Saint Ignatius High School(Cleveland,OH) has won 11 state championships and produced its fair share of collegiate and professional athletes, including current Notre Dame inside linebacker, Dan Fox, and former Irish tight end Dan O’Leary(96). So it was no surprise one of the nation’s best offensive lineman, and one of the newest Irish commits would call it home also. Growing up a fan of Ohio State, everyone assumed it was a foregone conclusion that the 4 star offensive lineman would end up playing in Columbus, but the 6’4 285 lb Junior from Cleveland, Ohio had different ideas. With an impressive list of suitors that included Michigan, Ohio State, Michigan State, West Virginia, and Illinois, Jimmy settled on the Irish, and did so early on. We had a chance to speak with Jimmy Byrne, and he was very honest about why he chose Notre Dame, his feelings on recruiting, and the how he handles the pressure of being a wanted man.
Bob Kollars – How difficult is the recruiting process as a whole?
Jimmy Byrne – “I have to say that it became a little tedious towards the end. When you first start the recruiting process, and then you receive a couple of offers, it is such a blessing. You realize that there are a lot of kids who would kill to be in either my position or any other kid who is being recruited, and you understand that. After awhile though, all the phone calls, all the mail, all the visits, you are just overwhelmed. It wasn’t as bad for me though, as I narrowed it down to two schools early on, in Notre Dame and Ohio State. So I didn’t feel as much pressure as other kids go through, but in the end, I am glad I made my decision early, and I am glad I chose Notre Dame and I am sticking to that commitment”
BK – What was it about Notre Dame that grabbed your attention?
JB – “ One of the biggest, if not the biggest influences was offensive line coach Hiestand, and my relationship with him. I first met with him in April of last year, and he started talking about Notre Dame, and how he had just arrived their himself and was so personally impressed with what he had seen so far. That conversation with him was enough to convince me to go visit in June, and I got to talk and work with him one on one, and that was huge factor for me. The most important thing for me during the recruiting process was to find a coach that would be willing to work with me on the field, but be available off the field also. Talking to some of the other guys, they were telling me that he is the type of guy that you could sit down and have dinner with, but is really going to push you on the field. Obviously Notre Dame is known for their athletic and academic reputation, so that was a huge factor also.
BK – As you enter into your Senior season, what is your biggest goal?
JB – “ Right now as I enter into my last year, it’s just to win another state championship. I won one as a Sophomore, and that was a great experience, but one is never enough. As long as I am playing, I want to keep winning, and that’s really my goal from a team standpoint. As far as my individual goals, there really are no excuses for me not to go in there and dominate, and to be quite honest, a lot of the kids are going to know me as the kid who is going to Notre Dame now, so I kind of have to live up to that. I should be able to go out on Saturday nights and dominate, and help my team as best as I can.
BK – Do you feel any added pressure in playing the game, now that you have committed?
JB – Well it works both ways, as I felt a little pressure when I didn’t have any offers. My Sophomore year I went up against 4 different future division one players, and I felt like that was my time to prove myself, and so that is when I really felt the pressure. Now that I have committed, it actually gives you a little more confidence, as I can just go out there and play my game and it feels more natural. A lot of the pressure actually comes from just being bigger and stronger than the majority of other high school players, and people recognizing that fact.
BK – If you’re being honest with yourself Jimmy, what is the strongest aspect of your game, and what are you working on the hardest to improve?
JB – Right now the strongest aspect of my game is pass protection, as we have a very good offensive line coach that has really helped me develop that part of my game, and so I feel like I am pretty solid there. The biggest thing I feel I need to work on and am really paying attention to, is getting leverage and finishing my blocks in the run game. I am getting some leverage, and am moving kids, but I have had trouble just finishing the block over the last couple of years, so that is going to be a huge emphasis this year. Going into this year I need to be getting bigger, stronger, and faster, and just learn how to consistently play through the whistle on every play”
BK – What is something you’re working on, that other people might be surprised to know, that’s helping improve your game overall?
JB – Well I actually watch college and NFL game film all the time. I watch NFL replay on NFL Network and I really just try and pay attention to my position and see what those guys are doing. I mean they are playing against some the best competition in the world, and I try to pick up on things that they are doing technique wise and then try to apply it to my own game. There is just so much they do that can apply on every level, and that has really helped me quite a bit”
BK – On a personal note, where does your love for the game stem from?
JB – It started off pretty young, and it started with flag football really. It was always something that I really enjoyed, but being a kid you want to try different things, and so I also played basketball for a little while. After my seventh grade year though, I developed a passion for football and I was a big kid and knew I had the potential to be really good at it, so it was that time I really started to just focus on football as my only sport and it paid off.
BK – Have you allowed yourself to think about what it will be like to run out of the tunnel for the first time?
JB – Too be honest, I really haven’t allowed myself to do that – yet. I know it’s going to be a tremendous feeling, with all the hard work I have put into it, and my family has supported me the whole time and it’s going to be pretty important for them also. It will be most memorable for me, when I run out for the first time and I actually am starting. I will be working to compete as much as I can, but I don’t think it’s going to happen my Freshmen year, and too be honest, I wouldn’t be surprised if I red-shirted. By my Sophomore year though, I really do expect myself to be competing for a starting sport. That is a personal goal of mine, and that is what I will be working towards. I knew when I gave my verbal, and even my parents had mentioned also that Notre Dame had signed 5 offensive linemen this year. I just don’t think competition is something to run away from, and it will be good for me to be pushed even harder and further. There were schools that I probably could have gone to that I would possibly been playing and starting by my Sophomore year, but I do not believe that that is the best way to go about making your decision.
BK – What role did academics play in your decision making process?
JB – Oh that was huge in my decision. The school I attend really pushes me right now to be the best I can be both on and off the field, and I knew I could continue the excellent tradition of academics at Notre Dame. Having a degree from Notre Dame will not only help me career wise domestically, but internationally also, and I am positive it will be worth it in the end.
BK – When you’re not focusing on football and academics, what is your way of escaping and just having some fun?
JB – Really just hanging out with friends, going to movies, and playing video games. Something else I love to do, and it’s kind of related to football, but I would do it even if I wasn’t playing football, and that’s lifting weights. Nothing too crazy, I am just an average kid who enjoys hanging out with friends like most other kids my age.
It’s imperative that the Irish keep reloading on the offensive line, and it would seem like that’s exactly what they are doing. It is also very important that the type of recruit the program is going after, are the type that are excited by competition, and willing to put the time and effort in, to earn a starting position. We will catch up with Jimmy during the season and see how his Senior year is treating him. Next week we sit down with 2013 Irish OL commit Colin McGovern, and chat about his surgery, and what type of impact that is having on him early on at Notre Dame.