Mar 6, 2012, 12:05 PM EDT
After 21 months away from his family and friends in Ecuador, one of the first things Chris Badger‘s family did was size him up. He looked taller. The family hadn’t even left the airport before Badger was back-to-back with his father Rod, curious to see if the now 20-year-old had grown an inch or two while serving his Mormon Mission.
Irish fans are curious about Badger, too. After enrolling early his freshman year to get a jump on both football and academics, Badger joined freshman Spencer Boyd with the curious distinction of leaving the football program before ever playing a game.
While Boyd has restarted his football career at South Florida, Badger will return to South Bend this summer to rejoin his teammates and restart a college football career that only consists of 15 spring practices after a stand-out career as an All-State safety in Utah.
After two seasons away, he’ll return to a secondary that looks much different than the one he joined in the first days of Brian Kelly’s tenure. His position coach is now the offensive coordinator. Safety Harrison Smith was a gigantic question mark then, not a potential first round draft pick. Not a single cornerback from Badger’s time is on the roster. While the rest of the two-deep that existed (Zeke Motta, Jamoris Slaughter and Dan McCarthy) at safety is still around, he’ll be joined by Austin Collinsworth, Eilar Hardy, Nick Baratti, CJ Prosise, John Turner and Elijah Shumate. Those are a lot of new faces and names to get accustomed to knowing.
Of course, walking into challenging situations is hardly a new experience for Badger. As Eric Hansen of the South Bend Tribune so nicely documented, Badger’s nearly two-year Mission in Ecuador was filled with life-changing moments, as he shared his faith in a place thousands of miles from home. Whether it was surviving harrowing moments with armed robbers or waking at 5:30 to keep a training regime, Badger sounds confident that his resolve to be a great player, nor his love for Notre Dame football, have diminished.
“The one thing that didn’t change while I was gone was my feeling that Notre Dame was a match made in heaven,” Badger told Hansen. “When I came on my recruiting visit, I remember praying and receiving a revelation that this is where I need to be and where I can make a difference, and really become a great player, a great person and a great student. I feel even more strongly that way now.”
After not being sure Badger would ever return to Notre Dame, now the biggest question is what his return will mean. After two seasons away from the game and a depth chart at safety filled mostly with veteran (at least from an eligibility standpoint) depth, Badger’s freshman season could mostly be one where he catches up, with contributions on special teams likely where he’ll get the opportunity to get his feet wet. With the added size and maturity that comes with being a more mature 20-year-old, Badger will likely be given every opportunity to see the field early, as any strategic advantage that comes from a redshirt season is likely negated by his Mission.
In 2013, Badger could get his first opportunity to shine. Assumed starters Jamoris Slaughter and Zeke Motta will be graduated. Danny McCarthy will be gone as well, leaving senior Austin Collinsworth and well… everybody else. For those griping about the “saved” scholarship for Badger, they likely haven’t taking a look back at his highlight reel coming out of high school, where the three-star prospect certainly put together a blue-chipper’s game tape. He may not wow you with his blazing speed, but there’s no question that Badger’s return to campus might bring some thunderous collisions.
Badger is home in Utah now, getting back up to speed with his training before joining the Irish this summer for classes as well as strength and conditioning. It’s be a winding journey just to start his football career. Where it goes from here should be just as interesting.