definitely got an A-plus in the whole mothering thing because her two kids are pretty successful.”

While in high school at Palmyra (Pa.) High School, Brockington was a standout football player, rushing for 1,046 yards and registering 110 tackles during his junior season. Even though he was sidelined by a shoulder injury in his senior year, Brockington was recruited by schools in the Big East, ACC and Big Ten, as well as Notre Dame.

“[Picking Notre Dame] was a combination of academics and the coaching staff that was in place at the time,” Brockington said. “It was a more of a decision my family and I made together; my family felt it was the best opportunity for me.”

Another major influence in Brockington’s decision was whether he would get to play Penn State – the favorite team of many of his friends and neighbors.

“I know a bunch of people that said I should go to Penn State or else I wasn’t good enough to play college football,” Brockington said. “It was definitely something I looked at when I was looking at schools so I can show everyone in my area that I can play college football.”

Brockington sat out his freshman year, missing his second consecutive season.

“It was tough. I was practicing so I had that type of aspect still there. I was still practicing, still doing some things,” he said. “It was definitely tough, it was hard to deal with, but talking with my family they helped me get through it.”

Brockington continued to work both on and off the field. He entered school as a business major and spent his sophomore year in the Mendoza College of Business before switching to become an American Studies major with a minor in computer applications.

“I decided on American Studies because the classes they let you take were just more interesting than any other major I could find in arts and letters,” Brockington said of his decision.

But despite the hard work Brockington exerted on the field and in the classroom, he feels the most important part of his time at Notre Dame was making friends outside of football – people he might not have met at another university.

“The interaction that you have with other students is different than at other schools,” he said. “All through college I haven’t [roomed] with a football player. It’s helped me meet some new people. Now I look back on [dorm life] and it helped build some relationships that I will have for the rest of my life.”

Brockington decided last fall to use his extra season of eligibility and return to the Irish for a fifth season.

“At the end of the day my family and I decided it was the best decision for us,” he said.

During his fifth season, Brockington has developed into one of the leaders on the Irish defense. In Brown’s 3-4, Brockington bulked up and joined senior captain Maurice Crum as the two inside linebackers. Brown said that Brockington has easily made the transition to the 3-4 because he is a smart player who understands the game.

Brockington played some outside and inside linebacker last season, and he said that the transition has not been too difficult.

“The biggest thing for me to adjust was being the weak side backer to being front side and having to deal with more blocks and things like that,” Brockington said.

One of the highlights this season was Notre Dame’s trip to State College, Pa., to play against Penn State – the team he grew up watching.

“It’s always good to go back and play football that you grew up and also play against guys that you played against in high school,” he said. “It’s always good to go back home, but it’s unfortunate that we lost. I have yet to go back home since then, so I’m sure I’ll catch it from a couple of Penn State fans.”

During Notre Dame’s 27-14 loss to Boston College on Oct. 13, Crum was injured early in the game and Brockington stepped up with 13 tackles (10 solo) in the loss. Even though he was integral in taking over for Crum as the linebackers’ leader, Brockington said it was just business as usual.

“Mo and I – all last year and even this year – we both make the calls on defense and get people lined up,” he said. “It’s not like its something that week or that game when he went down that was new for me. I’ve always been doing it.”

In the classroom, Brockington is taking two computer classes and a music class to continue to prepare him for life after college. He said that his dream is to play in the NFL and that he plans to declare for April’s draft.

Brockington said that he thinks he has an advantage in the draft because of the many roles he has played in college.

“Since I’ve been here, I’ve played three different defenses and played two different positions,” he said. “I definitely think that when it comes to playing at the next level it makes me a little more marketable because they’ve seen me play at the weak side and they’ve also seen me play in the middle.”

But Brockington is still realistic about playing on Sundays and said that if he isn’t drafted or signed as a free agent, he will “go back to normal life.”

Normal life for Brockington will either be law school or an internship at Notre Dame in the athletic department, in a program designed to help people become athletic directors.

Brockington said the most important thing he will take with him is not the games played on the field or the lessons learned in the classroom, but the people he encountered.

“The people that I actually met here, the friends that I made here just because the people that actually go to school here kind of grew up in a different situation than I did,” Brockington said of his favorite experience at Notre Dame. “It was good because I learned some things from them and they learned some things from me.”