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Five recruits enroll at Notre Dame early

Jan 15, 2013, 3:24 PM EST

James Onwualu

Notre Dame begins the spring semester today. With that brings the start of five recruits’ football careers with the Irish. Offensive lineman Steve Elmer, tight end Mike Heuerman, wide receiver James Onwualu, wide receiver Corey Robinson and quarterback Malik Zaire all moved into their dorms over the weekend, becoming the first members of one of the top recruiting classes in the country to enroll at Notre Dame.

Graduating early from high school and enrolling early at a college allows a recruit to take part in spring practice, a nice jump-start to a college football career. For players like TJ Jones, it helped them find immediate playing time. For quarterbacks like Everett Golson and Gunner Kiel, it was a first look at a very different level of football, and still required a redshirt season.

As the five freshman get acquainted with dorm life, the academic pressures that come with Notre Dame, and the requirements of strength coach Paul Longo, they’ll likely be jumping into the proverbial deep end from day one.

Want to know what’s on most of these guys’ mind? It sure isn’t football… yet.

“Shout out to Steve Elmer for saving me from sitting alone at breakfast on my first day,” Onwualu tweeted this morning.

Here’s a quick look at the five early enrollees (it was set to be six until linebacker Alex Anzalone’s late defection to Florida), and their immediate future with the Irish:

Steve Elmer

The return of Zack Martin likely ended any shot of Elmer playing as a true freshman. But with injuries ending the career of Brad Carrico, and unknowns surrounding guys like Matt Hegarty and Tate Nichols, Elmer could work his way into the two deep pretty quickly, especially with Ronnie Stanley coming back from elbow surgery.

Elmer might physically be ready for play at the collegiate level. Talking to people that watched him at the Army All-American game, they were impressed by the improvements he made in the last calendar year, and Elmer looked like one of the most college-ready linemen in San Antonio.

Still, there’s little need at tackle with both Martin and Christian Lombard returning to their starting spots, and it might be best for Harry Hiestand’s prized pupil to spend the fall watching and learning. But that’ll likely be determined after 15 spring practices.

Mike Heuerman

Bringing in a top tight end recruit was a priority, especially after leaving the position empty in the last recruiting cycle. But with Tyler Eifert heading to the NFL and Jake Golic graduating, the depth chart looks ripe for a guy like Heuerman to make a push for playing time.

Troy Niklas looks to have the starting tight end job locked down for 2013. And Alex Welch should be ready to return come spring after an ACL injury robbed him of the 2012 season. Ben Koyack’s season has to be deemed a disappointment, as the sophomore struggled with a few drops early in the year and lost his place in the rotation to Niklas. And if Heuerman can put enough heft on his body to hold up to the pounding of the position, there’s room for him to fight his way up Scott Booker’s depth chart quickly.

James Onwualu

Where Onwualu ends up on the football field might be the biggest question among the freshman. Spending time as both a running back and receiver at Cretin-Derham Hall, Onwualu might end up on the defensive side of the ball before his time in South Bend in over.

After talking to CDH head coach Mike Scanlan, I wouldn’t be surprised if Brian Kelly and company gave Onwualu a look on defensive this spring, with the wide receiver depth chart only losing John Goodman and Robby Toma. But Onwualu might be too good with the football to move to defense, and his improvement during his senior season was one of the biggest leaps forward Scanlan had seen in a long time.

Corey Robinson

It looks like Brian Kelly and Chuck Martin might have a shiny new toy in Robinson, a red zone threat from the moment he steps foot on campus. At 6-foot-5 and likely growing, Robinson wowed those watching in San Antonio with his athleticism, good hands, and better than expected route running and speed.

After coming out of nowhere to receive an Irish scholarship offer, the son of NBA Hall of Famer David Robinson gives the Irish a raw athlete, yet one that looks far more polished than expected. Still, transitioning to an offense far more complex than the one he ran in high school could prove to be a challenge, and ultimately how quickly Robinson grasps things off the field will play a factor in how quickly he finds his way onto the field.

Malik Zaire

While the quarterback position looks mighty crowded with Everett Golson holding a pretty firm grasp on the starting job heading into spring practice, Zaire is the type of talent that could shake things up. A southpaw with a smooth throwing stroke, Zaire really impressed on the combine circuit, earning his way to the top of the Elite 11 competition and gaining a ton of fans on the nation stage.

Quarterback coach Yogi Roth, who helps run the Elite 11 camp and now works for the Pac-12 Network, had a chance to work with the last three Notre Dame quarterback signees, Golson, Kiel and Zaire. He liked Zaire more than the others, and it wasn’t even close for him.

With a depth chart chocked full of talent in front of him, Zaire will likely watch and learn this season, saving a year of eligibility while the position sorts itself out. The likelihood of a major program holding onto five scholarship quarterbacks without a transfer isn’t high. And when the dust settles, Zaire could find himself in the running for playing time sooner than later.

  1. dickasman - Jan 15, 2013 at 3:43 PM

    Just a friendly reminder Tee Shirt enrolled early last year.

    • 4horsemenrideagain - Jan 16, 2013 at 10:07 AM

      As Napolean Dynamite once said “your mom goes to college.”

      • ndfansince69 - Jan 16, 2013 at 2:15 PM

        That made me laugh. However, it was Kip who said that. :-)

  2. glorygreyhound - Jan 15, 2013 at 3:49 PM

    I thought Koyack’s issue was subpar blocking. Fix that and tight ends remain a team strength.

    • bernhtp - Jan 15, 2013 at 8:30 PM

      He didn’t block, he didn’t catch, and then he didn’t play.

  3. stedward - Jan 15, 2013 at 4:01 PM

    I don’t really think Malik will ever start. I saw him play in high school. Very raw talent and not the best leader. As Kieth also said, I wouldn’t be shocked by a transfer.

    • heisenbyrg - Jan 15, 2013 at 5:27 PM

      I think I’ll hold Roth’s analysis in higher esteem than your from-the-bleachers opinion of his leadership.

      • stedward - Jan 16, 2013 at 9:29 AM

        I know people on his team and at the school so this isn’t exactly “I saw him play once.” He has sort of been coasting with workouts since he got the ND offer and he had some academic issues.

    • kleinick - Jan 15, 2013 at 9:02 PM

      Please elaborate on Malik’s leadership skills.

      • stedward - Jan 16, 2013 at 9:51 AM

        You know that scene in Friday Night Lights where the whole team is lifting and Boobie Miles is sitting there? That picture isn’t far from the truth.

    • blackirishman - Jan 16, 2013 at 1:02 PM

      you my friend are a fool he will play some next year and start the following year.

      • stedward - Jan 16, 2013 at 2:10 PM

        He will almost certainly redshirt next year (although we don’t officially do that). Baring injury I don’t see how he could start over Golson. They are similar physically and Golson will always have the advantage in knowledge and experience. Malik isn’t the kind of guy that is going to come in and know the playbook and reads immediately just like Golson needed to develop. Kelly has run the two QB system in the past. I would expect to see both Golson and Kiel taking snaps in the next two years. I seem to have a very unpopular opinion of late.

  4. irish1958 - Jan 15, 2013 at 4:10 PM

    I also saw Malik play (in one game) and he looked terrific.

  5. kiopta1 - Jan 15, 2013 at 4:23 PM

    I am not any fans are as pessimistic as ND fans. Good luck EEs.

    • idratherbeinsouthbend - Jan 15, 2013 at 4:48 PM

      almost a coherent statement. Better luck next time. :)

      • 1historian - Jan 16, 2013 at 12:39 PM

        a coherent analysis of an incoherent statement.

        Impressive

  6. heisenbyrg - Jan 15, 2013 at 5:43 PM

    Since I find the issue of QB transfers fascinating, here’s my two cents. From most likely to transfer to least likely to transfer:

    1. Gunner Kiel: Likely to lose the QB competition this spring and fall. Looking at 3 more years of the Everett Golson show before he gets his chance.

    2. Everett Golson: If Kiel does win the starting job in the fall, I wouldn’t be shocked if Golson surveys the landscape and decides to opt out with Kiel’s four years of eligibility remaining and Zaire breathing down his neck for a backup job.

    3. Andrew Hendrix: It’s well known that he plans to pursue med school after completing his undergraduate career. He’s one year from a degree that will give him a major advantage on his med school apps. And if he was going to transfer due to lack of playing time, he’d have done it by now.

    4. Malik Zaire: Just got to campus and has to expect that Golson will remain the starter for the next 2-3 years. If he were afraid of competition, he wouldn’t have come to ND.

    5. Tommy Rees: Not transferring. Loves ND and wants to coach. Additionally, is there any school in the country that is dying to have one year of Tommy Rees at quarterback? Didn’t think so.

    I actually think the most likely scenario is that no one transfers, ND keeps 5 scholarship QBs this year, then keeps 3-4 per season from here on out.

    • bernhtp - Jan 15, 2013 at 8:36 PM

      Agreed. Rees and Hendrix graduate after this year, leaving three and anyone they pick up in 2014. If Kiel significantly progresses, I expect him to get into the 2-deep this year, which means he will get some playing time and stay. If not, there is a possibility he would transfer a year from now. Zaire will likely do his duty on scout team this year.

    • bernhtp - Jan 15, 2013 at 8:42 PM

      I also think they should make Hendrix a field goal holder to give opponents something to think about. He becomes a threat to run or throw. Hell, Brindza is even big enough to block.

      They could also use Hendrix as a fullback with running, blocking, receiving, and gadget-play QB roles.

    • papadec - Jan 16, 2013 at 7:59 PM

      heis – re #4 – Kansas seems to like 1 year ND QBs.

  7. thefightinfloyds - Jan 15, 2013 at 7:17 PM

    Get rid of Hendrix, he brings nothing to the table. If Zaire gets the shirt, then Rees and Kiel should be backups. Rees at least has some big game experience and as we all know is good at pre-snap reads but what can Hendrix do? run around for awhile, thats it. Good kid but pre-med perennial bench warmers dont beat Alabama.

  8. burgandy2260 - Jan 15, 2013 at 7:46 PM

    How any QB could commit is crazy. Kelly has a fun little toy in Golson that he will either continue to mold into an elite player or he will fly the coup to the NFL next year anyways!

    • 1historian - Jan 16, 2013 at 12:42 PM

      expecting Golson to go pro after next season is a bit of a stretch

  9. cpfirish - Jan 15, 2013 at 8:28 PM

    Wow! Do we have some great young talent at QB! Going to say it right now, golson is the man! Kiel and Rees with be the back ups this year. And I think Kiel will see the field a lot more than Reese does. Zaire will be the guy after the golson show is gone. Haha.. Go Irish! Can’t wait for the spring game already!!

  10. cpfirish - Jan 15, 2013 at 9:00 PM

    Does anyone agree that we can run the table again this next season?? I know I am an Irish fanatic, but hey I honestly think we are going to be better this year. I think the defense will be the same. The offense will improve by leaps and bounds and I don’t think teams will be able to stop us. Hell I would like to average 45 points a game! Lol..

    • mattnef - Jan 16, 2013 at 9:24 AM

      The defense will be good, but after losing two huge leaders (KLM and Motta) and a Heisman finalist that is the most decorated college player in one season, you can’t expect the defense to be at the same level. Eifert is gone but I do expect the offense to be much better next year, so yes I could see another great season ahead.

    • 4horsemenrideagain - Jan 16, 2013 at 10:35 AM

      I’m with you; my optimism clouds my judgment, but another 12-0 year isn’t entirely out of reach for the following reasons;

      -strength of schedule likely to be less of a boogeyman than last year. toughest games look to be UM, Stanford and USC, with no reason to deem any of these unwinnable.
      -a returning quarterback with much room to improve, and with that improvement the option of incorporating more up-tempo into the offense. the up-tempo will not only be effective, but will also be difficult for opponents’ preparation.
      -a stocked backfield, solid (or better) receiving corps and kicking game that should only get better. it goes without saying, but special teams should also show marked improvement, from both a personnel and tactical standpoint.
      -defensive front with Tuitt, Nix and Shembo, experienced linebackers(Ishaq Williams, Spond, Fox, Calabrese) and plenty to be optimistic about with Jarret Grace, not to mention possibility of freshmen contributors.
      -experienced secondary that has chance to be more effective than last year’s.
      -a pool of potential leaders from which several may emerge on both sides of the ball. i’m confident that one the final contributions Te’o will make (if not done already), is to identify and cultivate next year’s leaders. Don’t be surprised to see Golson be a confident, vocal leader, as well as TJ Jones, Nix, Farley and even Spond.

      the only big question marks to me are filling the gaps in the offensive line (no small task I admit) and avoiding a drop-off at middle LB. that is what the off-season and spring are for; filling gaps.

      Even my optimism won’t bring me to predict averaging 45 a game, but with talent being developed (deep threat/quick strike/high octane elements of the offense), I suspect next year’s strategy will more focused on putting up points, than just keeping opponents from scoring like last year and could end up putting up over 30 points each game.

      My last prediction is that next year’s team will more fun to watch, will have more convincing victories and only one game where we squeak by when we should have dominated. Team speed will be a big reason for this.

      • joeschu - Jan 16, 2013 at 2:48 PM

        I absolutely adore this level of optimism, but winning them all is really hard. Alabama was, far and away, the best team in the land and they lost one. It happens. I’m just thrilled to be looking at possible consecutive 10 win seasons for the first time in a long time and another shot at a BCS-level bowl.

        Getting to the big game this season was magical, and yes, it could happen again next year. Realistically though, another 10+ win year would go a long way to showing program consistency and a true “Return to Glory ™.”

  11. cpfirish - Jan 15, 2013 at 9:07 PM

    Bernhtp.

    How bout Hendrix on the punt return team?? Haha.. It can’t get any worse. And great call on the place kick holder.

    • idratherbeinsouthbend - Jan 15, 2013 at 9:41 PM

      He’s no Tebow :)

  12. yaketyyacc - Jan 16, 2013 at 6:46 AM

    geting talent and usiing talent correctly are two different things. Golson is good, but Keil and Malik are far better. my hope is that spring practice will prove this to be correct. with the talent ND now has, it feels like the old days of Leahy, one undefeated season after the other. cockiness, no. just thankful that ND finally has the talent and coaches that fit the spirit and tradition of the FIGHTING IRISH.
    the teams we defeated last year will all be improved, especially Stanford, so we will have to beome stronger, smarter and faster. hit the books hard, hit the pads harder. never be satisfied with a “that play was good” remark from the coaches. Don’t tell me how good it was, only how to make it better.
    The Irish are coming……

  13. mtflsmitty - Jan 16, 2013 at 1:03 PM

    For those of you miffed over BKs seemingly incongruent actions and words when considering a move to the NFL, how would you like to be a Ducks fan right now? Unbelievable.

    According to the statement, Kelly continued to evaluate the opportunity to jump to the NFL after announcing that he’d be returning to the college ranks. We’ll have to wait until a press conference or other public statements from Kelly for more information about why he had the change of heart after his flirtation with the Eagles and Browns early in the process didn’t lead anywhere.

    • 9irish - Jan 16, 2013 at 1:22 PM

      Just saw that. Well, at least only one state is pissed, instead of 50.

  14. dudeacow - Jan 16, 2013 at 2:05 PM

    BREAKING NEWS: Kelly takes the Eagles coaching job!

  15. bostonjan - Jan 16, 2013 at 3:04 PM

    Yes, CHIP not Brian….

    …..and let’s see if the media goes beserk about how CHIP Kelly lied to his team, recruits, the administration, the fan base, blah, blah, blah……as they certainly would have if it was Brain and not Chip making the announcement.

    P.S. Any recruits that had committed to Oregon that would now be interested in flipping to ND?

    • danirish - Jan 16, 2013 at 4:11 PM

      Brain Kelly? Awesome!

      • papadec - Jan 16, 2013 at 8:08 PM

        dan – CHIP – CHIP – CHIP KELLY!!!!!!!!!! Get it right! Most of the state of Washington (Coug & Dawg fans) rejoicing!

    • papadec - Jan 16, 2013 at 8:41 PM

      boston – maybe OLB Danny Mattingley? Committed to ND, flipped to the ducks. To tell the truth, I think the Spokane, WA kid is better off @ Eugene.

      • papadec - Jan 16, 2013 at 8:54 PM

        Speaking of flips – on the weekend of the 25th, according to IrishSportsDaily, ND will be hosting four (yes 4) former and/or current usc commits. espn #10 DT Eddie Vanderdoes, #74 WR Sebastian LaRue, #85 DE Kylie Fitts, & #235 DE Torrodney Prevot. Makes me wonder if Max Redfield has been busy tweeting/face booking/calling? tick-tick-tick Lane, tick-tick-tick. Pat, Pat, are you asleep @ the usc wheel?

  16. danirish - Jan 16, 2013 at 4:14 PM

    Naturally my email and facebook was loaded with “Hey Dan, Kelly DID bolt for the NFL haha! How ya like him now!”

    Should I wait to reply?

    • papadec - Jan 16, 2013 at 8:13 PM

      dan – I have confidence that you can coin the appropriate response! If not, I’m sure nude & dickas would be willing to help.

  17. mediocrebob - Jan 16, 2013 at 4:17 PM

    Malik Zaire, contrary to what a particular poster has said, is a great leader. I’m from the Dayton area.

    Also said to be one of the hardest workers on the team. Not sure where this guy got his information. Doesn’t seem to add up.

    • 4horsemenrideagain - Jan 16, 2013 at 4:48 PM

      that was just lane kiffin commenting under a different name. he was taking a break from explaining the post-game fight in his locker room after losing the Ga. Tech, and from explaining why he decided to renege on his offer to Kylie Fitts and from explaining why he looks just like Seth Rogan.

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