His improbable tackle last fall has become a template for desire and determination.
SOUTH BEND, Ind. — The most memorable tackle of Notre Dame’s 2020 football season, non-Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah division, belonged to Jay Bramblett.
Yes, the punter.
You may recall Bramblett, who doubles as the team’s holder on place kicks, standing his ground near midfield as Clemson’s Travis Etienne came roaring up the left sideline. This was last Nov. 7, on the final play of the first half of what became a 47-40 Irish upset win in double overtime.
Etienne, the leading rusher in Atlantic Coast Conference history, had just corralled a long field-goal attempt eight yards deep in the Tigers’ end zone. With Clemson trailing by 10, Etienne — halfway to a momentum-snatching kick six — was at full throttle as he took his 205 pounds and 4.4 speed into the clear.
“Look out!” play-by-play announcer Mike Tirico bellowed on NBC’s telecast. “Etienne might go!”
Incredibly, the 193-pound punter prevailed. Bramblett didn’t just trip up the hurdling Etienne — he practically form-tackled him.
A flurry of gold helmets swallowed up the rising junior from Tuscaloosa, Alabama, who had already shown his added value with a first-down run on a fake punt against Duke.
“I really pride myself on being somebody the team is going to lean on when a big play is needed,” Bramblett said this spring. “Obviously it’s not shiny and all great being a punter. You know you’re not the quarterback anymore, that’s for sure.”
Bramblett, who threw for 18 touchdowns and completed nearly 70 percent of his passes as a high school senior, may yet get the chance to use his arm from punt formation.
“With the importance of some of those plays, just being called upon is a pretty big deal to me,” Bramblett said. “I take that really seriously.”
In the stands that night at Notre Dame Stadium, Mike Bramblett couldn’t stop shaking his head. Defensive coordinator at Tuscaloosa Hillcrest during his youngest son’s standout career, the elder Bramblett laughed this week when asked how many tackles Jay made in high school.
“He’s made one in his lifetime, and you’re talking about it right now,” Mike Bramblett, now the head coach at Brookwood (Alabama) High School, said in a phone interview. “That gave me great information to bring back to our kids here. I told our kids, ‘He’s never worked tackling a day in his life, but it’s all about want-to and desire.’ If you want to make a tackle, you’ll make a tackle.”
The elder Bramblett, a high school punter in Pelham, Alabama, whose long snapper was future Clemson coach Dabo Swinney, still beams whenever someone brings up The Tackle.
“It certainly wasn’t the most graceful thing in the world, but he got it done in a big situation,” said Bramblett, who played baseball at Alabama-Birmingham. “I really feel like that’s his goal with everything that he does: ‘Just tell me what you want me to do, and I’ll do my best.’ ”
A baseball standout who could have been a two-sport athlete at a non-Power 5 school, Jay Bramblett chose Notre Dame after getting passed over by Clemson and hometown Alabama. The younger Bramblett, who counts NFL punters Ty Long (Chargers), AJ Cole III (Raiders) and Johnny Hekker (Rams) among his mentors, is among the nation’s best at killing punts deep in opponents’ territory. But it’s that takedown of Etienne, a potential first-rounder in next week’s NFL Draft, that has become the bullet point on his résumé.
Brian Polian, Notre Dame’s special teams coordinator, praises Bramblett for having the “mentality of a starting pitcher [or] a quarterback.” Bramblett’s job description may focus on relinquishing possession, but he wants the ball regardless.
“There’s a mental toughness there,” Polian said. “He’s not a sensitive guy. He takes coaching. It’s been a joy to work with Jay.”
As Mike Bramblett said of his son’s famous tackle: “He could have not gone full speed, could have taken the easy way out and fallen down and let him jump over you and keep running. But there was some determination to get it done. I’m so very, very proud of him for that.”