Notre Dame welcomes the latest crop of early enrollees to campus on Monday – a group that includes five recruits at five different positions from five different states. A group that also features five potential future stars for the Fighting Irish.
Once a practice that was new to Notre Dame, the Irish have now had seven years of early enrollees with great results both on and off the field. Early enrollment has allowed some recruits to see the field early in their careers – see Jimmy Clausen, Armando Allen, and TJ Jones – while it has allowed others like Everett Golson to settle into college and adapt to the academic rigors at Notre Dame.
This year’s group was set to include a sixth member until Alex Anzalone pulled an 11th hour switch and enrolled at Florida last week. Even with the loss of Anzalone, this year’s class of early enrollees is an extremely talented group of incoming freshman all of whom have the ability to have great college careers wearing the blue and gold for Notre Dame.
So, without further ado, here is the 2013 crop of early enrollees for the Fighting Irish.
Steve Elmer – OL – 6’6″, 305 lbs
Elmer was the first recruit to commit to this year’s class, doing so in September 2011 at the start of his junior year of high school. Along the way, Elmer has picked up accolades and awards and never wavered in his decision to join the Fighting Irish. Monday, he becomes one of the first recruits to start his Notre Dame career along with the other four early enrollees. Elmer is a big, talented kid and a consensus 4-star recruit.
Elmer likely projects as an offensive tackle for the Irish and could be called upon to provide some depth at tackle for Notre Dame in the fall already depending on what kind of work he puts in with Paul Longo in the Notre Dame weight room this winter. As with most Notre Dame offensive line recruits, however, Elmer has some versatility and could play other positions along the line as well.
It is never an ideal situation to count on freshmen for playing time along either the offensive or defensive line, but when they enroll early and get a full off-season conditioning and spring practice under their belts before the rest of the freshmen sets foot on campus in the summer, you have a much better scenario. Even if Elmer lives in the weight room between now and the summer though, it would be ideal to have the luxury of red-shirting (or the Notre Dame equivalent of red-shirting) all offensive linemen. The depth up front on the offensive line, however, has taken a hit with some transfers and injuries so the Irish just aren’t quite there yet.
Notre Dame will have two open spots on along the line and a number of players coming back from injury in 2013. Injuries mounted up so much for the Irish up front that they were limited with what they could do practice wise leading up to the BCS Championship – a situation that didn’t help matters last Monday night.
Elmer took home the Anthony Munoz Lineman of the Year Award at this year’s US Army All American Bowl and selected the Irish over Michigan, Stanford, and Wisconsin.
Click next to keep reading about the other four members of this year’s early enrollment class.
James Onwualu – WR – 6’2″, 205 lbs, 4.5
Hailing from the same high school, Cretin Derham Hall, as former Notre Dame standouts Michael Floyd and Ryan Harris, James Onwualu was another early commitment in this year’s class. Notre Dame’s latest Cretin Derham alum brings a lot of versatility with him to Notre Dame. Recruited as a wide receiver, Onwualu has the ability to also play safety and running back as well depending on where he is needed and fits in best.
All of the major recruiting services except Scout list Onwualu as a 4-star recruit, but all of them do agree that he is an “athlete” as he leaves Minnesota and heads to South Bend. If Notre Dame didn’t have a backlog at safety already, safety might make the most sense for him given his size and speed. Given the numbers at safety though, wide receiver looks the most likely.
Notre Dame lacks a true “possession” wide receiver in this offense at this point – a chain moving, reliable target. Onwualu has the ability to fill that void. I hate using the term possession wide receiver because it carries a negative connotation, but every offense needs that big, physical wide receiver that can out-muscle a cornerback for position and move the chains.
Notre Dame has a lot of talent and depth coming back at wide receiver next year. TJ Jones and DaVaris Daniels started to establish themselves as the go to targets by the end of the season and 2012 freshmen Justin Ferguson, Chris Brown, and Davonte Neal all showed promise . Senior to be Daniel Smith, whose career has been slowed by injuries, returns as well.
It would also not be surprising if Onwualu got a look at running back with Theo Riddick out of eligibility and Cierre Wood looking very likely to forgo his 5th year of eligibility for the NFL. Amir Carlisle will return from injury next year, but there will be a lot of opportunity at running back for the Irish in the fall.
Onwualu picked Notre Dame with offers from Michigan, Michigan State, Nebraska, Ohio State, Stanford, UCLA, and Wisconsin
Malik Zaire – QB – 6’0″, 195 lbs
Notre Dame filled the quarterback position in this year’s class with Malik Zaire – a dual threat quarterback in the mold of Everett Golson. Zaire is a bit different than Golson, however, in that he is a lefty. Like Golson, though, he is an athletic signal caller that can buy time with his legs while keeping his eyes downfield and finding an open receiver. In watching the film above you’ll notice that he isn’t looking to run first when his protection breaks down – a trait that will serve him well at the next level.
Zaire joins a suddenly crowded quarterback position for the Irish. Golson improved each week and looks like he has a stranglehold on the starting position – something Notre Dame and Brian Kelly haven’t had the luxury of since arriving in South Bend. Tommy Rees will be back for his final season in 2013 and proved in 2012 that he is as reliable and dependable of a backup as the Irish could hope for.
Andrew Hendrix will be entering his senior season and will be looking to play a role in next year’s offense as well.
With that in mind, Zaire will likely battle with last year’s #1 rated high school quarterback, Gunner Kiil, and Hendrix for reps on the 3rd team while challenging Rees for the back up role. Kiel spent most of this season as the scout team quarterback after enrolling early last year himself and will be hungry for reps with the Irish offense.
It will be interesting to see where Zaire fits in this fall as the only lefty of the bunch. It might not seem like a big difference, but having a lefty does change up Brian Kelly and Harry Heistand’s thinking of how they align their offensive line.
With some stability at the quarterback position at Notre Dame this year (finally), the best bet here is that Zaire will redshirt and probably split time on the Scout team with either Kiel or Hendrix depending on how things shake out this spring.
Before committing to Notre Dame, Zaire had picked up offers from Alabama, Boston College, Ohio State, Nebraska, Pitt, and Wisconsin.
Zaire is the fourth quarterback to enroll early at Notre Dame since the Irish began accepting early enrollees joining Jimmy Clausen, Golson, and Kiel. Of that group, Clausen started almost from day one while both Golson and Kiel red-shirted. Given Notre Dame’s quarterback situation, I would imagine Zaire will join that later group despite having a very, very bright future ahead of him.
Corey Robinson – WR – 6’4″, 195 lbs
Son of NBA legend David “The Admiral” Robinson, Corey Robinson comes to Notre Dame as a raw wide receiver with a ton of upside. Like saying “possession wide receiver”, describing a player by saying they have a “ton of upside” can have a negative connotation, but I use that term here because Robinson is still learning to play his position and sport after getting a late start to his career.
Notre Dame was one of the first programs to offer Robinson, but he became a late riser in the recruiting rankings as the recruiting sites took notice of Robinson’s freakish size/athleticism combo.
Robinson is a massive target at 6’4″ and has plenty of room to add weight to that frame once he gets in Longo’s strength and conditioning program. He will need to be coached up by Kelly, Chuck Martin, and wide receivers coach Scott Booker though. Robinson played in the Army All American Bowl and his potential was clear, but so was the work he needs to do yet.
If Booker can teach Robinson to use his body to his advantage and work with him on the nuances of the wide receiver position, Robinson has the skillset to be a very good college wide receiver in the mold of Maurice Stovall. Those are both big ifs, but with the size and athleticism that Robinson brings with him to Notre Dame, the risk/reward here is more than worth it.
Robinson was selected to play in the US Army All American Bowl and was honored with the Glen Davis Award as the player on the West team that best exemplifies the “high standard of excellence in community service, education, and athletic excellence.”
I wouldn’t expect Robinson to challenge for playing time from day one, but he has a lot of potential down the road. Getting an early start to his college career will be especially beneficial for Robinson given that he is pretty raw coming out of high school. It’s tough to label the son of a sports legend as a sleeper because of the notoriety he brings, but Robinson is definitely one to watch down the road.
Mike Heuerman – 6’4″, 220 lbs – 4.7
Mike Heuerman is one of the nation’s elite tight end prospects that Notre Dame had to fight for against a lot of the top programs in the country for. Alabama, Florida State, LSU, Miami, Ohio State, Oregon, and South Carolina all offered Heuerman – a consensus 4-star recruit and top 10 tight end prospect across all of the major recruiting services – before the Florida native committed to Notre Dame in the spring.
Heuerman is an excellent blocker for a high school tight end – an area that has given some recent Notre Dame tight ends like Tyler Eifert and Ben Koyack – issues early in their careers. Most Notre Dame fans forget how far Eifert has come in the blocking department since he arrived as a huge wide receiver out of high school while blocking has kept Koyack from seeing more playing time than he has despite his skill as a receiver.
It does not appear that this will be the case with Heuerman, however. Where Heuerman will need some work though is in the weight room. He is listed at just 220 lbs coming out of high school which would preclude him from seeing the field early in his career had he enrolled in the summer. With a full off-season in the weight room with Longo though, there is a chance he could challenge for time in 2013 given Notre Dame’s depth, or lack of it, at the position.
Tyler Eifert will be catching passes in the NFL next season leaving Notre Dame with Troy Niklas, a converted linebacker; Alex Welch, who missed all of 2012 due to injury; and Koyack, who has had difficulty in the blocking department thus far in his career. Niklas shows a lot of promise, but Welch will be returning from injury and Koyack will be facing a critical off-season.
Heuerman was supposed to room with Alex Anzalone at Notre Dame, but his departure has left the potentially next great tight end at Tight End U, roommate-less for the moment.
In all, Notre Dame has five new students starting classes today who all have excellent chances of having great careers both on and off the field for the Fighting Irish. Four years from now when we look back at the accomplishments of this year’s class, it shouldn’t surprise anyone if all five were major contributors, if not stars, on another Notre Dame BCS squad.