“It was storming the whole ride up there,” said David Bruton of his first visit to Notre Dame. “But as soon as we entered South Bend, and got near the campus, a little bit of sun came out. Then the little bit of sun that was out hit the golden dome and it just lit-up the whole campus. It was something. I took it as a sign.”
The sign proved to be a good one for Notre Dame. After visiting numerous other campuses and attending many football camps, the 6-2 180 pound two-way standout from Miamisburg High School (Ohio) verbally committed to Notre Dame.
With his college decision made, Bruton began both dissecting his game for weaknesses and implementing some of the various defensive back drills he learned at each summer football camp into his off-season football training routine.
“I worked on just being a better open-field tackler,” Bruton said of some of things he did over the summer. “At times last year I didn’t know when to go for the kill shot or just make the tackle.
“I also took a lot of drills from each camp. I went to camps at Pittsburgh, Ohio State, Michigan, Purdue and Notre Dame and took drills from each. I wanted to improve my back-pedaling, breaking speed and stance. Working on my stance throughout an entire football game was something I really wanted to improve.
“So far I’ve seen improvements in all areas of my game compared to last year. From watching film last year I felt like I had to really work on my stance because I noticed I would get higher as the game went on. I wanted to correct this because I know that having a low center of gravity allows you to shift your hips better, thus allowing you to make plays. That’s why I worked on it.”
Despite improving his game immensely, Bruton’s team has struggled. Mental lapses, missed tackles, and ill-advised penalties have left Miamisburg 3-2. Head football coach Tim Lewis believes his team’s record stems from not making plays, but is optimistic on his team’s future, largely because of the team’s chemistry and senior leadership.
“We have to make plays and we haven’t,” coach Lewis remarked about last season. “After last season we realized that one of our problems, which is now a strength, was that we didn’t have very good leadership. Nothing against last year’s class, but we had a predominantly junior team last year.
“This year we have leadership and are more team orientated. We are very team orientated and we don’t do individual things like put names on backs of our jerseys and hand-out stickers for making plays.
"We want to promote team, but it’s hard not to force it. I guess we just know it’s working because we see players hanging out with each other. This is what we want. We want a family atmosphere, and I think despite our early mistakes, we’ve corrected them, and are on the right track.”
Reversing this year’s problems will be partly Bruton’s responsibility. As team captain, a position his fellow teammates elected him for, he will be responsible for not only motivating players verbally, but showing younger, less experienced players, how to make plays.
Although many future Division I football players are instrumental in their team’s success, this was not always the case for Bruton. Coach Lewis has seen Bruton grow both mentally and physically over the course of the last three years. This growth was mostly due to being forced to step up and become the football player his coaches thought he could be.
“This is my third year coaching him,” coach Lewis said about Bruton. “And for me it’s a great story. He didn’t start as a freshman. As a sophomore he was mostly a reserve, but he earned a varsity letter because he played some special teams.
“Then he grew between four and six and a half inches in just a couple of years. Even then he was tall, but he was gangly and uncoordinated, but you could tell there was something in there.
“Then something special happened in fifth game of his junior season. He was playing defense and was in the middle of the field. He just let a receiver get behind him and score.
“We went into the locker room for half-time and a couple of coaches really got on him and kind of got in his face. I guess it was a wake up call because when he came out he was a totally different player.”
A wake up call it was. Bruton was the difference in the game. He made numerous defensive stops and single-handedly put the offensive load on his shoulders by making a crucial third and five catch to stretch his team’s lead and eventually seal the victory.
Since that moment Bruton was a more determined player. In his final five games of the season he intercepted eight passes and became a deep ball threat for the Vikings. Even with Bruton’s commitment to Notre Dame, coach Lewis has watched Bruton continue to develop his football skills, while assuming leadership responsibilities on the team.
“David’s a great player.” Lewis said. “He gets things done on the field and is a great leader for us. He also raises the level of play of our team. For example, our defensive backs and wide receivers are getting much better from just watching and playing with him.
“David also has uncanny instincts, has excellent hands, and is great at reading coverages, which was something he didn’t do well last year.”
Bruton’s determination has carried over to the offensive side of the ball, where he has made great strides at the wide receiver position.
His routes have become more refined and fluent, while his ability to read defensive coverages has resulted in numerous big plays.
Notre Dame recruited Bruton at safety, but with Bruton’s recent offensive development, the Notre Dame coaches have agreed to give him an opportunity at wide receiver.
“I’m going for safety,” said Bruton in response to what position Notre Dame sees him playing. “But I asked them if I could try to play some wide receiver and they said that was fine.
“I want to try some wide receiver because over the past year I have gained more confidence at that position. I’d also like to try playing some kick return.”
Helping Miamisburg is certainly a priority for Bruton, but so is Notre Dame. He has attended all of Notre Dame’s home games this year and will continue to do so. Unlike some commitments that attend games with only their parents, Bruton has chosen to do something different.
“It doesn’t take long for you to realize that he was raised correctly,” said Lewis when asked to describe Bruton as a person. "He puts his teammates first, and he’s committed himself to going to every home Notre Dame this year.
“In fact, he uses this opportunity to take one of his teammates, which is really nice. For example, he knows my son Kelly is a Notre Dame fan and he took him. He wanted Kelly to experience it. It just shows you what type of person David is. He’s very conscious of his teammates.”
After Bruton’s season is over he plans on working with fellow Notre Dame commitment Brandon Harrison. The two Ohio players live relatively close to each other and will use the spring and summer months to prepare for college football.
“I plan on working with Brandon over the spring," Bruton said. "We’re not going to run track. All we are going to get together and work on some speed drills.
“We aren’t really good friends, but we know each other from camp. He lives about ten minutes away, so it will be a good opportunity to work together.”
If Bruton’s commitment to teamwork is a sign of his character, like the sign he received upon visiting Notre Dame the first time, the future Notre Dame’s secondary looks bright.
The safety may have raw skills, but with a desire to improve, and Notre Dame coaches willing to motivate and teach him, the sky’s the limit for Bruton. Now it’s just a matter of time to see if Bruton’s sign was a sign of good things to come at Notre Dame.