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Injury opened door for Irish linebacker JD Bertrand, and now he leads team in tackles

His 86 tackles are nearly double Isaiah Foskey’s total as the Irish’s No. 2 tackler. 

JD Bertrand
Leonard Taylor #11 of the Cincinnati Bearcats runs the ball after a catch as JD Bertrand #27 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish hangs on for the tackle during the second half at Notre Dame Stadium on October 2, 2021 in South Bend, Indiana.
Michael Hickey/Getty Images

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Former Notre Dame linebacker Drue Tranquill used to gross out his teammates by snacking on raw avocados during film sessions.

JD Bertrand, Tranquill’s positional heir and the Irish’s leading tackler by a mile this season, has taken healthy eating a step further with his love of zucchini.

‘‘JD eats, like, really, really healthy,’’ said defensive lineman Isaiah Foskey, his teammate and housemate. ‘‘He eats a lot of zucchini. He puts some seasoning on it. That’s about it. JD likes those types of snacks.’’

It seems to be working for Bertrand, a redshirt sophomore from suburban Atlanta. As 10-1 Notre Dame heads west to face Stanford in the regular-season finale Saturday, Bertrand just seems to be getting stronger.

His 86 tackles are nearly double Foskey’s total as the Irish’s No. 2 tackler. He has yet to grab an interception, something coach Brian Kelly teased him about during a 55-0 blowout last Saturday of Georgia Tech, but Bertrand’s productivity and commitment continues to impress his teammates.

‘‘JD Bertrand might be the hardest worker on the team,’’ rover Jack Kiser said. ‘‘I’m best friends with JD. If anybody deserves what’s happened to them, it’s JD. It’s no surprise in the locker room.’’

When projected starter Marist Liufau suffered a season-ending knee injury during fall camp, it opened the door for Bertrand to

assume a much larger role. He opened the season with back-to-back 11-tackle games and continues to lead the way for a deep, talented linebacker group.

He also maintains a prominent role on coverage units as Notre Dame leans on its starters to keep its special teams among the best in the country. After missing only a handful of snaps in the first month of the season, Bertrand has been spelled for a series or two each week since the Irish’s bye.

With a long break coming after Saturday and a clean X-ray on his back, look for Bertrand to be indispensable against a Stanford program that recruited him heavily out of Blessed Trinity Catholic High School in

Roswell, Georgia.

Bertrand, a four-star recruit, won’t say who finished second for him, but he does allow ‘‘it was kind of a mix between Stanford, Wisconsin and Florida, when it came down to it.’’

Having played against Notre Dame safety Kyle Hamilton in high school and having known him since playing on the same AAU basketball team with him through elementary school, Bertrand ultimately opted to join him on the trek north with the Class of 2019.

‘‘I’ve known Kyle and his family since first grade,’’ Bertrand said. ‘‘He used to not be that tall. He used to be a smaller dude and a little point guard, but he grew tremendously.’’

While Bertrand’s emergence has helped the Irish withstand Hamilton’s injury

absence in the last month, he is quick to credit older brother John Michael Bertrand with keeping him grounded.

A standout left-hander on the Notre Dame baseball team that reached the Super Regionals, the elder Bertrand made an immediate impact as a graduate transfer from Furman. He is working toward his MBA and preparing for a sixth season of college baseball.

‘‘He’s just a good person to lean on, even after a game,’’ Bertrand said. ‘‘I’m a perfectionist, so I remember a lot more of the bad plays than the good plays. He’ll sit there and [say]: ‘All right, tell me what you did well, tell me what you need to do better and tell me what you learned.’ ’’

Bertrand has admitted to texting his brother before media interviews and been advised to stick to certain topics. The

maturity and success of the Bertrand brothers has been one of the stories of this calendar year at Notre Dame.

‘‘Toward the end, you could just feel his confidence,’’ JD Bertrand said. ‘‘Going into the game, every game, I knew he was just

going to do his thing and he knew he was

going to do his thing. It’s been awesome, just being able to go to school here and being able to see each other and help each other.’’