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Notre Dame Football

Notre Dame's Joshua Burnham Embraced Position Switch, Carving Out Role

April 15, 2023

Joshua Burnham dominated the Michigan high school football playing quarterback and linebacker. 

The 6-foot-3, 247-pounder arrived in South Bend last January as a linebacker, but those plans changed over the course of the year and Burnham now finds himself learning the vyper position in spring No. 2. 

“It was definitely different the first couple of weeks,” Burnham said. “I've been playing linebacker my whole life. I think I came off the edge in high school like one time. So, it was definitely different for sure.” 

Burnham moving positions also meant he had to change physically and getting to 247 pounds wasn’t easy, but the Michigan native had faith in the Irish strength and nutrition staff. 

“When I got here, I was probably 215,” stated Burnham. “So going up against [offensive linemen] you just get washed out of the way. It was definitely difficult at first. Coach (Matt) Balis and them, they do a tremendous job. I've put on like 30-40 pounds since I've been here. So, it's been great.” 

And by great, Burnham means he’s feeling his physical transformation on the field as he’s able to set the edge against the offensive line and make more plays being bigger and stronger at the point of attack.

“‘It definitely helps now that you can really just stick your foot in the ground and set the fence on the tackles rather than just keep getting pushed back and back,” said Burnham. “Being able to run games having that power and still maintaining the speed.” 

The transition to a new position is never easy, but Burnham was all-in, which is step one and defensive line coach Al Washington has noticed the will to take on a new challenge. 

"Last year he was a linebacker at this time and he's really filling out as well,” said Washington. “He'll be a big guy. He's very coachable and progressing real nice." 

The other good news for Burnham is Notre Dame’s practice structure is much different under Marcus Freeman as live reps are a significant focus. Sure, drill work and installs are helpful, but there is nothing like live competition, especially in the trenches and the Irish do more of it than any team under Brian Kelly. 

“It's huge,” Burnham stated. “You can look at the playbook and stuff, but you're only going to really, truly get it down once you get those reps. So it’s taking advantage of the time you get out there, because we have so many guys cycle through. Just really taking advantage of those reps.” 

Those reps are also coming against arguably the best tackles in the country at times. The move to vyper means Burnham is facing off against Joe Alt and Blake Fisher, so he has no choice but to get better going against two future NFL tackles. 

“They're both very well rounded,” Burnham said “The length, quickness. Some of the best tackles in college football. Being able to go against that every day definitely makes each one of us D- linemen better along with them. It's been awesome.”

Burnham also isn’t the only one making the transition from linebacker to the edge as his classmate Junior Tuihalamaka is in the same boat. The two have not only helped each other, but they’ve been able to push each other in multiple situations. 

“Every single day we compete with everything that we do, no matter what,” explained Burnham. “We sit by each other in meetings and stuff. Out here in practice, we always just compete no matter what it is. In the weight room, even in team runs and stuff, no matter what we're doing.

“We always line up next to each other and just compete, compete, compete. It’s awesome. Iron sharpens iron. He gets better, I get better. So it's been great.” 

As for his goals this year, Burnham wants to continue mastering the position and hopes to find a role on the field any way he can. 

“I definitely want to try and help out as much as I can,” stated Burnham. “See the field for some defense, help out on special teams like last year. Gets some more reps in that. Really just be like a Swiss army knife. Just help out wherever they need me.” 

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