PROVO — While redshirt freshman Chris Badger is “100 percent happy” with his decision to transfer from Notre Dame to BYU, he is also thrilled to be able to return to South Bend, Ind., this weekend.
The Cougars take on the Fighting Irish Saturday (1:30 p.m. MST, NBC), and Badger knows the university and the football program well. He was a member of the Notre Dame scout team a year ago, when the Irish enjoyed an undefeated regular season and advanced to the BCS championship game.
Badger, a Provo native, experienced the mystique, history and tradition of the storied program, such as slapping the “Play Like A Champion Sign,” and walking around campus in the shadow of "Touchdown Jesus" and the Golden Dome.
But what he’s looking forward to most this weekend, besides the game, is seeing the people he grew close to during his time at Notre Dame.
"I’m friends with all of the players," said Badger, who served a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to Ecuador prior to enrolling at Notre Dame. "I have a lot of friends back there from football, school and the (LDS) ward. I’m definitely excited for the fireside Friday night. Hopefully a lot of people will go and we can talk and catch up. I’m excited for Saturday. Every time I can get on the field, it’s especially great.”
At Notre Dame, his home teaching companion was former Notre Dame All-American linebacker Manti Te’o, who now plays for the San Diego Chargers.
“I was close to Manti,” Badger said. “We went to church every Sunday. I have a ton of respect for Manti. He would see someone sitting by themselves and he would go talk to them. He is such a humble and great person.”
While playing on the scout team, Badger competed against former Irish tight end Tyler Eifert, who is also playing in the NFL now.
It’s clear that Badger has tremendous respect for Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly.
“I had a really good relationship with Coach Kelly. He’s a really easy to talk to guy,” he said. “He was 100 percent supportive of my mission and he made sure my scholarship was there when I got back. When I talked to him about transferring he was, again, really understanding. … He’s a great guy. He’s classy. He’s smart. He’s a good person.”
Badger transferred from Notre Dame during the offseason, then joined the Cougar football team once school started. In September, the NCAA approved a waiver request by BYU on behalf of Badger that allowed him to play this season. The approval made Badger immediately eligible.
So far, Badger’s role has mostly been on special teams, and he’s played a little bit in a reserve role as a safety.
BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall is glad Badger is part of the program.
“Just another quality person, and a perfect fit at BYU,” the coach said. “He had committed here originally, then committed to Stanford, then ended up at Notre Dame. But it’s funny how those things work out. He’s having a great experience here and we’re having a great experience with him. He’s fit right in and it seems like he’s been here the whole time.”
“He’s had a pretty big impact (on the team), the way he plays and practices,” said defensive lineman Eathyn Manumaleuna. “He practices really hard and runs to the ball. It help unifies our defense. We’ve asked him a lot of questions about Notre Dame and I’m pretty sure he’s tired of it.”
Badger recalled his recruiting trip to Notre Dame.
“I watched ‘Rudy’ on the way there and I got excited and committed,” he said. “It seems like a long time ago. It’s very similar to BYU in a lot of ways.”
What are the similarities between BYU and Notre Dame?
“There are tons. They have an honor code, too," he said. "They have separated dorms. It’s very similar to BYU. At Notre Dame, we had fellowship, and there was a Bible study. Similar to here at BYU.”
While Badger is happy to be a Cougar, he is grateful for his time at Notre Dame.
“Looking back, I think it was the right decision (to transfer to BYU), for sure,” he said. “I loved my time at Notre Dame. I definitely had a positive experience and learned a lot from it.”