SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- The irony of the whole situation had yet to dawn upon Chris Badger early this week.
Here the BYU safety was readying for the Cougars' trip to Notre Dame Stadium for Senior Day, a celebration that very well could have included him in it had he chosen a different path. He will still be there Saturday; he just won't be honored. But he will be playing in the shadow of Touchdown Jesus for the first time -- albeit against the Irish, not for them.
"To be honest, that's funny you brought that up," Badger told ESPN.com of the Senior Day scenario. "I hadn't thought of that."
Badger's wild ride has taken him from Provo, Utah, to Notre Dame and back, with a two-year mission in Ecuador in between. Four years after committing to the Irish as a three-star prospect, Badger, who turns 22 Wednesday, is a redshirt freshman thrust into playing time for the Cougars, a squad he joined a mere two months ago.
"Obviously going back that could've been a path I could've taken," Badger said. "But just looking back, I'm so happy with my choice to join a mission. Being able to help the people in Ecuador was the greatest thing I'll ever do in my life. I learned so much about it and grew so much as a person and now I still have three more years of football after this year, and I'm excited to do some great things."
Badger has played mostly on kickoff coverage and on both return teams, appearing at safety in two game, including this past Saturday's rout of Idaho State. He has six total tackles and half of a tackle for a loss.
After enrolling early in 2010, Badger had put off school and football for a two-year Mormon mission. He redshirted last season with the Irish upon his return, and coach Brian Kelly said Tuesday that the Irish's defensive system not exactly being tailored to the strengths of Badger played a role in him not seeing the field. Badger was recruited to Notre Dame by former coach Charlie Weis.
"They were looking for more of a middle of the field safety that could run the alley from the middle of the field," Kelly said. "We're a two-deep safety team that we like to play off the hash a lot more. So I think that it was probably a better fit from that standpoint because that's how they play, BYU. They're not a huge Cover-2 team."
Kelly was the first of two factors to fall in Badger's favor this season, with the fourth-year Irish coach clearing Badger to leave for an opponent on Notre Dame's schedule. The NCAA then approved a waiver in the middle of September for Badger to play immediately since he was returning home to tend to a family situation. Badger now commutes to school from home.
"More than being a really great, smart coach, he's a great person and he cares about his players," Badger said of Kelly. "He's easy to talk to, and he wants the best for everybody. I just have the utmost respect for coach Kelly. He's a class act. I'm really grateful for him to release me so I can be here closer to home and be able to make this transition here."
Kelly said his defense has taken measures to ensure that Badger will not be able to share any of the family secrets with his new teammates this weekend, adding that he was not really concerned about it.
Badger is not so sure he can be of much help anyway, saying he has little to add that is not already available on film.
He is looking forward to seeing some old friends like Danny Spond, Joe Romano and Joe Schmidt, and he knows this visit will present different challenges, ones that come with making his debut on his old home field.
"I love to play football, and what better place than Notre Dame, where there's so much tradition?" Badger said. "And being there, knowing what it's like, it just makes it that much better, especially being able to see people and visit with them and all the relationships that I built when there with people from school, or the football team, or from my local church congregation. Being able to visit with them Friday night or Saturday before the game and then being able to play on that stage, it's exciting. It's going to be a really great experience."