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Monday, May 27, 2024
The Observer

Jean-Baptiste steps up after transferring from OSU

Cornerback Benjamin Morrison (20) and defensive lineman Javontae Jean-Baptiste (1) celebrate during the game between Notre Dame and Clemson at Memorial Stadium on Saturday, Nov. 4.

Graduate student Javontae Jean-Baptiste has been an instrumental addition to the Notre Dame defensive corps this fall. Transferring from Ohio State for his final year of eligibility, Jean-Baptiste came out of the Fighting Irish gates swinging, notching four tackles in the season opener against Navy in Dublin. It was only up from there for the defensive lineman. Heading into the final home game of the season against Wake Forest, Jean-Baptiste has 39 total tackles to his name (14 solo, 25 assisted), more than doubling his Ohio State season best of 19, which he recorded last year. Against Wake, he will seek to beat his season best of 8 tackles in a single game, which he recorded in the contest against his alma mater.

Heading to South Bend, Jean-Baptiste went in with few expectations. The only goal he set out to achieve was working hard and capitalizing on his extra year of eligibility.

“I’ll say I just had open expectations,” he said. “I wasn’t really expecting much, I was just ready to put my head down and go to work and make the most out of the opportunity that I was given to be here.”

Though he has certainly done just that, another draw to Notre Dame was a reunion with a former Buckeyes coach. Al Washington, who took up the defensive line coach position at Notre Dame in 2022, was formerly the Ohio State linebackers coach. Because of this, the stars aligned for Jean-Baptiste in the perfect fifth-year opportunity.

“I'll say [the decision to come to Notre Dame] was just looking for the best opportunity and fit for me in a program and a way that I could help them out and they can help me out,” he said. “And just being that I have coaches that I’ve played with at Ohio State come here, it just made everything easier.”

Reflecting on his season, Jean-Baptiste had several plays that stood out to him, including and especially ones against USC, Duke and, of course, Ohio State. Especially after playing against Notre Dame last year and being on the other side of that rivalry this season, it was a rewarding match for the graduate student against the Buckeyes. However, even though he was facing his old team, he treated the game like every other.

“It was fun for me,” he said. “I just treated it like another practice, and just going to get a chance to go against my old brothers and play against them. That’s how I took it.”

While the Irish ultimately did not come out on top against Ohio State, Jean-Baptiste and the Irish defense had a signature game against USC and Heisman-winner quarterback Caleb Williams. Jean-Baptiste recorded two assisted tackles and two quarterback hurries. He recovered a fumble that was forced by Xavier Watts to help turn the tide against the Trojans. Jean-Baptiste recalled the energy that night being an exciting moment for him and the team.

“That performance and that night … it was a great night,” he said. “I mean, we just emphasized starting fast and getting after [Caleb Williams] and then by us doing that, it just allowed us the opportunity for plays to be made. And that’s for us to come together as a defense and to just share that energy that one person created and it just became infectious. So it was good.”

Looking ahead, football is still the answer for Jean-Baptiste. As this is his last year of eligibility, he will turn his eyes towards professional ball and prepare for the NFL Draft in the spring.

“I’m gonna, after the season, go prepare for the League and go train somewhere and combine prep and stuff like that,” he said. “But aside from football, I really haven’t given it too much thought yet. Still got a lot of time to think about that.”