EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Julian Love was destined to play football at Notre Dame long before he became a standout high school player. As a youngster, he accompanied his father, Detraiter, on many trips to South Bend for Fighting Irish football games.
“I grew up in the Chicago area, and he embraced the culture and saw that there was a huge connection to Norte Dame there,” Love said. “He fell in love pretty quickly. He and a buddy of his took me to the games all the time. Notre Dame was the pinnacle of college football at the time. To be able to play there and break records there was pretty special.”
Love first thought he would join the pantheon of great Irish offensive skill players. At Nazareth Academy near Chicago, he averaged 10.3 yards a carry and ran for 18 touchdowns, and caught 29 passes as a senior. But he was also regarded as the best defensive back prospect in the Chicago area and played on a team that was 26-2 and won state championships in his final two seasons.
“At first, I was recruited by the receivers coach, who was the area recruiter,” Love said. “He saw me as a slot receiver or a running back. I was excited about it. They then saw the dynamic of their team and realized that I would be better at corner. Most schools had me at corner. I talked to the DB coach and quickly switched to corner.”
It was a wise decision. In three years at Notre Dame, Love played in 38 games with 34 starts. He recorded 176 tackles (126 solo) and intercepted five passes, returning two for touchdowns. Love set a school record with 44 pass breakups and was one of three finalists for the Jim Thorpe Award, which is presented to the nation’s best defensive back.
Love’s move to the secondary has now benefitted the Giants, who selected him in the fourth round of the NFL Draft last week. The Giants see him as a player who can play corner and nickel back, and perhaps safety.
“I moved around quite a bit yesterday,” Love said today between practices at the Giants’ rookie minicamp. “Wherever they need me, I will play. Working on some nickel, a little safety and a little corner. Just trying to be able to do it all at this point.”
Love often demonstrated his versatility at Notre Dame.
“There were situations in college where if a better receiver was inside, then I would play inside,” he said. It was kind of like a game day deal. I am ready. Just repping it helps. The more times you do it, the better you get.”
“Sometimes if a team had a pretty good receiver going in (he would exclusively cover that receiver). If not, I pretty much stayed in the boundary. It was more into the run action because the hashes are wider in college.”
Love should be a key component in what has become a radically rebuilt secondary. In March, the Giants added a new pair of starting safeties when they traded for Jabrill Peppers and signed free agent Antoine Bethea. The team drafted three cornerbacks – DeAndre Baker in the first round, Corey Ballentine in the sixth, and Love – and has Sam Beal, who was selected in the supplemental draft last year but didn’t play after undergoing shoulder surgery.
Baker – who won the Jim Thorpe Award - and Love bonded before they became Giants teammates.
“I met him at the All-American Award banquet and the College Football Awards,” Love said. “We were both finalists and he won, so he has that over me. We are roommates right now at the hotel. He is a good dude. We are bonding right now more and more as the days go on. He is a great guy and we are building.”
“A few times before becoming Giants, we were finalists for some awards,” Baker said. “I spent a weekend with him and got to know him a little bit. We kind of shelled out stories. He is a good guy and a good teammate. I am happy to be with him.”
Janoris Jenkins, who started all 16 games last season, will help mentor the young cornerbacks this season. But Baker and Love could play big roles in 2019 and become bookend starters in the future.
“It will be great for us to grow in the program and help our team win games,” Baker said. “Me and him in the back end would be good. We are both pretty versatile. We can adapt to any scheme and play mostly any position in the back end.”
Love believes Baker and he can eventually set the tone for the entire secondary.
“We both want to win,” he said. “We have that mindset where we will do what it takes to win.”
Coach Pat Shurmur is excited to have them.
“We picked them for reasons, they are both very good players, but they both do things just a little bit different,” Shurmur said. “Love’s more of an inside player, safety type or interior type guy, who can play outside. And DeAndre is an outside corner who can play inside, so that’s a good thing.”
For now, Love is thrilled that he moved from college football’s most visible program to the NFL’s flagship franchise.
“I thought about that through this whole process,” Love said. “When I got the call and the Giants were on the clock, every emotion in my heart, it was full. It is a very similar program and a very passionate fan base. It is an internationally known brand. This past year in ND it felt like a tour we were on. We traveled so much. That is the same with the Giants, and that is what we want to get back to.”