He walked off the airplane at Salt Lake City International Airport, moments before midnight on Friday, with nothing more than two bags and a dream that had sustained him for the past 21 months.
Before the weirdness kicked in about what it felt like to be surrounded by people speaking English, Chris Badger found himself inhaling a steak sandwich from Fudruckers and staring blankly at the welcome-home present his family had just given him.
"I'm kind of freakin' out, because I don't know how to use it," said Badger, now a 20-year-old freshman who is a couple of days removed from a life-altering Mormon Mission in Ecuador and three months away from repatriating with the Notre Dame football team.
The Provo, Utah, product's first peek at a TV in almost two years came Saturday, but not until after he and older brother Troy put Chris' now 6-foot-1, 190-pound body through its first post-Mission workout.
"My brother, Troy, is my real-life hero," Badger said. "He put together a workout program for while I was on my Mission, and now that I'm back, he's going to help me get ready for Notre Dame. He's got everything lined up.
"I'm not sure yet what all it entails, but I'm envisioning Rocky IV
training scenes. Go live in a cave. Get ready to compete."
The Notre Dame that Badger will walk back into in June won't likely
give him culture shock, but its football program is noticeably
When Badger, an early enrolling freshman in 2010, left South Bend two
summers ago, for instance, the Irish quarterback depth chart was 1.
Dayne Crist, 2. Nate Montana, 3. Tommy Rees -- the latter of whom was
Badgers' 17-year-old roommate at the time.
Crist is now the No. 1 quarterback for former Irish head coach Charlie
Weis at Kansas. Montana is a backup at the University of Montana. Rees
went from afterthought to starter to one of four quarterbacks who will
compete this spring to be No. 1 at ND next fall.
Badger hasn't seen one of coach Brian Kelly's 26 games as Irish head
coach -- Mission rules, not lack of technology dictated that. Then
again, he might not have recognized it.
He'll have a new position coach in Bobby Elliott when he returns.
Roughly 44 percent of the roster has turned over since Badger last
wore an ND practice jersey. And Aaron Lynch? He was a rumor in the
summer of 2010, and one not necessarily destined to end up in an Irish
"The one thing that didn't change while I was gone was my feeling that
Notre Dame was a match made in heaven," said Badger, who was released
from his scholarship during the Mission and could have transferred
without penalty if he had so chosen.
That happens with scattered regularity with players who take Mormon
Missions, but Badger never considered it, he said, not even for one
"When I came on my recruiting visit, I remember praying and receiving
a revelation that this is where I need to be," Badger said, "and where
I can make a difference, and really become a great player, a great
person and a great student. I feel even more strongly that way now."
Badger's 70-plus-hour work week during the Mission always started with
a tip of the cap, of sorts, to the life he hoped to return to at Notre
Dame. In fact, each day did.
While most missionaries began their work day at 6:30 a.m., Badger was
working out at 5:30 every day -- sometimes on unpaved and uneven dirt
roads, sometimes in the Andes Mountains at 6,000 feet above sea level,
sometimes in dodgy neighborhoods in Guayaquil, Ecuador's largest city
with a metro population of more than four million people.
He was robbed in Guayaquil three times, twice for cash, a third time
at gunpoint for the adidas shoes he was given while at Notre Dame the
"I was more embarrassed than scared for shoe robbery," Badger said. "I
had been over at a family's house helping them paint, and was on my
way home. I had to walk home in my socks and everyone was laughing at
me. I guess it was pretty funny.
"I would kneel down and pray for protection and guidance when I left
the house each day, so I guess that's why I was so chill about it.
It's part of having faith and serving God."
A big part of that service was learning Spanish, in which Badger is
now fluent. When he left South Bend, he had never studied the
Most of his day in Ecuador was spent interacting with people -- in
Spanish -- and trying to get a population that is only 1.4 percent
Mormon to talk to him about what faith should look like.
"Not everyone is going to want to hear your message," Badger said.
"Some people had the wrong idea about what we were trying to do, but,
all in all, the people in Ecuador are really special people to me. I'm
never going to forget them. I already have plans to go back there
later in life and do some humanitarian work."
His next mission, though, is all about Notre Dame.
"It's to win Notre Dame a national championship," he said. "I'm very
serious about that. And I want to be a starter and an All-American."
ND's returning safety corps is experienced, even with the loss of
standout Harrison Smith to graduation and the NFL. The youngest of
ND's core group of four safeties is junior Austin Collinsworth.
But Jamoris Slaughter, Zeke Motta and Dan McCarthy all exhaust their
eligibility after the 2012 season, and Collinsworth after 2013,
opening the door for Badger and the next wave of young safeties.
"I'd like to think I'm not the same player I was when I left here,"
Badger said. "I would hope I'm much better."
He certainly isn't the same person.
"The Mission can't help but change you by preparing you for life in
every single way," he said. "The biggest thing it taught me was to
truly trust in God, trust in Christ and trust in myself as well.
"It taught me to be disciplined, to be obedient, to be focused, to be
a leader. It's not enough to have dreams. You have to set goals. Then
you have to work to achieve those goals.
"My dream for Notre Dame has never been more clear. I'm back and I'm
ready to work for it."