Notre Dame LB JD Bertrand ready to lead Irish defense

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Notre Dame linebacker JD Bertrand is having the August grind.

2022 will mark Bertrand’s fourth preseason camp in South Bend, but the Georgia native is quick to say this year is different.

“It’s been an exciting start to the season and there’s so much energy around the program with coach (Marcus) Freeman,” Bertrand said earlier this week. “Talking about football in general, the main thing is to make sure we improve every day. We have such good resources with coach (Al) Golden and James (Laurinaitis). How many people have James Lauarintis in their linebacker room?”

Along with picking the spirit of his new coaches, Bertrand is also in good health as he played the entire 2022 season with a wrist injury that required off-season surgery.

The 6-foot-1, 230-pound player led the Irish in tackles last fall, but don’t think he’s in football all the time. Bertrand took advantage of Notre Dame’s study abroad program in May and made some unforgettable memories.

“Milan was a great experience,” explained Bertrand. “I would recommend it to anyone. I think that’s what sets Notre Dame apart. We’re so special outside of the football program because we allow our guys to get that cultural engagement.”

Now Bertrand admits the trip helped build team chemistry as he was able to spend quality time with some teammates, but they also faced adversity living in another country.

“The biggest thing I took away from it was that I grew up with 8-10 of my teammates,” Bertrand said. “We were able to develop that aspect of our relationship outside of football and get to know each other. We saw what motivates each other and why we play the way we play and why we are the way we are.

“It wasn’t as pretty as you might think. We had hot hotel rooms where they turned off the air conditioning at night. We were just in these situations where everything wasn’t perfect and we were just hanging out with each other.”

Leadership is one area Freeman will rely on Bertrand for in 2022 as the senior linebacker has come through fire. Bertrand’s voice also carries weight and he is not afraid to share his experiences with his teammates.

“I told our guys the other day that I was lucky to spend time with Jerome Bettis,” Bertrand explained. “When I spoke to him, he was like, ‘Hey. Who are you competing with?’

“His message was not necessarily that I was competing with these guys, but I’m also competing with myself and the JD Bertrand who plays at Michigan, Ohio State and Georgia.”

Bertrand is also on his third defensive coordinator during his time at Notre Dame. Learning the nuances of a new defense is the priority, but he also appreciates the freedom and pressure Golden gives his linebackers.

“There are similarities and differences,” Bertrand said of Golden’s defense compared to last year. “Coach Golden gives us a lot of control to anticipate offenses based on formations and things like that and we can bring our defense to different checks or adjustments.”

It also means communication needs to be at its highest level as all three levels of the Irish defense need to be on the same page and that’s what Bertrand is focusing on during the first week of camp.

“You can never be good enough at communication and be able to get that communication from the high school to the linebackers and the defensive line,” Bertrand said. “Everything we do is linked to each other and being able to communicate is invaluable in defense and football in general.”

Notre Dame’s linebacker corps is deep, but so is the defensive line. Bertrand was extremely impressed with what he saw from the defensive line and that bodes well for Freeman’s program.

“They’re great guys,” Bertrand said. “Coach Freeman mentioned it, but we’re going to be led by the strongest. We’re going to be an offensive line and defensive line program. Our defensive line is a unit.”

And if there wasn’t enough motivation before the season opener at Ohio State, Bertrand got it in June when he traveled to Knoxville to watch his older brother, John Michael, help the Irish to advance to Omaha.

“They were the biggest underdogs you could be, and Tennessee was supposed to be the greatest college baseball team ever,” Bertrand said. “It’s not a matter of what everyone says, but it’s a matter of what you believe, even when things go wrong you could see them keep fighting.”

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