Julian Love (third from right) with his family. Included is younger brother Michael who also starred for Nazareth. (Photos by Steve Metsch)

Julian Love (third from right) with his family. Included is younger brother Michael who also starred for Nazareth. (Photos by Steve Metsch)

Nazareth retires Julian Love’s No. 20, inducts him into Roadrunners Hall of Fame

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By Steve Metsch

Julian Love was not happy when he fell short of making the Nazareth varsity football team as a freshman.

During the summer before bis sophomore year, he worked out every day, improved his skills and earn a varsity spot.

And he did not disappoint, helping the Roadrunners to back-to-back state championships in 2014 and 2015.

Love graduated in 2016, then starred at Notre Dame, was drafted by the New York Giants and has spent the last four seasons playing safety in the NFL. He’ll play this season in Seattle, with which he signed as a free agent for $12 million over two years.

He’s excited about the new opportunity, but his heart will always be in La Grange Park. Now, so will his jersey.

On June 15, Love’s No. 20 was retired — the first such honor for a Nazareth football player — and was inducted into the school’s Athletic Hall of Fame during a ceremony at the school.

“It’s really cool. To be the first to have his number retired is really special,” said Love, who grew up in Westchester.

“It was really a golden age. It was really fun to be a student here, playing here when I did. To win those first two state championship games. That first run we had was just remarkable. It felt like the whole building was floating.”

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The second state title run was tougher, he said.

“We had not as much a solid core as we did the previous year so we had to earn it a little harder,” he explained. “We were 14-0 the first title year and 12-2 the second. It wasn’t easy, but we were resilient.”

Love’s strong work ethic was appreciated by his teammates and coaches, but they saw a caring person who spent his own money to wash teammates’ shirts after grueling practice sessions in the summer heat at Illinois Wesleyan University, recalled Nazareth head coach Tim Racki.

“I just had that drive,” Love said. “I wasn’t the highest recruited kid going into Notre Dame. That was kind of the edge for me. I was a freshman All-American. I felt I earned my way.”

Playing in the NFL was his goal.

“When I was in college, I didn’t think, ‘Oh, yeah, for sure I’ll be in the league,'” he said. “To get that call (on draft day) is crazy. To have your job be the game you love is amazing.”

Before the induction ceremony, numerous people spoke and paid tribute to Love. Former Nazareth athletic director Dennis Moran, who coached the Roadrunners prior to Racki taking over, said he’s never encountered a smarter player.

“Julian’s intelligence and football IQ is off the charts,” Moran said. “I say this with respect: There’s not going to be a smarter athlete than him or one who’s more prepared.”

“He was a great, classy young man. He was always very gifted, but very humble. It starts at home. Parents. Loving family.dvn love3

“He was special on the field, but treated his teammates like all true athletes in that position. It’s not about him. It’s about them.”

Nazareth Principal Therese Hawkins, who was a teacher when Love was a student at Nazareth, was “open to trying all kinds of things.” Love once starred in a spring musical and was involved in the campus ministry program. How many football stars play the donkey in a production of “Shrek”?

“He’s just a really great example of Nazareth’s commitment to educating the whole person,” Hawkins said.

Racki, who has been coaching for 30 years, said he’s coached approximately 3,000 players. Love is the first and only player Racki has coached to make it to the NFL.

In a nice touch, Nazareth put together a short video filled with highlights from his career, including testimonials from former Roadrunner, Fighting Irish and Giant teammates.

Before the ceremony, Lyons resident Arlene Houda, a Nazareth alum and longtime booster who has volunteered at the school, called Love “one of the nicest, most polite kids I ever met.”

A regular at football games, she was impressed by how Love played both ways exceptionally well.

 

JULIAN LOVE CAREER HIGHLIGHTS

  • All-East Suburban Catholic Conference honors in 2014 and 2015; Conference MVP at Defensive Back
  • Three-year member of the track and field team
  • Was a participant in the theatre and baseball programs, a Eucharistic Minister and high achieving student in the classroom.
  • In his three years playing for the Fighting Irish, he helped the team to an undefeated regular season and a College Football Playoff berth his junior season.
  • Was a freshman All-American, and in his final season was a finalist for the Jim Thorpe Award (Best Defensive Back in the Country) and was named a Consensus All-American.
  • Set the all-time pass breakup record at Notre Dame, which had stood since 1971.
  • Was selected by the New York Giants in the 2019 NFL Draft.
  • Played four seasons in New York, where, in 2022 he was voted by teammates as a defensive team captain and named the winner of the 22nd annual George Young-Ernie Accorsi Media Good Guy Award.
  • Signed $12 million two-year contract with the Seattle Seahawks in May 2023

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