Ben Councell feels at home in unlikely place
Manuel De Jesus | Thursday, November 20, 2014
“I’ve never really heard of anything on Notre Dame previously to being recruited for football,” Councell said. “I watched Rudy, and that was really the only thing I’ve ever really known about Notre Dame, so when they came up and they started recruiting me, it was strange. But then all I had to do was come up for a visit with my dad, and I was sold.”
Ranked in Rivals.com’s top 100 players in the class of 2011, Councell was an all-state linebacker at A.C Reynolds High School and an ESPN four-star recruit. He received interest from Auburn, Georgia Tech, North Carolina, North Carolina State and South Carolina, and Notre Dame was the only school outside of his region that he received interest from. Councell said his only concern about attending Notre Dame was how far from home it was.
“Compared to all the other schools, it was a different culture here,” Councell said. “It was orderly, the coaching staff here was really interested in creating a family, and the academics here is next to none. It was really weird for me because I was a homebody. I grew up in North Carolina, and I didn’t like leaving home, so coming here was a huge step for me.”
Councell entered the program as an outside linebacker who looked to fit well in Bob Diaco’s 3-4 defense. However, he redshirted his freshman year behind a defense led by former Irish linebacker Manti Te’o, defensive end Kapron Lewis-Moore and safety Harrison Smith. Despite not playing, Councell said he learned more than he could imagine watching and practicing with a defense that would go on to lead the Irish to a national championship run the next year.
“I learned a lot that year,” Councell said. “At the time, I don’t think we understood how good we really were, but now looking back, it’s easy to see that we were a good team. It was cool being able to play with them and learn a lot from them, and of course, going to the national championship game was surreal.”
Councell had won a state title in the 4A North Carolina football division in 2009, but to go on to play in the BCS National Championship Game was unbelievable, he said. Although he was a part of the team’s run to a title appearance, Councell was still limited on the field, appearing in all 12 games and backing up former Irish linebacker Prince Shembo and defensive lineman Ishaq Williams.
Last season, Councell was primed to have his best year at Notre Dame, rotating in the starting outside linebacker position with Williams and then-freshman Jaylon Smith. He played in nine games before injuring his left ACL against Navy on Nov. 2, 2013.
Councell was having a career game against the Midshipmen, tallying five tackles, a tackle for loss and a pass breakup before his untimely injury. Councell said it wasn’t easy for him to accept the significance of the injury, which sidelined him for the rest of the season.
Before talking about his injury, Councell stood quietly for a couple of seconds, trying to figure out a way to describe an incident he wishes he could have avoided.
“It was definitely a big setback,” Councell said with a sigh. “I was finally getting comfortable with the defense, getting playing time and starting for a starting job. From Air Force going into Navy, I had two big games, and getting hurt was just tough, but it is what it is.”
Councell admitted that there was a silver lining following his season-ending injury. His roommate, senior linebacker Jarrett Grace, suffered a broken tibia and fibula in a win over Arizona State a few weeks before his injury. As both of them recovered from their respective injuries, their friendship grew by spending much of their time together. Councell said they called themselves the “cripple crew.”
“We were always together with our crutches and scooters walking around campus, so the injury had its good and bad,” he said.
A season removed from the ACL injury, Councell said he still doesn’t think he is 100 percent back to full recovery. Coming into a new 4-3 defensive scheme under new defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder, Councell had to learn a new defense and play a different role than he did in the last three years.
“I’m not going to use it as an excuse, but I definitely don’t feel the same as I did before,” Councell said.
Despite the changes and return from injury, Councell said he believes his role is still important on the team. With Jaylon Smith in his second year as a starter, Councell puts it on himself to help develop Smith and other young players that have had to contribute early. As a mentor for others, Councell said he feels like the locker room atmosphere is only getting better as the players around him continue to grow, on and off the field.
“My biggest takeaway from this season is the camaraderie,” Councell said. “I love being with these guys and watching the young guys coming in and develop real quick. I try my best to help them with the pressure and help them learn, but kicking back with them is probably the thing I’m going to miss the most.”
Despite not wanting to get away from home as a senior in high school, Councell said he feels like he built another home here. Still undecided about whether he will return next season, Councell said he knows he has left his mark on Notre Dame’s football program and will not forget the memories he created during his four years here.
“[Ben Councell] will be remembered for going out and pushing it 100 percent of the time,” Councell said. “Pushing through pain and going out there every single day, giving it my all, is what I hope to be remembered for.”