Aubrey solidifies ND’s defense
Daniel O'Boyle | Wednesday, November 4, 2015
In soccer, the number 10 is one of the most iconic jersey numbers of all time — from Pelé to Diego Maradona to Lionel Messi, those two digits have become synonymous with exciting creative play and goalscoring. At Notre Dame, it’s been worn by the likes of former ACC Offensive Player of the Year Harrison Shipp and 2006 MAC Hermann Trophy winner Joe Lapira.
So junior Brandon Aubrey, a nearly ever-present stalwart in the center of head coach Bobby Clark’s Irish defense, seems like an unusual addition to that list. But Aubrey, a 6-foot-3 Texas native, said he had no idea he’d find himself manning the back four when he got his hands on his jersey.
“Freshman year I was playing striker,” Aubrey said “The position opened up when Harry [Shipp] left, and they asked us what number we wanted, and I took 10 thinking I’d be a striker, but when I got back, they told me in the spring I’d be a center back. But they let me keep it, and I was happy with that.”
Since that moment, Aubrey’s number 10 jersey has been found in the Notre Dame backline for almost every outing, as he firmly established himself as a regular part of one of the strongest defensive units in the ACC. Aubrey said he found the unlikely positional adjustment to be relatively simple.
“I didn’t think it was too difficult,” Aubrey said. “I think the further back on the field you go the easier it is because you get to see more of the field, and really you have less pressure on you when you have the ball in the back because no one’s trying to take it off you or anything. It was really difficult learning what positions to be in at what time, but [former players Andrew] O’Malley, [Patrick] Wall and Luke Mishu helped me a lot.”
Aubrey’s adjustment to defense didn’t just mean a learning a new role, though. With Clark favoring consistency along the back, Aubrey has played almost every minute for the Irish for the past two years, starting and finishing all but two games in that span. Aubrey said his team’s training regimen has helped him get used to his schedule.
“Boss doesn’t like changing the back four,” Aubrey said. “So once you find yourself in ther,e you’re not going to come out unless you find yourself injured, and I’ve been lucky enough to not get seriously injured, and the few minor injuries I’ve gotten, our great training staff, Mario and Steve, have gotten me back on the field.
“It does get tiring, but we do a really good job of recovering. We put a lot of emphasis on it.”
Aubrey’s versatility was already on display before he arrived at Notre Dame, and Clark said the range of skills he took from playing all over the field have made him a better defender.
“He can play all different positions,” Clark said. “At his club team, he played up front, he played midfield, and he played as a defender. When the team was holding a lead, he was a defender, and when they needed a goal, he was a striker. His freshman year, the year we won the national championship, he would spell us a little bit up front. He actually came on in the final for a little while as a forward. He’s got a good range of pass, he’s tough, he’s strong, he’s really improved greatly in one-on-one defending and he’s fantastic in the air. That’s a lot of good traits. If he keeps working on his game, he can be one of the best center backs I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with.”
Despite becoming more at home at the back, Aubrey has had his share of impressive moments going forward too, particularly off of set plays. With two goals and two assists this season, including a deflected effort against Pittsburgh on Saturday, Clark said the defender hasn’t lost his natural eye for goal.
“I think the fact is that obviously he’s good in the air, but he’s good on the ground, too,” Clark said. “He’s got good feet, and he likes to score goals. He’s got a very powerful shot, so it’s great when you’ve got a defender who’s good in the air but also can score goals. He’s got a nose for goals, possibly because of his early career as a forward, and that’s certainly an added asset on set pieces on the attacking end of the field.”
Off the field, Aubrey is a computer science major. He said that adjusting to his college workload was one of the greatest challenges he’s faced at Notre Dame.
“I know a lot of the guys here went to a private high school where they prepare you really well, but I went to a public school,” Aubrey said. “So adjusting to the workload was tough, and I stayed up freshman year a lot getting it done, but once I figured out that I needed to drop video games and get schoolwork done, I started doing better.”
Aubrey and the Irish will begin postseason play this Saturday at 1 p.m. at Alumni Stadium, where they will take on Virginia in the ACC quarterfinals.