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Friday, April 12, 2024
The Observer

Freeman, Irish captains discuss leadership, team culture ahead of Gator Bowl

With Isaiah Foskey and Michael Mayer moving onto the NFL, the Irish locker room is left with four official captains. Graduate student offensive lineman Jarrett Patterson leads the offense with wide receiver Avery Davis, while senior linebackers JD Bertrand and Bo Bauer represent the defense.

On Friday, the Irish will take on the South Carolina Gamecocks in the 2022 Gator Bowl. While Patterson could have joined Mayer and Foskey in opting out for the draft, he decided instead to stay and play one final game with Bertrand and the rest of the Irish. 

“The way I look at it is just it’s one more opportunity to play with this group. For me personally, to pass on that opportunity despite all the injuries — you know injuries come and go, but the memories last forever and I really had no thought of opting out or not practicing or anything like that. I wanted to finish this thing out the right way and play my last game as a Notre Dame football player,” Patterson said. 

In maintaining Patterson’s presence, the Irish keep one more starter but also a stable official leadership. But Patterson said there’s no shortage of leaders on the rest of the roster. 

“Isaiah and Mike, those two guys were great leaders but also tone-setters for this team,” Patterson said. “But I feel like just because a couple guys are named ‘captain,’ that doesn’t mean they’re the only leaders on the team. We have plenty of guys on this team and I think one of the strengths I’ve seen — especially throughout the summer, working with coach Balis in camp — is that there are plenty of other guys who are vocal as well who aren’t seen as captains or 'leaders' on the team. But they trust the process, and those guys in those position groups know they’re going to have to step up and be as great leaders as they possibly can. They’ve done a great job for us.” 

Bertrand echoed the success that Patterson has seen on the leadership front. He celebrated the space that bowl game preparations has left for younger guys to step up and lead, as well.

“It’s an exciting time for a lot of young guys to one, be able to get these [leadership] opportunities in this bowl prep time and then also be able to display their talents and be able to have an opportunity to play their best out here tomorrow,” Bertrand said. 

One of the guys stepping up has been freshman linebacker Jaylen Sneed, and Bertrand said he’s excited to see what the young linebacker starts to do. 

“The biggest thing is, he’s very raw athletically. He has so much athletic talent and potential that you can see such flashes …Those instances where you see that are super exciting and he has so much to build off of. It’s just exciting to be able to see him step into a little bit bigger role one step at a time,” Bertrand said. 

Head coach Marcus Freeman echoed the importance of the bowl game and its practices, not only as a cap to the season but also as a space to see what young players can do on the field and as leaders.

“You get a chance to prepare for a great moment, but also early in the Bowl practice you really get a chance to develop some of those guys who haven’t gotten the opportunities throughout the season,” Freeman said, specifically of Chance Tucker taking advantage of that opportunity.  

Patterson said readiness to lead didn’t come out of nowhere; he could see it working in his position group throughout the year. Particularly, he and offensive line coach Harry Heistand were talking after the UNC game. 

“We could finally see the cohesiveness and the togetherness of the unit, and he understands that with a new group of guys out there … It’s going to take time. But I think throughout the season, as the moment’s more crucial and you gotta have a situation where it’s two-minute, four-minute or short yardage, that we improved in that area,” Patterson said.

On Bertrand’s side of the ball, improvement both on the field and in the team culture came from communication. 

“As the year goes on, you continue to grow. You continue to see where you were at the beginning of the year and going forward. One of the biggest things is the communication piece, especially going into a new defense and being able to start at the beginning of the year and come to this point — it’s that communication piece. Not just between the three of us, but to the guys up front to the guys behind us, being able to make sure we’re all working and flowing as one," Bertrand said. 

Both captains and Freeman shared how important the culture is to the Notre Dame program and its ability to see improvement. 

“We’re fortunate," Freeman said. "We have a great group of captains, a great group of leadership that you really don’t have an option when you come into our locker room. You’re going to convert to the way these guys lead or you’re going to say, 'This isn’t the place for me.'"

About Bertrand, Patterson and how both embody that leadership and culture, Freeman said, “Your culture, your leadership is really revealed when things aren’t going so well. I learned more about these two guys, our captains, in the difficult times than I did during the times that things were going really well. These guys continue to take control of this team. Sometimes as the head coach, you feel like it’s everything you say to the team that’s going to get this culture, get this program where it needs to go. These guys, they take care of the messaging that needs to be said. I’m fortunate that I have a great group of leaders that when things weren’t going so well, they really took care of it.” 

Bertrand and Patterson, on the other hand, said their ability to lead successfully comes from learning from Freeman. 

“The biggest thing for me was being able to have that steady voice that no matter how the season was going throughout we could always look to someone that was always pushing us to get better throughout every single day and every single week,” Bertrand said

Patterson, on the other hand, celebrated Freeman’s authenticity, making him a leader that players not only want to play for, but win for. To win tomorrow, Patterson said, would be the perfect feather in his collegiate-career cap. 

“It would be that one last great memory I could have,” Patterson said. “I have so many these past four-and-a-half years, five seasons with these guys. Especially for the other guys in the locker room who are going to move on later in life and not even try to go to the NFL, to play the last football game is going to be special for those guys, as well.”