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David Bruton: Brute determination

Chris Hine | Friday, September 26, 2008

This time last year, the NFL was still a distant dream to senior safety David Bruton.

He was having a solid season in an otherwise miserable year for Notre Dame, but to Bruton, the idea of playing on Sundays was still unfathomable.

But to some people, it wasn’t so incomprehensible. Bruton started to notice these people showing up to watch him play. Bruton may have not have known them, but they certainly knew who he was. They were NFL scouts.

This season, Bruton has given those scouts a lot to praise – he recovered a fumble in the fourth quarter on Notre Dame’s 1-yard line against San Diego State. And against Michigan, Bruton forced another fumble and had an interception inside the Notre Dame 5-yard line. Bruton, now playing in his final season for Notre Dame, has developed a knack for getting turnovers at key times – certainly something that will help him get to NFL.

“I realized it wasn’t that far,” Bruton said. “I’m in my final year here, and I have a really good chance to go to the next level.”

But just a few years ago for Bruton, getting to that next level meant going somewhere other than the NFL – the Olympics.

Finding football

In high school, Bruton dreamed of becoming an Olympic sprinter, much like his third cousin, Tyson Gay.

“I wanted those 200- and 400-meter races,” Bruton said with a smile.

Football was merely an afterthought.

Bruton, who played wide receiver and safety for Miamisburg High School in Miamisburg, Ohio, hardly saw the field in his freshman year and prior to his sophomore season, he was close to giving it up for good.

“My heart wasn’t really set on football,” Bruton said. “I didn’t play much freshman year and I wasn’t a big fan of being a receiver and not getting many looks at defensive back. I felt like I’d never play anyway or see the field.”

But Notre Dame fans can be thankful Bruton had a conversation with his friend and teammate, Kelly Lewis. Lewis, his coach’s son, convinced Bruton to give football another shot. Bruton saw some action early in the season at wide receiver due to an injury to one of the starters. Then, Bruton earned the starting spot at safety his junior year and parlayed that into a scholarship at Notre Dame.

Now, the Olympics were an afterthought.

But even a free-ride to one of the most storied programs in college football history wasn’t enough to give Bruton the kind of focus he needed to make it to the NFL.

Getting his priorities straight

In November 2005, during his freshman year, Bruton’s son Jaden – who Bruton affectionately calls “Knucklehead” – was born.

When interviewed for a Sept. 28, 2007 article by The Observer’s Jay Fitzpatrick, Bruton said Jaden’s birth caused him to make the decisions in his personal life that it was time to grow up.

“Am I going to college to have fun, or am I going to college to support Knucklehead?” Bruton said last year. “And I narrowed it down to ‘I’m going to school and playing football to support Knucklehead.'”

Without Jaden, Bruton said he wouldn’t be the man – or the football player – that he is today. And the NFL would just be something he watched on TV every Sunday.

“It put my life in perspective,” Bruton said. “I’m zeroed in a lot more than I was. Of course it wasn’t easy first becoming a father; you don’t know left or right anymore and your head’s just spinning, but I found a way to turn it into a positive and use it as a motivational force.”

Bruton is not one to go out much on the weekends. He said he doesn’t go to many house parties. Instead, he said he does work, watches TV or, in keeping with his love of the Olympics, play “Mario and Sonic at the Olympics” on his Nintendo Wii.

“I feel like that’s only fair,” Bruton said. “Jaden’s mom is taking a whole lot of responsibility on herself and that kind of hinders her from going out. It’s feels like the right thing to do. I’m not here to just shoot the crap. I’m here to provide and hopefully get a good future for my son.”

Getting ready for the future

But before Jaden can see his father play on Sundays, Bruton has to go through the laborious and highly-scrutinized pre-draft process where every bench press and 40-yard dash time could raise or lower your value in the draft. Still, Bruton said that doesn’t worry him too much.

“I plan to be a lot more ready than I am now when I go to train,” Bruton said. “My 40-time will drop. I’m not really worried about that. My vertical jump, I’m really not worried at all because that’s me, I just jump. The bench might be the only thing that’s suspect but when you train you can always put on weight and up your reps.”

And if he ever needs advice he has former teammates now in the NFL – John Carlson, John Sullivan and Tom Zbikowski – to ask for advice. He also can call up a new friend of his that he made at last year’s Blue-Gold game – former Tampa Bay and Denver safety John Lynch.

“He told me to just be aggressive,” Bruton said. “You have to showcase your abilities, show you can hit and get your respect that way.”

Bruton has taken the Pro-Bowler’s advice to heart. His teammates respected him enough to make him captain this season, a distinction he carries with pride.

“You’re not just a guy who made plays and got voted because of popularity, you were voted because you were a hard worker and you’ve made plays and you have guys’ respect,” Bruton said.

On the field, his teammates in the secondary play a little differently because they know Bruton is there to back them up.

“He’s got range back there that not a lot of safeties have,” cornerback Raeshon McNeil said. “It allows me, Terrail Lambert, Robert Blanton, Gary Gray, whoever’s in there, to play with a little more confidence and be a little more aggressive … because you know anytime on a deep ball, Bruton’s going to be in the vicinity.”

And if Bruton has anything to say about it, he’ll be in the vicinity of a lot of deep passes for years to come after his final season at Notre Dame is over.

But Bruton in the NFL is something Irish defensive coordinator Corwin Brown doesn’t want to imagine right now.

“Oh, I’m not going to go down that road,” Brown said Wednesday. “But I will say that I’ve been around guys and I’ve seen guys that have done it at a pretty good level and if he does things the right way he can do it. I’ll just leave it at that. I want to focus on him being a good college player right now. I don’t want to put him in Canton.”

Canton may seem far away for Bruton at this point, but a few years ago, so did the NFL.

Contact Chris Hine at [email protected]