Blue and Gold Illustrated

June-July 2020

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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32 JUNE/JULY 2020 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED BY LOU SOMOGYI J ay Bramblett admits to still try- ing to get the hang of living up north. Fortunately, hang time and a highly confident and competitive spirit inbred in him aided his prog- ress as Notre Dame's efficient and effective freshman punter last year. Although he does not yet possess the sheer leg power of predecessor and four-year starter Tyler Newsome (2015-18), Bramblett's hang time on his punts resulted in only 18 of his 63 kicks being returned for just 70 yards in 2019. Among 130 Football Bowl Subdivi- sion teams, per CFBStats, the Fight- ing Irish ranked 15th nationally (10th in Power Five) in average opponent punt return at 3.89 yards per attempt. "To take that play out of a game is a big deal," Bramblett said. "A lot of times punt returns change momentum." The native from Tuscaloosa, Ala. — home of the Crimson Tide — e n ro l l e d e a r l y in January 2019 t o a s s i m i l a t e early to his new surroundings. A d j u s t i n g to the climate c h a n g e a n d punting indoors that spring at M e y o F i e l d , where virtually all his kicks hit the ceiling (prior to the opening of the new Irish Ath- letics Complex last August), had its issues. "It was definitely a culture change for me, and it still is to this day," Bramblett said. "It's still just so dif- ferent to me and it's something I'm always trying to learn, meet new people, get more comfortable in it." Meanwhile, the 2019 Blue-Gold Game had an inauspicious intro- duction for Bramblett. Punting on a breezy day, his eight attempts aver- aged only 34.9 yards and lacked pop in the swirling conditions. "Understandably, a lot of people were not [confident] from my per- formance in the spring game," Bram- blett said. What was perhaps underestimated was Bramblett's competitive nature, and to not shirk from new chal- lenges encountered. As the youngest of three boys who starred in foot- ball and baseball — brother Brad- ley is seven years older and Geof- frey, who pitched at Alabama, is five years older — he learned early about bouncing back. "It's a competitive place to come from," he said of growing up in the shadow of the Crimson Tide. "It's not just at the college level. That's just how people raise their kids. It was always so competitive. I had two older brothers — it didn't matter [in competition]. They were still beating up on me and trying to do their best. That's the biggest aspect." Bramblett's debut in a big-time atmosphere came in game three at Georgia, where he was not daunted in the least at electric Sanford Sta- dium. His four punts averaged 48 yards. Three of them were downed inside the 20-yard, with a 58-yarder flipping the field and another with hang time that helped result in a fumble inside the 10-yard line that set up Notre Dame's first touchdown. "A ton of things will go wrong if you're not in the right head space," Bramblett said of his confident na- ture. "I feel like I was in a good head space [going into Georgia], and there it was like, 'Wow, there are people that would do so many different things to be sitting in my shoes today.' "In my mind it was, 'Hey, it's a great day, let's go do something good.'" Also sometimes overlooked is Bramblett earned 2018 West Alabama 6A/7A Player of the Year honors for his work at quarterback, where he completed 178 of 260 passes (68.5 percent) for 2,341 yards with 18 touchdowns and only six intercep- tions as a senior at Hillcrest High, where his father is the defensive co- ordinator and also coaches baseball. Bramblett's skills and poise par- ticularly showed when he fielded a low snap, but set the ball up calmly for Jonathan Doerer to kick the win- ning point in the closing minute of a 21-20 win versus Virginia Tech. His quarterback background might lead to "some special plays in there for a rainy day," he said, but he's thrilled about his current specialty. "That's one of the things I was most excited about coming in to play college football — I had never been able to focus just on punting," Bramblett said. "I played baseball in high school, I played quarterback, so punting was really the least of my worries once we got to the season." Balancing his father Mike's coach- ing is mother Amy's work as a nurse at a children's hospital in Birming- ham with cancer patients. As a high school senior, Bramblett set up his own foundation, "Alex's Lemonade Stand," that included pledges of money per yard Bramblett punted that was donated (surpassing four figures) to aid childhood can- cer research. Part of the ap- peal to attend Notre Dame was not only the aca- demic and ath- letic aspect, but also the spiritual — e s p e c i a l l y with community service. "My mom, be- ing around the hospital, I hear all these stories about kids she has to help," Bramblett said. "To know and understand what peoples' families have to go through, that there are things that terrible on the planet that are uncontrollable, in a sense. "It really touches your heart and makes you want to do everything you can do, no matter what it is, to help those people." Going through the COVID-19 pan- demic makes his mother even more inspiring to him. "It's tough to grasp and it's tough to understand, but to know that she and the tons of other nurses and doc- tors, health care workers that go in to face it, it's incredible," he said. "A lot of people are thankful because it would be a whole different story without them." Bramblett attempted to set up a GETTING THE HANG OF IT Jay Bramblett adjusted to life up north to instantly become an effective punter

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