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Notre Dame & International Recruiting

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Alexander Ehrensberger (center) committed to Irish defensive line coach Mike Elston (right) and the Notre Dame program from his native Germany.
Photo from Alexander Ehrensbürger

Notre Dame athletics has always had a national recruiting base, but the football team made news this weekend when Dusseldorf, Germany resident and defensive end prospect Alexander Ehrensberger became the program's fourth verbal commitment in the 2020 recruiting cycle.

He joins Rivals100 quarterback Drew Pyne plus Rivals250 tight ends Michael Mayer and Kevin Bauman in that class. It is a maiden voyage for Notre Dame into the European football market, and a rare journey overall internationally. Although Florida State 2012 unanimous All-American defensive end Bjorn Werner — a first-round pick of the Indianapolis Colts — also was from Germany, he played his senior year of high school in the state of Connecticut.

From an international perspective, Notre Dame has had eight players from Canada appear in varsity action, and one came from Mexico: Janero Davila, who played in 1895.

Current junior wideout Chase Claypool, from British Columbia, has had the best college football career at Notre Dame by a Canadian, finishing second in receptions (50) this past year for the 12-1 Irish, totaling 639 yards and four touchdowns.

The year before Claypool signed, Notre Dame in 2015 pursued St. Catherines Canada Prep Football Academy defensive tackle Neville Gallimore, who made honorable mention All-Big 12 at Oklahoma this past season.

Prior to Claypool, the most visible international football player for Notre Dame was Toronto, Ontario native Mike Wadsworth.

Best known as Notre Dame’s athletics director during much upheaval from 1995 and into the spring of 2000, the multi-faceted Wadsworth was a backup lineman on the 1963-65 teams, including the top reserve to future All-American and first-round selection Kevin Hardy at defensive tackle on the 1964 unit that resurrected the program under first-year head coach Ara Parseghian.

In fact, the other backup tackle, behind future All-American guard and first-round pick Tom Regner, was Mike Webster from Vancouver, British Coumbia.

Although Wadsworth had some injury issues at Notre Dame, he played for the CFL’s hometown Toronto Argonauts from 1966-70, was named the top rookie in the East, earned All-Star honors in 1968 and served as president of the CFL players' union.

The first Canadian player to suit up for the Irish was Nick Doyle (Ontario) in 1906. The only one on a consensus national title team was reserve defensive back Pete Lamantia (Toronto) in 1966.

In 1994, Notre Dame landed linebacker Bill Mitoulas from Toronto, Ontario — the first Canadian since Lamantia and the Wadsworth/Webster duo from 30 years earlier. Although he had no career starts on defense, Mitoulas earned a monogram all four years on special teams and recorded 23 tackles.

We didn’t include 2000-04 Notre Dame tight end Billy Palmer, who grew up in Canada before playing his high school football in Florida. His older brother Jesse, now a top college football commentator, played in Canada before starting at quarterback for Steve Spurrier at the University of Florida.

Interestingly, Notre Dame’s 1971 freshman/junior varsity team, led by quarterback Tom Clements, played a game in Mexico City and won 80-0 against a woefully outmanned team from that country. The game was featured in the Nov. 1, 1971 edition of Sports Illustrated. The Irish then closed the 1979 season n Tokyo, Japan versus Miami, and embarked to Ireland for games against Navy in 1996 and 2012, and what will be the 2020 opener.

Canada has been wonderful to Notre Dame’s hockey program, most of whose top 10 all-time scoring leaders are from Canadian provinces.

The women’s basketball team also benefited tremendously with 2010-14 center Natalie Achonwa, who played for the Canadian National Team at the 2012 Summer Olympics. She helped the Irish to four consecutive Final Four appearances.

Last year’s men’s basketball MVP was Martin Geben, who is from Lithuania and played for its national team, although his high school career was in the United States. Current junior backup Nikola Djogo is from Hamilton, Ontario, Canada.

In his one season as Notre Dame’s head coach, Matt Doherty (1999-2000) signed two Croatian natives in Ivan Kartelo and Jere Macura, although Kartelo would transfer to Purdue.

In 1984, Irish head coach Digger Phelps received a verbal commitment from Croatia’s Drazen Petrovic — the same year as future All-American guard David Rivers — but political red tape helped prevent Petrovic from ever enrolling. He went on to star five years in the NBA, and averaged 22.3 points per game his final season before tragically dying in June 1993 in a vehicular accident.

Football is a different animal. More and more Canadian football players are coming to American summer camps, though, to showcase their skills, and it paid off for Claypool.

The Irish staff will always cast a wide net on the recruiting circuit, but it’s unlikely the European market will be a regular stop.

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