Blue and Gold Illustrated

January 2021

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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36 JANUARY 2021 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED FOOTBALL RECRUITING BY MIKE SINGER I n years past, Notre Dame has spec- ified which of its signees will be early enrollees, but for the 2021 cycle that was not the case. From what we've been able to gather from the recruits themselves, the Fighting Irish are expected to have 14 of its 26 December signees join- ing the football program in February rather than waiting until the summer. This group will have the opportunity to participate in spring ball and start training in Notre Dame's strength and conditioning program to get a head start on their freshman seasons. BEST CHANCE TO PLAY Clarence Lewis seemed like a lock to redshirt as a freshman, but he ended up a mainstay as the Fighting Irish's cornerback for the latter half of the 2020 season. These projections are educated guesswork, but Pick- erington (Ohio) Central's Lorenzo Styles Jr. seems like the safest bet of Notre Dame's early enrollees to play immediately. If class of 2020 five-star Jordan John- son wasn't ready to play, then why should one assume that Styles — who is rated as the nation's No. 6 wide receiver and No. 51 overall player by Rivals — will receive playing time? In comparing both player 's senior film and live evaluations from BGI, Styles is a more well-rounded player and can contribute on special teams right away. Walk-on Matt Salerno did a fine job as the team's punt returner in 2020, but Styles would bring more explosiveness and reliability. During his Dec. 16 early signing day press conference, Irish head coach Brian Kelly noted that La Mesa (Calif.) Helix Charter quarterback Ty- ler Buchner could be in the running for the 2021 starting job despite not playing a senior season due to Cali- fornia canceling fall sports. "He's coming in with an oppor- tunity to compete," Kelly said. "He wants to get in here, learn the offense, have a spring ball under his belt and get ready to compete right away." Buchner, Rivals' No. 6 dual-threat passer and No. 111 overall prospect nationally, would have to beat out Brendon Clark and Drew Pyne for the starting job, and we're not ruling out the Irish taking a stop-gap gradu- ate transfer in the offseason either. The quarterback competition will be open, and Buchner has a shot. As shown by Nick McCloud, a graduate transfer from North Caro- lina State, and the aforementioned Lewis, the Notre Dame secondary is still wide open for newcomers to come in and compete. Valrico (Fla.) Bloomingdale's Philip Riley, a four-star player and the na- tion's No. 24 cornerback per Rivals, and Gaithersburg (Md.) Quince Or- chard's Ryan Barnes, a three-star tal- ent and Rivals' No. 62 cornerback, have the length and size to play as true freshmen. Barnes' talent may be better suited in the secondary right away, while we believe Riley's 2021 impact may be in more of a special teams role. Defensive line coach Mike Elston has not shied away from playing true freshmen in recent years, especially on the interior. In 2019, Jacob Lacey played 247 snaps, and Rylie Mills totaled 131 plays this season prior to the CFP semifinal game against Alabama Jan. 1. St. Peters (Mo.) Lutheran of St. Charles' Gabriel Rubio, who Ri- vals ranks as the No. 9 defensive tackle and No. 106 overall player in the land, offers the same ability. ON THE BUBBLE Avon (Ind.) High's Blake Fisher, the nation's No. 6 tackle and No. 25 over- all recruit per Rivals; Ocala (Fla.) Trin- ity Catholic's Caleb Johnson, who is America's No. 33 offensive tackle; and Clarkston (Mich.) High's Rocco Spin- dler, Rivals' No. 4 offensive guard and No. 67 overall prospect, all offer the size and talent to play early at Notre Dame. Robert Hainsey (2017) and Steve Elmer (2013) are the only offensive linemen to start as true freshmen for the Fighting Irish during Brian Kel- ly's tenure. Notre Dame is expected to lose at least three up-front starters from this year's team (Liam Eichen- berg, Robert Hainsey and Tommy Kraemer), so Fisher, Johnson and Spindler have a shot, but the odds are against them, thus their status is deemed "on the bubble." The feeling coming into the season was that tight end Tommy Tremble may enter the NFL Draft after a strong year, but his receiving num- bers haven't been quite as robust as initially expected. He could still depart after this season, and Brock Wright is not expected back either. Michael Mayer will be a primary target for years to come, but behind him, the competition is open. Wadsworth (Ohio) Senior's Mitch- ell Evans and Hartwell (Ga.) Hart County's Cane Berrong rank as three- star talents, and Rivals' No. 24 and No. 33 tight ends in the 2021 class, respectively, and will enroll early, which gives them a chance should an opportunity open. MOST LIKELY TO REDSHIRT Three-star California pass rushers Devin Aupiu and Will Schweitzer are talented but have a lot more bulking up to do before playing at Notre Dame. Bolingbrook (Ill.) High's Justin Walters, the nation's No. 36 safety ac- cording to Rivals, is a fine player and could've been placed "on the bubble," but with no prep senior season due to Illinois' decision and more develop- ing to do, we feel he will redshirt. There is precedent here with Tommy Rees starting four games in 2010 as an unheralded three-star recruit, but we feel that Mishawaka (Ind.) Penn's Ron Powlus III is a safe bet to redshirt. ✦ Pickerington (Ohio) Central's Lorenzo Styles Jr., who is ranked as the nation's No. 6 wide receiver and No. 51 overall player, has a strong chance to see the field early at Notre Dame. PHOTO COURTESY RIVALS.COM A School-Record 14 Early Enrollees Are Expected

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