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Bilal blazes his own path, forges friendships

| Friday, November 9, 2018

Sitting at No. 3 in the current College Football Playoff rankings, it’s no secret Notre Dame has had a successful season thus far. On the defensive side, the team has thrived thanks to a strong veteran presence among its juniors and seniors. One of those seniors is linebacker Asmar Bilal, a soft-spoken contributor who, despite what his on-field presence might suggest, did not come from a family with a rich football tradition.

“Football wasn’t always in my family,” Bilal said. “I had a couple of distant cousins that had played, but other than that not really. The only other member of my family that played football was my older brother who played high school football, and then from playing with him I started playing, too.”

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Bilal took to the sport quickly, as he had a tremendous high school career at Ben Davis High School in Indianapolis, winning a state championship his senior year and being named to the All-USA Indiana Football Team as Defensive Player of the Year. Despite his proximity to Notre Dame, he didn’t exactly grow up an Irish fan, but he eventually found the school to be the right choice for him.

“I wasn’t much of a college football guy growing up. I knew the big time schools, and Notre Dame is one of those, but I just didn’t follow much,” Bilal said. “For me, it was once I got all of my scholarships it was like, ‘OK, I’m going to college,’ and I just wanted to factor in what was the school for me. Proximity was important because I wanted my family to be able to come to all of the games, and Notre Dame was the best of both worlds with good football and good academics.”

As a freshman in 2015, Bilal was a member of the scout team, where he performed well and earned himself defensive scout team player of the year. As a four-star recruit, scout team was not the start to his collegiate career that he had pictured, but Bilal learned a lot along the way that helped him develop.

“It was different for me because I was coming from high school where I was that guy … coming from that position being highly recruited and everyone telling you you’re going to play, you expect that,” Bilal said. “Once I came here, it was just another level of football and I just had to accept my role and do what was best for the team. In terms of the football process in general, it was helpful in learning what it takes to be a team and the roles we have to take on.”

Bilal showed the coaches what kind of player he can be, as his role has become bigger and bigger each year. In his sophomore season, he became a key special teams contributor and ranked third on the team in special teams tackles. By his junior year, Bilal had taken on a greater workload at linebacker, registering 16 tackles in 12 games as a reserve. Now this season, Bilal has appeared in every game — starting in most — and has been critical to the defense’s success. With the bigger impact he has been able to make with each season, Bilal feels he has learned a lot along the way to get himself to this point.

“Each year you just learn more,” he said. “The more reps you’re getting, the better prepared you are and the better everyone feels about it. It’s all about getting more reps and being around if you want to learn more about the game.”

Now playing in his final season, Bilal has a lot to look back on over the last four years. Ultimately, what he believes will stick with him the most are his memories with the team and how he has been able to grow as a person at the University.

“When I think about it, I just think about everything we’ve been through together between the workouts and the music in the locker room,” Bilal said. “It’s just a collective thought of all of the good times. I think one of the biggest things for me coming to this school was being able to open up. Coming in, I was kind of anti-social and just had my select circle, but what I’ll take away from this ND experience is opening up, talking to new people and different groups and getting to branch out.”

Before he does too much reflection, however, Bilal recognizes he still has the end of the season ahead of him. In this last stretch, he’s hoping to find more success with his teammates and, if all goes well, write their way into the Notre Dame history books.

“I hope to see everybody do their job and make plays and have fun with it,” he said. “We just want to take it one game at a time and hopefully win a national championship. That’s our goal, so for that to manifest itself and come true is what I hope for.”

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