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A Close Look At Notre Dame’s Early Enrollees
Don’t underestimate Kyren Williams.
With his compact stature and multi-position ability, there’s an unorthodox theme in the Missouri standout’s game. But when it comes to his play under the lights, Williams has been as dynamic as any athlete in his state.
Through his state championship senior season, Williams accounted for 40 total touchdowns, over 2,000 yards rushing, and nearly 700 yards receiving, not to mention his significant contributions on the defensive side of the ball.
How will his success translate in South Bend?
The Irish are losing Dexter Williams but return a back who appears to improve each week in Jafar Armstrong while 2018 class backs in Jahmir Smith and C’Bo Flemister look to earn snaps in Year Two.
We saw what Armstrong’s receiving ability provided Chip Long and with Williams in the fold, Notre Dame has even more quality options through the air with its running back group.
Williams can slice through traffic out of the backfield, do damage out of the slot, and give the Irish a true swiss army knife. How quickly he’ll pick up the playbook and adapt to college-level blitz pickup, these aspects will be interesting to monitor through the spring.
Again, don’t underestimate this rare talent.
Along with Jacob Lacey, Zeke Correll took among the most significant strides from a physical standpoint over last off-season.
Moving from 270 to 285-pounds while significantly upping his lift numbers, the four-star guard demolished quality Ohio competition weekly. His work in pulling out to the perimeter and kicking out ends or charging upfield to seal linebackers was extraordinary.
Without question, Correll is one of the top interior linemen in the country.
At Notre Dame, people around the program believe the Anderson High School star could play center. Of course, there was similar talk about 2018 class lineman Luke Jones, a 300-plus-pound athlete who some believe was undervalued as a three-star Arkansas state champion.
Also, its likely that Trevor Ruhland will return and be in the discussion at center but would be his final year of eligibility.
Bottom line: Notre Dame must groom a replacement for Sam Mustipher. They may have a short-term solution in Ruhland, but Correll has the makings of an excellent long-term answer.
If guard ends up being his landing spot, there’s no question that Correll is one of the most impressive linemen the Irish have landed in recent classes.
There’s a reason why Quinn Carroll holds the highest 247Sports Composite Ranking of the Irish 2019 commitments.
All of 6-foot-6, 295-pounds with what looks like next-to-no bad weight, the No. 1 overall prospect in Minnesota looks as if he was born to start along the offensive line at Notre Dame – a dream of his from the get-go.
To take advantage of Carroll’s dominance up front, coach Derrin Lamker played Carroll all along the Edina front. Through his prep ball experience, his size and length, both guard and tackle should be in the discussion for Carroll.
With the run-heavy scheme of the Hornets, there’s loads of film of Carroll’s dominant run blocking ability, but not as much pass blocking film. Still, this is a well-conditioned lineman with boundless potential.
Some believe Carroll will play his best football at the guard position. But don’t count out tackle for the four-star prospect. With enrolling early, Jeff Quinn will be afforded plenty of time to determine his best fit.
Although playing along the offensive line as a true freshman at Notre Dame is a tall task, we’ve seen Robert Hainsey and Steve Elmer pull off that feat. With Carroll appearing to be physically capable of competing, it will be very interesting to see how he fares as a true freshman, a youngster who will enter the program as the most physically impressive athlete of this top-ranked group.
John Olmstead gives Notre Dame a mountain of clay to mold.
At 6-foot-6, and north of the 300-pound mark, like Carroll – Olmstead doesn’t appear to have a lot of bad weight. In fact, in the Matt Balis-led strength program, it would be no surprise to see a 6-6, 325-pound Olmstead in a few years.
Olmstead played the offensive tackle position as an underclassman before moving inside to guard as a senior at Metuchen (NJ) St. Joseph – a positive move for Notre Dame’s sake.
In the interior, Olmstead found a love for getting out in space to make blocks, according to St. Joseph head coach Rich Hilliard.
“As far as being a guard this year, when you have a young man like John, you could put him anywhere and he’s going to give you 100-percent,” Hilliard told Irish Illustrated recently. “His goal is to really get downfield and make a block, then come to the side and ask his coaches if it was good enough – if they were happy with that because he’ll come back and try to be better at it. And that’s just something that you can not teach these days. You just can’t teach heart. He has a big heart with a great motor.”
That attitude should go a long way in the development of Olmstead – an athlete who Matt Balis is surely looking forward to working with.
Andrew Kristofic represents one of the most important pieces in the 2019 class. As possibly the only surefire tackle of the offensive line class, the Irish went all-out in the recruitment of the Pine-Richland star – battling Clemson, Michigan, Ohio State, and others for his pledge.
If you haven’t seen his film, you’ll see a top-shelf athlete at the tackle position, a 6-foot-6, 270-pounder with outstanding body control and agile feet. With a background as a basketball player and quarterback, there are unique athletic traits in Kristofic which contributed to his ranking as the No. 116 overall prospect in the 2019 class (per 247Sports).
The key ingredient in Kristofic’s freshman development will be putting on quality mass. Without a doubt, he has the frame to accommodate the weight needed to compete on the edge of the Notre Dame offense and when taking into account his physical attributes, the Irish staff is fired up with this addition.
Notre Dame made a push to add another tackle to the 2019 class but fell short in that effort. However, there are plenty of signs of a successful future for this young athlete.
Getting to South Bend early will allow him to best attack goal No. 1 – adding size and strength.
A year ago, many looked at Nana Osafo-Mensah as the elite weak-side defensive end who was a “longshot,” destined to sign with Stanford, Texas, or a top SEC program. But here we are, just a few weeks away from Osafo-Mensah signing and shortly after, enrolling at Notre Dame.
According to Osafo-Mensah during his recent trip to South Bend, the Irish coaching staff made it clear that the drop end position is his future.
We don’t currently know where Julian Okwara will play football next fall. But we do know that behind Okwara and his fellow 2016 drop end Daelin Hayes is a shortlist of athletes – true freshman Justin Ademilola and unproven sophomore Kofi Wardlow.
With the pace in which Mike Elston rotated bodies along the defensive front this fall, it isn’t difficult to imagine Osafo-Mensah earning a role next fall, especially with an early start in the program.
Physically, the potential in this young Texan is boundless. His frame, length, and ability to bend is prototypical on the weak-side edge, and again, the body type Notre Dame has struggled to add.
With a background at the outside linebacker position, picking up the coverage aspect of the drop role could be a smooth process for the Fort Worth star. And from what Nolan Catholic head coach David Beaudin has shared with Irish Illustrated, work ethic and leadership will most certainly come easily to him.
In the end, if Okwara and Hayes were to return, it would be their final year at Notre Dame. Look for Elston to get Osafo-Mensah work early to prepare for an expanded role.
Could Jacob Lacey be the next Sheldon Day?
With how dominant the South Warren product was through his high school career, especially through his state championship season, the Sheldon Day comparison is warranted.
As a senior, Lacey notched 81 tackles, 17 sacks, 41 tackles for loss, four forced fumbles, and two fumble recoveries.
Cutting down to 285-pounds on his extra-wide 6-foot-2 frame, Lacey upped his already ultra-quick get-off as a senior, showed an elevated interior pass rush element, and played with a ramped-up motor.
Entering the college ranks early, it’ll be interesting to see if the Irish staff choose to stack more quality weight onto Lacey or keep him around his productive 285-pound mark.
Regardless, Notre Dame is losing both Jerry Tillery and Jon Bonner without clear-cut starters behind them. That’s not to say the Irish don’t have solid talent on the shelf. But a healthy rotation at each spot in the middle should be expected.
With Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa, Ja'Mion Franklin, and Lacey’s fellow incoming freshman Hunter Spears coming off injuries, Elston will need as many capable bodies inside as possible. Lacey certainly appears to be the brand of athlete who could see action in Year One.
For Hunter Spears, his recent knee injury is a setback, not an issue that will get in his way of producing in South Bend.
Although he has a rehab on his plate, bouncing back from injury with the group of professionals on-hand at Notre Dame will ensure a speedy and effective recovery.
Positionally, it’s tough to predict exactly where Spears will fit. At Sachse, the four-star talent bulldozed Texas 5A competition on a weekly basis, causing havoc versus a few Top 10-ranked teams and racking up impressive statistical totals.
As we know, the Irish need to add talent to the strong-side end. It’s possible Spears gets work on the edge. At 6-foot-4 with long arms and a large frame, there’s plenty of room for growth at 280-pounds.
It’s also very possible that Spears plays inside at three-technique. If you look through his film, you’ll see a prime disrupter inside, a forceful bull rush, and some interior pass rush techniques which serve him well.
Whenever it is that this young Texan returns to the gridiron, he’ll add a quality, big-bodied defender with significant potential and advantageous position flexibility.
Definitely an intriguing piece to the puzzle, it’s difficult to get a clear idea of what exactly Jack Kiser will bring the linebacker group given the rural Indiana setting in which he’s competed in at Pioneer.
Still, his speed, athleticism, and versatility blend well in an athlete who appears to be well-conditioned following a state championship title.
During the recruiting process, Clark Lea made Kiser a top priority, letting the in-state prospect know that he has plans for him starting out at the rover linebacker position before growing into the buck spot.
Certainly, Kiser could earn a special teams role as a true freshman while learning the defense and building his physique to where it needs to be.
Soon, Notre Dame will be without Te’von Coney and Drue Tranquill – an athlete Notre Dame hopes Kiser can mirror in time. With his background in playing the deep safety role at Pioneer, a spot where he snagged multiple interceptions through his career, the rover position may be a natural fit.
Clearly, the jump from Indiana 1A ball to Power 5 competition at Notre Dame is a monstrous gap. That’s why enrolling early will be key for this small-town prospect.
The one prospect on this list who is certain to start as a true freshman, Jay Bramblett was selected as an All-American for a reason. This kid has serious potential as a punter on the Power 5 stage.
As a senior, Bramblett had 41 punts, averaging 45.1-yards-per-punt, and a long of 59 yards. At quarterback, he went 178-of-260 for 2,341 yards (68-percent completion) and 18 touchdowns to six interceptions. So, fake punt package? I would say so.
The Alabama product is filling big shoes of another punter from the Southeast in Tyler Newsome who had a strong career in South Bend.
“That’s, without a doubt, the goal,” Bramblett told Irish Illustrated regarding earning a starting role as a freshman. “You can’t think it’s going to be easy. You have to go in with your head down and work harder than anybody else. That’s what I’m good at. I’m good at working on it. I like being the guy that the team can look up at and think, ‘this is the guy that can go out there and flip the field for us and put the defense in a good position.”
Clearly, Bramblett’s mindset and work ethic are where they needs to be. Coming from a strong program in Hillcrest (Tuscaloosa) where he was the quarterback and captain as the son of the defensive coordinator, Notre Dame found a promising replacement at an important position.
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