Blue and Gold Illustrated

March 2022

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

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10 MARCH 2022 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED UNDER THE DOME Offensive Tackles Remain Vitally Important By Tyler Horka Quick, does anyone remember when the complexion of the 2021 Notre Dame football season changed? Oh yeah, it was when freshman offensive lineman Joe Alt emerged as by far the best option to replace the injured Blake Fisher at left tackle. It's almost as if a team doesn't have anything if it doesn't have an offensive line — especially at tackle. That's why the answer is Dayton (Ohio) Wayne High School product Aamil Wagner, who was recently bumped to a five-star recruit in the On3 recruiting rat- ings. On3 has him as the No. 3 offensive tackle in the class of 2022. The On3 Consensus Rankings slot him in at No. 8 in that regard. Either way, Notre Dame has one of the top 10 offensive tackles coming to South Bend. Alt and Fisher still have at least two years to retain starting roles at the tackle positions, but that gives the 6-6, 250-pound Wagner time to bulk up in the weight room. By the time Alt and Fisher are juniors, Wagner will be waiting in the wings to take one of their starting jobs. Big Ten powers Penn State, Ohio State and Michigan were all over Wagner on the recruiting trail. Why wouldn't they have been? His frame already screams edge-sealer on outside power running plays. Just wait until Notre Dame strength and conditioning coach Matt Balis puts him through a couple workout phases. He's not an early enrollee, so that won't happen this spring. But his time is coming. Jaden Mickey Brings Immediate, Long-Term Help By Todd D. Burlage Having elite, top-20 cornerbacks commit to and play for Notre Dame isn't unheard of, but it is a bit unusual. Based on the rankings, the six Irish recruiting classes from 2016-21 brought in only two such cornerbacks: No. 12-ranked Houston Griffith (2018) and No. 18-rated Isaiah Rutherford (2019), and Rutherford transferred to Arizona last January. And at a position of deep need in 2022, the arrival of four-star Jaden Mickey — the No. 16 cornerback in the 2022 class per On3 — finally provides Notre Dame a quality player that will certainly develop over time. Based on his profile, he might even be set to plug and play as a freshman in the fall. Hailing from Centennial High School in Corona, Calif., near Anaheim, this 6-0, 175-pound consensus four-star recruit earned second-team All-America honors from MaxPreps in 2021 after recording 43 tackles, 10 passes broken up and two interceptions, all while competing against some of the top wide- outs and prep programs in the country. Mickey is aggressive and athletic, with active hands and a fearlessness gained from playing for and against the nation's best. He thrives in man-to- man coverage, which suits the high-risk, great-reward defensive philosophy that Irish head coach Marcus Freeman prefers. Judging by the way the Irish secondary played in the Fiesta Bowl, there is no rea- son to think Mickey won't make both a quick and lasting impact at Notre Dame. Point ✦ Counterpoint: WHAT 2022 SIGNEE NOT NAMED JAYLEN SNEED WILL BE THE MOST IMPACTFUL IN HIS NOTRE DAME CAREER? JADEN MICKEY AAMIL WAGNER With a terrific playing and coaching career seemingly behind her, NCAA and professional volleyball great Salima Rockwell still stayed close to her sport and passion the last four years as a broadcaster for ESPN and Big Ten Network … until an unexpected inquiry came to gauge her interest in filling the head coaching vacancy at Notre Dame. Coaching temptation won out, and Rockwell was introduced as the new Irish head coach in January following the departure of Mike John- son after four seasons. Before her broadcasting career, Rockwell spent 12 years as an assistant at Texas and her alma mater Penn State. While coaching at Texas in 2012, Rockwell was part of a staff that led the Longhorns to their first national championship since 1988. A Pittsburgh native, Rockwell, 50, was a four- time All-Big Ten selection at setter, a three-time All-American and a two-time national semifinalist for the Nittany Lions in the early 1990s. BGI: What pulled you out of coaching retire- ment? Rockwell: "It was the conversations that I had through the interview process. Notre Dame knows and recognizes it can be at the top, and we're really not far away from that. This is one of those schools that has the name, and has the prestige and has the history. "It's one of those programs that you know it can be done if you have the support of the adminis- tration. That's what they showed, which made this opportunity impossible to pass up." BGI: Obviously, there's less stress and more freedom as a broadcaster. How tough was it to jump back into the coach- ing grind? Rockwell: "It was pretty tough at first. I loved broad- casting. It is so much fun be- ing able to scout both teams, call the match, not really care who wins, go home and get some sleep. It was awesome. "But at the same time, the part that I missed was the di- rect impact that you have on student-athletes. I love being able to help players grow. Be- ing in competition, yes, that will be more stressful. But as an athlete that has done it, you thrive on that stress." BGI: What was your first order of business? Rockwell: "Reaching out to our current team, start getting to know them. That's very impor- tant. "With so many players leaving, they know that we are going to have to recruit other players, but I wanted them to know how important they are to me, to the program, to the school." BGI: How would you de- scribe your coaching style? Rockwell: "Encouraging and uplifting, while at the same time, holding them account- able and holding them to a very high standard. Once you connect with the team and you build that trust, then you can push them. They get it and they're all in. "I think having been there, playing at the highest level, having won at the highest level, helps that come across as well." BGI: So, what should Notre Dame fans expect? Rockwell: "This is going to take a little time, especially with all of the kids that are leaving and how much we need to fill in. I didn't want to hit a home run in the fall by hodge-podging a team together from the transfer portal. "For me, the importance was to focus on our current team, having them understand that they are the foundation and the culture, and then growing this and becoming a healthy, strong pro- gram that can maintain a level of excellence." — Todd D. Burlage FIVE QUESTIONS WITH … NOTRE DAME VOLLEYBALL COACH SALIMA ROCKWELL Rockwell brings a national champi- onship pedigree as a coach and an All-America background as a player to her new role at Notre Dame. PHOTO COURTESY NOTRE DAME ATHLETICS

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