SOUTH BEND, Ind. — The last two times Notre Dame football reached into the Big Ten for an impact transfer, it worked like a charm.
Former Northwestern receiver Ben Skowronek gave the Irish 29 receptions and a team-high five touchdown grabs in 2020. Last fall, it was former Wisconsin quarterback Jack Coan guiding them to an 11-2 season with 3,150 passing yards.
Now along comes former Wildcats safety Brandon Joseph, who plans to extend the trend.
His stated mission: ‘‘Be a leader on a team that’s ready to come in and make an impact and take this team to a national championship.’’
A consensus All-America choice as a freshman in 2020, Joseph arrives with nine career interceptions and inherits the challenge of replacing likely top-10 NFL draft pick Kyle Hamilton. Joseph, who also considered Oregon and Baylor during his brief stint in the transfer portal, joins holdovers Houston Griffith and DJ Brown in a talented safety room.
Their self-appointed nickname should give you a hint about the confidence level on Notre Dame’s back line: The Hot Boys.
‘‘Brandon’s a cool guy,’’ Griffith said. ‘‘We had a relationship prior to Notre Dame. When I figured out he was thinking about coming to Notre Dame, I reached out to him and gave him my little Notre Dame spiel or whatever: ‘We can be out there on the field together.’ ’’
Former offseason workout partners in Chicago, where they ran through drills with an independent defensive backs coach, Joseph and Griffith met up Jan. 11 to watch Georgia end its 41-year national-championship drought with a victory against Alabama.
That got them dreaming about what it would be like to help the Irish end their 33-year title drought next season. That was one of the key selling points for Joseph in deciding to stick around the chilly Midwest.
‘‘I don’t need a warm-weather state,’’ said Joseph, who is from College Station, Texas. ‘‘That wasn’t a big-enough factor on the scale. Let’s go win a national championship. Let’s go be at one of the most prestigious academic schools in the country. Let’s go play at the highest level of football.’’
Only a three-star recruit out of high school despite a program-record 16 career interceptions, Joseph didn’t get much love from hometown Texas A&M this time, either. He attributes that to his modest physical characteristics, although his 34-inch vertical enables him to play taller than his listed height of 6-1.
‘‘A safety weighing 180 pounds [in high school], maybe SEC teams don’t want that,’’ Joseph said. ‘‘I ask myself that every day, but it all happens for a reason.’’
Former Wildcats teammate Greg Newsome II is a close friend and mentor. Drafted in the first round by the Browns, for whom he recently was named to the NFL’s all-rookie team, Newsome has blazed a trail Joseph hopes to follow.
‘‘I watched Greg do everything,’’ Joseph said. ‘‘I played on the field with Greg. He’s one of my best friends. Watching him do what he did, watching his whole process — his predraft process, his whole career — that was a huge motivational factor for me.’’
Leaving Northwestern without his degree in learning and organizational change wasn’t easy. The complexity of transferring his credits to Notre Dame leaves a December 2022 graduation in question, and Joseph admitted he might have to finish up work toward his degree at a later date.
That path might have been easier elsewhere, but Joseph liked what he heard when he spoke by phone with Notre Dame coach Marcus Freeman on that first night in the portal. The idea of joining a defense that will return 18 members of its two-deep roster in 2021 carried great appeal.
Another call with Skowronek, who is headed for the NFC Championship Game on Sunday with the Rams, helped persuade
Joseph the Northwestern/Notre Dame transition was right for him.
‘‘It was my personal goal of being a first-round draft pick,’’ Joseph said. ‘‘It didn’t look like that was going to happen this year. So my goal was to go where I could maximize my opportunity to become the best safety in the country, and I thought this was the best place for that.’’