Among all of the recruits that Notre Dame is signing today, the Irish are adding at least seven early enrollees and could add to that total before all is said and done. Notre Dame has come a long way since the early days of early enrollment ushered in during the Charlie Weis Era, and they continue to bring in large numbers of early enrollees after initially being a bit more conservative in their numbers. This year is no different. In this post, we’ll take a look at all seven and how their enrollments will impact their chances for playing time in 2020 and their development overall.
QB Drew Pyne
Getting a quarterback on campus is always a good thing. They generally have the most to learn playbook wise and having an extra spring practice under their belts heading into their freshman seasons generally better prepares them for early playing. The Notre Dame quarterback position still has some questions heading into 2020 – the most pressing of which is whether or not Ian Book will return for a 5th year in 2019. Most felt that was a forgone conclusion throughout the season, but Book has been non-committal since the season has ended.
Even if Book were to leave for the NFL or a graduate transfer, Pyne would be starting third on the depth chart behind rising junior Phil Jurkovec and rising sophomore Brendan Clark, who did not use a year of eligibility in 2019.
What makes an early start for Pyne so essential for his development and path to playing time is the level of competition he faced in high school and 2021 recruit Tyler Buchner looming in the distance.
Pyne did not face elite competition in Connecticut – a state that isn’t known for its high school football. He will take some time adjusting to throwing to receivers with elite speed (Notre Dame has those now) and against elite defenses (Notre Dame has one of those too). That is a tough adjustment for a true freshman quarterback.
Then there is Bucnher. He had a historically ridiculous junior season this year and could very well be a 5-star recruit by the time he enrolls at Notre Dame. For Pyne, he needs to do all that he can during his freshman campaign to distance himself from Pyne while closing the gap with Jurkovec and Clark.
WR Jay Brunelle
Of the three wide receivers that Notre Dame is signing this year, the lowest-rated is Brunelle, but he shouldn’t be overlooked. Brunelle wanted a Notre Dame offer, so he came to campus and put on a display for the Irish coaching staff that forced them to extend. A player who wants an offer that bad should never be overlooked.
Notre Dame has a bit of a loaded depth chart at wide receiver heading into spring practice, but there could be some further position movement. Cam Hart has already moved to cornerback, and Michael Young has already entered the transfer portal. Even with that attrition, Notre Dame will return eight scholarship receivers if Javon McKinley is back for a 5th year.
Brunelle didn’t play against the toughest of competition in high school, similar to Pyne, which will make playing time an uphill battle for Brunelle early on, but his early start could help him land a special teams role in 2020.
WR Xavier Watts
Xavier Watts is another wide receiver enrolling early. Greg already wrote today about how Watts is a sleeper in this class because he isn’t talked about much, but he could end up being one of the biggest impact recruits in this class before all is said and done. He was one of the more low-key big-time pickups in this class and might be the next in a line of lower-rated wide receiver recruits that Notre Dame has targetted and made a priority that turns into a star down the road for the Irish.
An early start could give Watts an opportunity for early playing time if he dazzles. With Braden Lenzy, Lawrence Keys, McKinley (potentially), and Kevin Austin fighting for the starting positions, there could be backup reps to be had. Isaiah Robertson, Micah Jones, Kendal Abdur-Rehman, and Joe Wilkins make up the next group of receivers. That’s a group Watts could potentially hang with.
Like Pyne, Watts will need to distance himself in the spring before a 5-star talent lands in South Bend though Watts doesn’t have as much time. Jordan Johnson signs with Notre Dame today as well, and he will arrive on campus this summer.
DE Jordan Botelho
One of my favorite recruits of the class of 2020, Jordan Botelho, might not see the field much in 2020 even with an early start, but getting him on campus and in the weight room is big. I say that because if Isaiah Foskey redshirted this year, it’s hard to imagine Botelho not following suit considering the talent Notre Dame returns next year.
Assuming Ade Ogundeji returns for a 5th year, Notre Dame is loaded at defensive end with Ogundeji, Daelin Hayes (coming off injury), Justin Ademilola, Ovi Oghoufo, Isaiah Foskey, Nana Osafo-Mensah, and Kofi Wardlow (assuming Howard Cross stays at DT permanently). If that group stays healthy, most of them will see a lot of reps next year.
Long-term, Botelho is an extremely exciting prospect in this class who is going to make an appearance in our class Superlatives article posting later today. Spoiler alert though: I think Botelho has the chance to be one hell of a player for the Irish.
DE Rylie Mills
Listed as a strong-side defensive end by a lot of recruiting services, it’s tough to imagine the 275 lbs lineman playing on the edge of the Irish defense. A move to the inside of the defensive line seems inevitable, and for that reason, a path to playing time in 2020 might not be there for Mills similarly to Botelho. Getting an interior lineman on campus early though, is always a good thing because it gets them in the off-season weight training program early.
The lack of buzz amongst Notre Dame fans for a composite 4-star defensive lineman ranked in the top-200 speaks volumes to the job that Mike Elston has done in assembling talent in the defensive trenches, but that is where we are at. Notre Dame is signing a 275 lbs, 4-star, early enrollee defensive lineman who seems likely to redshirt in 2020. That is how you build a roster to compete for the playoffs each year.
CB Caleb Offord
We learned recently that Shaun Crawford is looking likely to return for a 6th year in 2020, so the need to a freshman corner to play in 2020 could be reduced a bit. Without Crawford next year, it was a forgone conclusion that a freshman corner was going to have to play given the misses in recruiting at corner over the last couple of years.
As is, there is still a chance for a freshman to play in 2020. Will Avery Davis move back to defense? If he doesn’t, Notre Dame could have just six corners for spring practice: Offord, Crawford, TaRiq Bracy, Isaiah Rutherford, KJ Wallace, and Cam Hart. And Hart converted to corner during the season.
Notre Dame is set to sign three, maybe four, defensive backs today with Offord being joined by Landen Bartleson and Clarence Lewis for sure and possibly Ramon Henderson later today. Speaking of Henderson, he is the reason this article title says that Notre Dame might add more than seven early enrollees. Should he pick Notre Dame later today, and there is a lot of reason to believe he will, he will make eight early enrollees.
Considering the depth at corner, it’s a good bet at least one plays in 2020, and the one(s) enrolling early would figure to have the clearest path to that role.
DT Alexander Ehrensberger
One of the biggest, maybe the only real wildcard in the class of 2020. In years past, Notre Dame had to build its defensive line depth by taking fliers on raw prospects they could develop – see the likes Ade Ogundeji and Ovi Oghoufo. That is not the case anymore, though, with Notre Dame starting to fill out its depth chart with more developed recruits. Now, that is not to say that Notre Dame shouldn’t continue to look for developmental defensive lineman. It’s worked out extremely well with Ogundeji, and things are trending in that direction with Oghoufo.
For a recruit like Ehrensberger who is coming to Notre Dame extremely raw from Germany, enrolling early is so important for their development because of how much of it they have to do. In fact, if there is one surefire redshirt candidate in this class, it’s Ehrensberger. He will enroll early, spend time in the weight room, and use the spring to start acclimating to a much higher level of football. He is going to be a lot of fun to watch develop over the next few years.