Notre Dame finds lightning in a bottle with Braden Lenzy

Irish wide receiver combines sprinter’s speed with a love of Harry Potter lore.

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Notre Dame receiver Braden Lenzy was a two-time 400-meter state champion in the high school ranks in Oregon.

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SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Braden Lenzy doesn’t try to hide it. 

Instead, Notre Dame’s blazing fast wide receiver embraces his inner geek and leans into the nerdiness he’s cultivated over his young lifetime. 

He is, for instance, an unabashed fan of the Harry Potter series. Books, movies, all of it. 

“Harry Potter’s just sick,” Lenzy has said.

Last year, he and some of his college buddies took an online personality quiz to determine which of the four Hogwarts houses would fit them best. 

“I’m Slytherin,” Lenzy announced proudly. 

Slytherin prizes such qualities as leadership, ambition, resourcefulness and cunning. Lenzy, healthy again after a hamstring injury that caused him to miss the season-opening win over Duke, plans to display all of those when the fifth-ranked Fighting Irish resume their season at home on Saturday night against Florida State.

And while he carries a healthy respect for Star Wars, don’t even think of comparing it to Harry Potter in his presence. 

“It’s pretty cut and dried,” Lenzy said. “Star Wars is cool. It’s definitely impacted more people, but the graphics for me is a big deal. The fight scenes [in Star Wars] are lame. They’re so anticlimactic. It’s not for me.” 

He shrugged and smiled at his stunned audience.

“I got a lot of strong opinions,” he said. 

His father, Melvin, worked as a high-level marketing executive for Nike, causing the family to bounce around from Ohio to Florida to Oregon, with a two-year stint in Taiwan mixed in. That might have helped Lenzy mature faster than other kids, even as he sprinted past them with ease on the recess fields. 

A two-time Oregon state champion in the 400 meters while in high school outside Portland, Lenzy has gradually reshaped his body from the 160-pound waif that showed up at Notre Dame three summers ago. 

He has taken that transformation so seriously he chose to switch his jersey number from “25” to “0” heading into his redshirt sophomore season. That, he believed, would be the best way to outrun any forced comparisons to former Irish great Raghib “Rocket” Ismail, who made the number famous three decades ago. 

“Just more like a pride thing,” Lenzy said this week in his first chat with reporters since last season ended. “When I looked at ‘25,’ it just kind of reminded me who I was in high school and early on in college — just a sprinter, just a runner, a track guy playing football.” 

But zero? 

“I felt like getting a single-digit number would make me feel more like a true receiver, which I feel like I’ve developed into,” Lenzy said. “No one’s ever worn it before [at Notre Dame], so on the cool side of it I thought it would be cool, to be honest. And I’m from Oregon. Zero, Oregon. Similar.”

And we haven’t even gotten to the anime. 

His Twitter feed (@blspeedy21) teems with shared images from the latest season of the hand-drawn Japanese animation craze. Fellow receiver Javon McKinley, also an anime devotee, swaps opinions with Lenzy when they cross paths at the football complex or around campus. 

“We talk about it almost every single day,” Lenzy said. “He’s not as much of a ‘weeb’ as me, but I do appreciate his love of the culture.” 

Through social media, Lenzy recently professed his deep connection to a particular anime character who was resurrected and subsequently imbued with mystical powers. He ranks that character in his all-time anime top five.  

“He’s just a dog,” Lenzy said. “Right when he thought things were bad and couldn’t be any better, he came back. Best detective in the game. He got all these powers. When he came back, he kind of looked at life differently and took it more seriously.”

Immersed in a daily battle with COVID-19 and an outspoken advocate of the Black Lives Matter movement, Lenzy could relate. The death in January of Kobe Bryant, an early mentor through his Nike partnership with Lenzy’s father, greatly affected Lenzy, as well. 

Taken together, Lenzy said, the troubling whirlwind that has been 2020 “helped me mature and realize what my priorities were — are — and what I want to focus on and who I want to be.”

Spoken like a true Slytherin man.

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