Notre Dame is restocking the shelves of the offense with a group of talented and dynamic playmakers at the skill positions in 2013, but the real prize of this year’s offensive class is in the trenches where Notre Dame is adding five highly touted offensive linemen. If there is anything the 2013 BCS Championship game taught us, it’s that championships are won in the trenches and right now Alabama is the gold standard in that department.
Well, Notre Dame took a big step in closing the gap on the offensive side of the ball with the class of 2013. Baring any last minute defections like we saw last year when Deontay Greenberry decommitted at the 11th hour, here are the 14 offensive recruits Notre Dame is expected to sign later today.
Before jumping into the horses the Irish got to fill the trenches though, we are going to start off our recruit by recruit run down with the headliner on the offensive side of the ball – 5-star running back Greg Bryant.
Greg Bryant – RB – 5-star (Delray Beach, Florida)
- Rivals – 5-star, #3 RB, #19 overall
- ESPN – 4-star, #2 RB,. #22 overall
- 24/7 – 4-star, #10 RB, #128 overall
Competition: Alabama, Auburn, Florida, Florida State, Georgia, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Penn State, USC
Analysis: Braynt is the highest rated running back to enroll at Notre Dame in a long time as a consensus top 10 RB. James Aldridge comes to mind in terms of ranking, but his high school senior year injury ended up affecting his final ratings. Bryant is a potential work-horse back for the Notre Dame offense. An all-around talent who can run it inside between the tackles or bounce it outside and break a long run when it’s there as well. With limited experienced depth at running back for Notre Dame next season, Bryant has the chance to see the field very early. He may not start from day one, but if Georga Atkinson, Cam McDaniel, Amir Carlisle, or Will Mahone fail to establish themselves as the clear #1 back, it wouldn’t surprise anyone if Bryant stepped in and assumed that role by the end of his freshman season.
Notre Dame went head to head with the nation’s elite programs to secure Bryant’s commitment including a host of SEC schools that stayed on Bryant until the very end of the recruiting process. Bryant actually originally committed to Oklahoma back in April of 2012 before decommitting and setting his sights on Notre Dame in December.
Bryant forms a potentially dynamic duo with classmate Tarean Folston who can be the lightning to Bryant’s Thunder for the next four seasons in South Bend. Notre Dame rotated in multiple backs the last few years and this pair will give Brian Kelly and Chuck Martin the ability to do so for years to come.
It’s hard not to get excited over a running back with Bryant’s all-around talents – especially since many of the highly rated backs that have come to Notre Dame over the last several years have come while recovering from injuries during their senior years like Aldridge and more recently Armando Allen.
Hunter Bivin – OL – 4-star (Owensboro, Kentucky)
- Rivals: 4-star, #12 OT, #162 overall
- ESPN: 4-star, #5 OT, #82 overall
- 24/7: 4-star, #4 OT, #43 overall
Competition: Auburn, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, LSU, Michigan, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Wisconsin
Analysis: Bivin is a tough, versatile offensive line prospect with great size and an even better attitude. I hate using the word “nasty” when describing any prospect ever since Charlie Weis used the term and it ended up becoming a punch line, but Bivin does have that nasty streak in him that you need in an offensive lineman. He isn’t a technician of a lineman and isn’t the most athletic, but he is a big, mauling offensive lineman who works hard and has the physical tools and mentality to be a dominating offensive lineman on the college level.
Bivin is rated as a 4-star prospect at tackle by all of the major recruiting services, but he has the versatility to play center as well. He could potentially outgrow that position if he gets much taller though. As a tackle, Bivin could potentially play on either side of the line because of his ability to block in space. Any offensive lineman with offers from SEC schools like Florida, Georgia, and LSU should have any Notre Dame fan very, very excited.
Steve Elmer – OL – 4-star (Midland, Michigan)
- Rivals: 4-star, #5 OT, #60 overall
- ESPN: 4-star, #26 OT
- 24/7: 4-star, #12 OT, # 136 overall
Competition: Michigan, Michigan State, Stanford, Wisconsin
Analysis: Elmer was the first commitment in this year’s class and the stout offensive tackle never waivered in his commitment to the Irish. Elmer’s offer list might not jump off the page but part of the reasoning behind that is the fact that he committed so early in the process and left little doubt where he would be heading. As an early enrollee, Elmer is already on campus and hitting the weights with the rest of the team. Depending on how things shake out along the offensive line and where players like Nick Martin and Christian Lombard end up (could Lombard shift to his more natural guard position?), there could be a chance for Elmer to see the field as a freshman.
It’s usually not a good sign to count on freshmen along either of the lines, but when it’s an early enrollee at least you have the advantage of a full off-season in the strength and conditioning program. Being named the Anthony Munoz offensive lineman of the year at the US Army All American Bowl helps out in seeing the field early along the offensive line too. In an ideal world, Elmer would redshirt this year and get ready to challenge for playing time in 2014, but he could see the field in 2013 just as easily. At a minimum, Elmer will have a head start on the 2014 season when he will almost certainly be called up to provide depth at the very least.
Tarean Folston – RB – 4-star (Cocoa, Florida)
- Rivals: 4-star, #14 RB, #119 overall
- ESPN: 4-star, #6 ATH, #66 overall
- 24/7: 4-star, #9 RB, #122 overall
Competition: Auburn, Florida, Florida State, Nebraska, Oregon, South Carolina, Stanford, Texas A&M
Analysis: If Greg Bryant is the going to be the thunder in the Notre Dame backfield, Folston can be the lightning. Folston committed to Notre Dame at the Under Armour All-American Bowl at the beginning of January before flirting with Auburn late in the recruiting process with a late January visit. Folston was eventually reminded why he selected Notre Dame in the first place by Notre Dame’s top recruiter Tony Alford, but will still have Notre Dame fans sweating a little bit until the ink is dry on his fax in the Notre Dame football office later today.
At the Under Armour All American Bowl, Folston flashed his versatility by playing cornerback and playing it very well. In fact, many schools recruited Folston as a defensive back because of his potential there. Folston will start his Notre Dame career at running back, however, with the ability to also play the slot similarly to a Theo Riddick or a Davonte Neal.
Of course, it was just last year when Notre Dame converted a similarly versatile running back, Keivarae Russell, to corner back in fall camp with great success. Still, Notre Dame will not be in as dire of straights at corner as they were a year ago when Folston reports to campus and his big play ability is needed much more on the offensive side of the ball. Folston is very similar to Riddick coming out of high school – hopefully Kelly and Martin find a role for Folston sooner than they did for Riddick.
William Fuller – WR – 4-star (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania)
- Rivals: 4-star, #19 WR, #176 overall
- ESPN: 3-star, #172 WR
- 24/7: 4-star, #46 WR
Competition: Boston College, Penn State, Rutgers, Temple
Analysis: Fuller’s rankings are a bit all over the map – more so than any other recruit in this year’s class. ESPN ranks Fuller as just the #172 wide receiver in the country while Rivals ranks the one-time Penn State commitment as the #176 overall recruit in the country regardless of position. Part of that fluidity of rankings comes from the fact that Fuller is still a bit raw. He is a very fluid athlete, but will need to work on refining his route running and blocking at the receiver position on the college level to justify Rivals’ ranking and make ESPN’s look foolish a few years from now.
Fuller played in the Semper Fi Bowl with fellow Notre Dame commitment Malik Zaire although did not jump out too much during the All-Star game. While not a “burner”, Fuller is a all-around talent at wide receiver who will be one of those wide receivers who just makes plays when called upon similar to a Robby Toma recently and like one of my all-time favorite overlooked Irish players – Raki Nelson.
Mike Heuerman – TE – 4-star (Naples, Florida)
- Rivals: 4-star, #8 TE
- ESPN: 4-star, #5 TE, #265 overall
- 24/7: 4-star, #7 TE, #215 overall
Competition: Alabama, Auburn, Florida State, LSU, Miami, Ohio State, Oregon, South Carolina
Analysis: Notre Dame went head to head with a lot of southern powers to pull Heuerman to South Bend, but once they won over the Sunshine State native that is never at a loss of bravado, he turned out to be one of the best recruiters in this year’s class. For anyone who has followed Heuerman on Twitter, it’s easy to see why other recruits have been receptive to him as well. He is a character that displays all of the traits of a future captain for Notre Dame and could very well be the next great tight end at “Tight End U”.
Heuerman does not have the same speed of a Tyler Eifert, but he also a much more accomplished blocker coming out of high school compared to the former high school wide receiver. As one of the five early enrollees in this year’s class, Heuerman could see the field in 2013 if he hits the weight room hard this off-season and if upper classmen tight ends Alex Welch, Ben Koyack, and Troy Niklas fail to establish themselves in spring and fall camps. Heuermen’s blocking acumen especially could earn him playing time in 2013 if he is physcially ready to contribute since Koyack has struggled in this area and Welch will be coming off injury.
Torii Hunter, JR – WR – 4-star (Prosper, Texas)
- Rivals: 4-star, #41 WR
- ESPN: 4-star, #12 WR, #95 overall
- 24/7: 4-star, #30 WR
Competition: Arkansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas Tech, West Virginia
Analysis: Before reporting to San Antonio for the US Army All American Bowl, Hunter was a recruit that many tabbed as a potential early impact recruit because of his play making ability. While in San Antonio though, Hunter suffer a broken femur and could very well be headed for a red-shirt this year even if he is cleared for physical contact before the start of the season. The son of current Major League Baseball star Torii Hunter, Sr., the younger Hunter is a shifty wide receiver with the ability to make people miss in the open field.
More athletic than naturally fast, Hunter is the type of player who, when healthy, can take a short pass, make a defender miss and turn a short gain into a big play. In the Notre Dame offense, Hunter should excel once he is back to 100% because the Irish have largely lacked playmakers with his skill-set since Brian Kelly arrived at Notre Dame. Hunter reminds me a bigger version of current Notre Dame wide receiver TJ Jones.
Mike McGlinchey – OL – 4-star (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania)
- Rivals: 4-star, #22 OT
- ESPN: 4-star, #19 OT
- 24/7: 4-star, #10 OT, #131 overall
Competition: Boston College, Florida, Florida State, Miami, Michigan, Penn State, Tennessee, Wisconsin
Analysis: McGlinchey might be the most athletically gifted lineman in this year’s class for Notre Dame. With his size and athleticism, McGlinchey has the tools to be a great left tackle for the Irish offensive line – great length, height, athleticism, and ability to block in space. In fact, McGlinchey pretty much fits the exact profile that Brian Kelly looks for in an offensive tackle.
Before McGlinchey is ready to see the field, however, he is going to need quite a bit of work in Paul Longo’s weight program. McGlinchey has plenty of room to add bulk to his frame right now coming in to Notre Dame at 285 lbs. With his height, he will need to pack on 20-25 lbs of solid bulk before he is ready to seriously challenge for playing time and/or a starting role, but Notre Dame finally has some depth in the trenches to allow McGlinchey the time to bulk up before being thrust into a prominent role – something the Irish haven’t always had the luxury of doing with offensive linemen in the past.
It may be a few years before Notre Dame fans see McGlinchey make an impact on the field, but he has all the tools necessary for being a great offensive lineman on the college level. It’ll be up to Longo and offensive lineman Harry Hiestand to make that happen.
Colin McGovern – OL – 4-star (New Lenox, Illinois)
- Rivals: 3-star, #37 OT
- ESPN: 4-star, #10 OT, #124 overall
- 24/7: 4-star, #25 OT
Competition: Alabama, Michigan, Nebraska, Ohio State, Tennessee, Wisconsin
Analysis: ESPN ranks McGovern substantially higher than the other recruiting services and even suggests that he could challenge for a starting role immediately in their scouting report of him. ESPN’s evaluation of McGovern seems to coincide with McGovern’s offer list that includes an offer from Alabama – remember what their offensive line looked like in the BCS Title game? Yeah, I’d say they know offensive linemen pretty well.
McGovern was an Under Armour All-American although he did not participate in the game due to injury, but his selection also backs up his lofty ranking from ESPN relative to his Rivals 3-star designation. As one of Notre Dame’s earliest commitments this year, he often gets overlooked, but as UHND’s Bob Kollars wrote a few weeks ago, McGovern could very well be one of the hidden gems in this year’s class. Like the offer list of Hunter Bivin, seeing an offensive lineman with offers from Alabama, Michigan, Nebraska, and Ohio State should have Notre Dame fans excited.
John Montelus – OL – 4-star (Everett, Massachusetts)
- Rivals: 4-star, #4 OG, #74 overall
- ESPN: 3-star, #27 OG
- 24/7: 4-star, #12 OG
Competition: Boston College, Florida, LSU, Michigan, Nebraska, Ohio State, West Virginia
Analysis: Montelus is the inverse of McGovern in terms of rankings. While McGovern has a lofty ranking from ESPN and low ranking from Rivals, Montelus is a top 100 recruit according to Rivals and just a 3-star prospect by ESPN. While some of the other linemen can play multiple positions, Montelus fits the profile of a guard to a tee. In fact, Montelus is the only lineman in this year’s class that appears to certain to be destined for the guard position.
One of the challenges for Montelus at the college level will be adjusting to the level of competition after coming from Massachusetts – an area not known to be a hot bed of talent. Offers from LSU, Florida, and Ohio State should ease any concerns Notre Dame fans have of that the level of competition Montelus faced played a role in his dominance. He’ll need a bit of work in the weight room as well to pack on some solid mass while dropping “slimming” down. In some years, Montelus may have seen the field early on, but with the depth Notre Dame’s built, he can spend his freshman season adjusting to bigger, stronger, faster defensive lineman and spending time in the weight room.
Notre Dame has had some struggles recruiting athletically gifted guard prospects like Montelus over the last few years so Notre Dame fans should be very excited about this young man’s potential.
James Onwualu – WR – 4-star (St. Paul, Minneapolis)
- Rivals: 4-star, #21 ATH
- ESPN: 4-star, #38 ATH
- 24/7: 3-star, #58 WR
Competition: Cal, Michigan, Michigan State, Nebraska, Ohio State, Pitt, Stanford, UCLA, Wisconsin
Analysis: Another versatile athlete who comes to Notre Dame with the ability to play a number of positions. Onwualu hails from Notre Dame pipeline Cretin Derham High School – home of former Notre Dame standouts Michael Floyd, Ryan Harris, and Rashon Powers-Neal. As an early enrollee, Onwualu is already on campus and will participate in Spring ball where he will first get a look at wide receiver although could also play in the offensive or defensive backfield.
The term possession wide receiver brings with it a bit of a negative connotation, but that might be exactly the role that Onwualu fills in the Irish offense… a role that the Irish are in need of filling since the graduation of Michael Floyd. While Floyd was a big play receiver on top of being a chain-mover, the Irish have lacked a go to target that they know will pick up a first down when call upon.
Junior to by Davaris Daniels has the ability to be a chain mover because of his size, but his down the field play making ability may be best utilized on the outside. Onwualu is a big, physical target for any Notre Dame quarterback. As a part time runner and part time receiver in high school though, he will need some time to adjust to wide receiver at the college level if that is indeed to be his permanent position at Notre Dame. If it’s not, Onwualu could see time at running back although he is more of one cut and go type back. He could also have a future in the defensive backfield at safety if needed although Notre Dame is so deep at safety right now that adding someone else to the mix could just create a logjam.
Corey Robinson – WR – 4-star (San Antonio, Texas)
- Rivals: 4-star, #44 WR
- ESPN: 3-star, #101 WR
- 24/7: 3-star, #86 WR
Competition: Iowa, Kansas, North Carolina, Wake Forest
Analysis: If there is one recruit that has me truly intrigued in this year’s class, it’s Corey Robinson – the son of NBA legend David Robinson. Robinson got a late start in football so he is still very raw, but he has all of the tools to be a great wide receiver on the college level if he receives the proper coaching from Mike Denbrock and Chuck Martin. He is tall and lanky, but surprisingly athletic given his length. Rivals bumped Robinson up to a 4-star prospect after his senior season although at this point, that rating is still largely based on potential.
Notre Dame was one of the first major programs to offer Robinson after he started to garner some more attention from programs around the country following his junior season. Robinson committed to Notre Dame shortly after the Irish offered and before several other programs officially offered the late riser.
At the US Army All American Bowl, Robinson was named the Glenn Davis Awaard winner and showed his ability to get open downfield. He also showed that he has a ways to go in terms of hauling in the deep ball once he gets some separation. Robinson will need a lot of work, but he is the kind of raw athlete that has the ability to become a very good player if he can convert that potential into production. That is always much easier said than done, but it is going to be very fun to watch Robinson develop during his career at Notre Dame.
Durham Smythe – TE – 3-star (Belton, Texas)
- Rivals: 3-star, #15 TE
- ESPN: 4-star, #6 TE
- 24/7: 4-star, #6 TE, #188 overall
Competition: Florida, Georgia, Miami, Michigan, Nebraska, Oklahoma State, Oregon, Stanford, Texas, Texas A&M
Analysis: Smythe originally committed to Texas early in the recruiting process but began to rethink his decision at the end of 2012 and ended up decommitting from the Longhorns and opening up his recruiting. Once he opened it back up; Notre Dame, Michigan, and Stanford were his three finalists. Shortly after visiting Notre Dame and the end of January though, Smythe decided it was time to end his recruiting for good and committed to the Irish giving Notre Dame two tight ends in this year’s class along with Heuerman.
Despite being a late edition, Smythe tuned out to be a vital recruit for Notre Dame given the frequency in which they ran multiple tight end sets in 2012 and the lack of depth on the Irish roster looming after the 2014 season (Ben Koyack, Troy Niklas, and Alex Welch all have just two years of eligibility left heading into this season). Smythe is more of a blocking tight end than a receiving threat, but comes to Notre Dame with a similar frame to that of Kyle Rudolph when the former Irish standout enrolled at Notre Dame.
Malik Zaire – QB – 4-star (Kettering, Ohio)
- Rivals: 4-star, #3 dual threat QB, #122 overall
- ESPN: 4-star, #6 dual threat QB, #189 overall
- 24/7: 4-star, #10 dual threat QB
Competition: Alabama, Boston College, Nebraska, Ohio State, Pitt, Wisconsin
Analysis: Notre Dame added a 5th quarterback to the 2013 roster with the addition of Malik Zaire and if there is a signal caller on the Irish roster that most closely replicates the game of incumbent starter Everett Golson, its the early enrollee from Ohio. Zaire was ranked as one of the top 10 dual threat quarterbacks by each of the major recruiting services and made both Rivals’ and ESPN’s top 200 lists.
Zaire, like Golson, has the ability to hurt a defense with his legs, but he also looks to throw the football first just like the current Notre Dame starter. Still, as a senior he ran the ball for over 1,000 yards while rushing for 9 touchdowns to go along with 21 passing scores to just 4 interceptions as well.
Given the sudden depth the Irish have at quarterback, Zaire will likely also follow Golson’s route of red-shirting as a freshman as he learns the offense, but will battle with Andrew Hendrix and Gunner Kiel for the third string quarterback position behind Golson and Tommy Rees – unless of course Kiel is able to unseat Rees as the backup quarterback for the 2013 season. Zaire is now the 4th quarterback to enroll early at Notre Dame after Jimmy Clausen, Rees, and Golson previously enrolled at the mid-year to start their careers as well.