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Rochell, Butler enter defensive rotation

Joseph Monardo | Thursday, October 17, 2013

Two pieces of Notre Dame’s highly-touted freshman class, defensive lineman Isaac Rochell and cornerback Devin Butler, have gotten off to some fast starts in their careers. 

Both players have seen significant game action during the first half of their rookie seasons on a defense finding its form. 

Rochell, a four-star recruit rated as the 139th-best player in the country by ESPN, hails from McDonough, Ga., and has bolstered a defensive line thinned by injury. After joining what seemed to be a crowded rotation on the defensive front, the newcomer has played in all six contests and has recorded three tackles. 

“When I got here, my perspective on the whole thing was just work out, get better, and it was such a day-by-day thing with classes and stuff,” Rochell said. “So I never really thought about [playing time]. And when the season came, with camp it’s just the same thing. You are just worrying about today, because it’s one of those things. It’s a grind. … You have to focus on your job on and off the field.”

Rochell said the workout and nutritional plans set up by the Irish staff have been helpful in making the transition to the college game.

“When you get here and they get you in the dining hall this summer, the dining hall is great,” he said. “And then you are just on that lifting program where you are constantly lifting, you just gain weight. All the guys, all the freshmen gained five or 10 pounds when we first got here. It just happens.”

If Rochell continues to receive time on the defensive line when sophomore Sheldon Day returns from an ankle injury, Rochell might have the opportunity to face off against his older brother Matt, a sophomore offensive lineman for Air Force. Notre Dame travels to Colorado Springs, Colo., for a matchup with the Falcons on Oct. 26. 

“I talk to him after [my] game, he talks to me after every one of his games, so we are pretty close,” Rochell said.

Butler also shares a special bond with his older brother Darius, who was paralyzed after being shot five times while walking home one night as a freshman at Howard University in 2008. Darius, five years Devin’s senior, has benefited from Devin’s care in recent years but has also served as an inspiration to his younger brother.

“It gives me a lot of motivation,” Devin said. “I mean, he’s someone that is my biggest supporter, and through everything he’s always telling me how proud of me he is.

“He definitely tells me how he misses his little brother. He moved out before I left, so I was always spending a lot of time over at his new apartment, so [me coming to college] was just really cutting the cord I guess.”

Darius has already made the trip from the family’s home city of Washington, D.C., to Notre Dame to see his younger brother play several times this year and was most recently in Arlington, Texas to watch the Irish take on Arizona State. 

Rated as the 188th-best player in the country by ESPN coming out of high school, Devin has played in five games this season and has made two tackles while learning from sophomore cornerback KeiVarae Russell and senior cornerback Bennett Jackson.

“I guess [the most important thing I have learned] would just be to have a short-term memory,” Butler said. “To not let the little things eat at you, but to take the little things seriously, to really focus on everything that I need to do and focus on my craft and become a master of my craft.”

Butler and Rochelle are two of the Irish freshmen giving Notre Dame’s defense an injection of youth, along with cornerback Cole Luke and starting outside linebacker Jaylon Smith also seeing considerable time.

“I think it’s cool,” Rochell said of the freshmen contributions. “I think especially this summer, working out and stuff, I think we gelled. So it’s kind of this common thing that, ‘We are ready, we are going to work hard.’ And I think it’s been cool to see guys develop. And when they go in they are making plays.”

Contact Joseph Monardo at jmonardo@nd.edu