Notre Dame Fighting Irish Football’s Highest-Rated Offensive Linemen In Rivals Era
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Notre Dame’s Highest-Rated Offensive Linemen In Rivals Era

On Saturday evening (Aug. 8), Clarkston, Mich., 6-5, 315-pound offensive lineman Rocco Spindler will announce where he will enroll as a student-athlete in 2021.

Spindler, who is ranked as the No. 3 offensive guard and No. 56 overall prospect nationally by Rivals, is projected by most recruiting analysts to select Notre Dame.

Since the first Rivals rankings of players came out in 2002, Spindler’s current rating would be among Notre Dame’s top half dozen offensive linemen on paper if he does select the Fighting Irish.

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Former Notre Dame offensive guard Quenton Nelson
Quenton Nelson was listed as the nation’s No. 29 overall prospect by Rivals in the 2014 recruiting class. (Bill Panzica)

Here is the countdown of the dozen since 2002 who made the Rivals top 100 along the offensive line and selected Notre Dame.

12. Alex Bars (2014) — No. 98

Bars started a couple of games at left guard in 2015, and then was a full-time starter at right guard in 2016 and right tackle in 2017. As a fifth-year senior captain, he suffered a torn ACL/MCL in the fifth game that resulted in him not getting drafted.

He made the Chicago Bears’ roster as a free agent last year and played with the practice squad before getting activated and appearing in five games as a rookie last season.

11. Matt James (2010) — No. 86

Signed in head coach Brian Kelly’s first recruiting class at Notre Dame, the Cincinnati St. Xavier star James tragically died in a spring break accident in Florida on April 3, 2010, when he fell from a hotel balcony.

10. Chris Watt (2009) — No. 77

Now a graduate assistant for Notre Dame offensive line coach Jeff Quinn, Watt started three straight years at right guard (2011-13) next to current six-time Pro Bowl pick Zack Martin, forming a highly productive tandem.

The third-round pick played three seasons with the San Diego Chargers, including at center.

9. John Montelus (2013) — No. 74

Injury setbacks helped limit the Massachusetts native to only six game appearances at Notre Dame, a couple of them on defense.

Montelus used his fifth season of eligibility as a graduate transfer at the University of Virginia, where he started 10 games at left guard in 2017.

8. Matt Hegarty (2011) — No. 70

Hegarty was the No. 1 prospect from New Mexico that season. In a Nov. 8, 2012 practice as a sophomore he suffered a mini-stroke in practice, but remarkably returned to the field the next season.

He started the final 11 games for the Irish in 2014 (the first 10 at center), and had 13 starts overall. But when Nick Martin was moved to center to make way for sophomore Quenton Nelson at guard, Hegarty used his fifth season in 2015 as a graduate transfer at Oregon, starting all 13 games at center. He was not drafted by the NFL.

7. Quinn Carroll (2019) — No. 68

The Minnesota product tore an ACL during August preseason practice as a freshman last year and was medically redshirted. Carroll is currently stationed behind senior Robert Hainsey at right tackle.

6. Steve Elmer (2013) — No. 60

Like Spindler, Elmer is from Michigan (Midland). An early enrollee and a brilliant student who made the Dean’s List his first semester, he also made four starts as a freshman.

He then proceeded to start all 26 games again in 2014 and 2015, mostly right guard. Elmer had a potential NFL career ahead of him, but opted to graduate after his junior year and join the business world.

5. Matt Romine (2007) — No. 55

The Oklahoma native was medically redshirted as a freshman and primarily a reserve tackle before earning his first career start as a senior versus Pitt in 2010, and then Western Michigan and Navy.

Romine used his fifth season of eligibility as a graduate transfer at Tulsa.

4. Tommy Kraemer (2016) — No. 41

The fifth-year senior right guard is tied with classmate Liam Eichenberg for most career starts (26) on the current roster. Kraemer began his career at right tackle before moving inside to right guard. A knee injury sidelined him the final six games in 2019.

3. Quenton Nelson (2014) — No. 29

Listed as a tackle when he signed, the Red Bank, N.J., product redshirted as a freshman before becoming a dominant force at left guard to become the No. 6 overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, and a two-time All-Pro already.

Nelson and Zack Martin (not a top-250 recruit in 2009) both can be future Hall-of-Fame inductees with future good health. For the record, 2012 recruit Ronnie Stanley, also an All-Pro pick last season, was ranked No. 176 nationally coming out of high school.

2. Blake Fisher (2021) — No. 22

Whether Fisher remains this high and also gets the fifth star among analysts is still to be determined, but the local product from Avon, Ind., has the makings of a team captain and All-American down the road.

1. Sam Young (2006) — No. 11

Selected as Florida’s Gatorade Player of the Year over quarterback Tim Tebow, Young made history by becoming the first Notre Dame true freshman offensive lineman to start an opener. He never looked back while starting all 50 games in his college career as a tackle, a school record until Zack Martin had 52 straight from 2010-13.

Although only a sixth-round NFL pick, Young now is in his 11th year in the NFL, currently with the Las Vegas Raiders.



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