football Edit

Is Early Enrollment At Notre Dame All It's Cracked Up To Be?

It’s hard to believe that 15 years have passed since February 2005, when former Irish head coach Charlie Weis shielded the Florida rain under a portable tent and introduced his first Irish recruiting class while at the same he was preparing the New England Patriots offense for its upcoming Super Bowl appearance in Jacksonville.

Weis understood that simultaneously wearing two coaching hats made building one recruiting class very difficult.

Proof was evident in the 2005 15-man group that was highlighted by only two four-star players — wide receiver D.J. Hord and tight end Joey Hiben — and was ranked by Rivals as No. 33 nationally.

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Former Irish defensive lineman Jerry Tillery remains the only Irish early enrollee to become a first-round NFL Draft pick.
Former Irish defensive lineman Jerry Tillery remains the only Irish early enrollee to become a first-round NFL Draft pick. (Kirby Lee (USA Today/ Sports))

Given the back-to-back recruiting hiccups in 2005 under Weis and under Tyrone Willingham in 2004 — only 16 commits and a No. 35 ranking — Weis knew he needed to get busy.

His plan started with lobbying for an early enrollment option for incoming freshmen, something Notre Dame administrators had been reluctant to adopt.

Weis won his case and early admissions began in 2006 when running back James Aldridge, offensive guard Chris Stewart and wide receiver George West enrolled that January.

This most recent 2020 recruiting class brings the 15th year since early freshmen enrollment began at Notre Dame, and brings with it the total number of participating players to 70.

Weis had 11 in four recruiting classes. Current Irish head coach Brian Kelly has 59 in his 11 classes.

Finding the accelerated development and success early enrollment is designed to provide has worked for some Irish players, but perhaps not as many as one might think.

Very few of these 70 players ever parlayed an early admission into an impactful season as a true freshman, a high percentage of these guys eventually transferred, and only a couple to this point have enjoyed any sustained NFL success. Defensive lineman Jerry Tillery is the only early-enrolled Irish player ever to become a first-round NFL Draft pick.

With eight more early-enrolled freshmen on campus from the 2020 class — preparing to begin spring ball on March 5 — this seemed like a good time to recognize the 70 players and 15 years with an All-Early Enrollee Team.

(*-denotes Weis-era player)


OFFENSE (SKILL)

QB: Tommy Rees (2010)

RB: Armando Allen* (2007)

RB: James Aldridge* (2006)

WR: TJ Jones (2010)

WR: Corey Robinson (2013)

TE: Brock Wright (2017)

NOTES:

*As a true freshmen, Rees became the starter when Dayne Crist was injured. Rees threw for 1,106 yards, 12 TDs and 8 INTs. Jimmy Clausen, who became the face of Irish early enrollment in 2007, is a legit honorable mention but had only seven touchdowns and six interceptions as a freshman.

*Allen compiled 472 scrimmage yards and one touchdown while Jones had 23 receptions, 306 yards and three touchdowns, respectively, during their freshman seasons.

*Robinson parlayed his early enrollment into nine receptions for 157 yards and one TD as a true frosh.


OFFENSE (Line)

Aaron Banks (2017)

Robert Hainsey (2017)

Steve Elmer (2013)

Trevor Robinson (2008)*

Chris Stewart (2006)*

NOTES:

*A position group that rarely provides immediate success, Robinson became a mainstay on the Irish line and spent five years in the NFL.

*With four talented early-enrolled linemen in school last January from the 2019 recruiting class, expect this list to shuffle in the years to come.

DEFENSE (Front 7)

DE: Khalid Kareem (2016)

DE: Daelin Hayes (2016)

DT: Sheldon Day (2012)

DT: Jerry Tillery (2015)

LB: Ishaq Williams (2011)

LB: James Onwualu (2013)

LB: Te’von Coney (2015)

NOTES:

*Though most of these early-enrollees expectedly needed time to grow and develop, this unit provides an imposing group of finished-product players.

*With 13 total tackles — mainly on special teams — Coney leads this group in production as a true freshman.

*Tillery and Hayes each had 12 stops in their first seasons.

*Williams and Onwualu both started their careers with six tackles as true freshmen.

*Defensive end Andrew Trumbetti enjoyed a solid Irish career after enrolling early in 2014 and deserves mention.


DEFENSE (Secondary)

S: Zeke Motta (2009)*

S: Devin Studstill (2016)

CB: Gary Gray (2007)

CB: Lo Wood (2010)

NOTES:

*Before seeing his career fizzle and his playing time slip, Studstill enjoyed a fine season as a true freshman with 38 tackles, an interception and a forced fumble.

*Motta had 12 tackles and Wood had three during their first seasons.


SPECIALISTS

PK: Kyle Brindza (2011)

P: Jay Bramblett (2019)

NOTES:

*The only two specialists ever to enroll early made for a short candidate list but still two quality choices.

*Brindza played behind David Ruffer as a freshman.

*Bramblett’s 39.40 punting average as a true freshman last season placed him 89th in the country.

Early Enrollment Reaches 15 Years
Year  Players

2010

S Chris Badger, CB Spencer Boyd, WR TJ Jones, QB Tommy Rees and CB Lo Wood

2011

K/P Kyle Brindza, OL Brad Carrico, QB Everett Golson, DE Aaron Lynch and DE/OLB Ishaq Williams

2012

DL Sheldon Day, QB Gunner Kiel and CB Tee Shepard

2013

OL Steve Elmer, TE Mike Heuerman, WR/LB James Onwualu, WR Corey Robinson and QB Malik Zaire


2014

WR Justin Brent and DE Andrew Trumbetti

2015

LB Te’von Coney, OL Tristen Hoge, DL Micah Dew-Treadway and DL Jerry Tillery

2016

LB/DE Daelin Hayes, DE Khalid Kareem, S Spencer Perry, S Devin Studstill and WR Kevin Stepherson

2017

OL Aaron Banks, OT Robert Hainsey, RB C.J. Holmes, S Isaiah Robertson and TE Brock Wright

2018

LB Matthew “Bo” Bauer, DB Houston Griffith, WR Micah Jones, LB Jack Lamb, LB Ovie Oghoufo, RB Jahmir Smith, TE George Takacs

2019

RB Kyren Williams, OL Zeke Correll, OL Quinn Carroll, OL John Olmstead, OL Andrew Kristofic, DE NaNa Osafo-Mensah, DT Jacob Lacey, DT Hunter Spears, LB Jack Kiser, P Jay Bramblett

2020

CB Caleb Offord, CB Ramon Henderson, DE Alex Ehrensberger, DE Jordan Botelho, DT Rylie Mills, WR Jay Brunelle, WR Xavier Watts, QB Drew Pyne

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