Isaac Rochell

Freshman Focus: Isaac Rochell


Incoming defensive lineman Isaac Rochell is a lot of things on the football field. But what might make him one of the more interesting recruits in this class is what he isn’t: Drama.

Rochell’s recruitment was one of the quietest for a high profile player in recent memory. In an era where just about every elite defensive lineman turns into a recruiting battle until the end, Rochell’s eventual signing with the Irish had so few twists and turns that most Irish fans might be taking Rochell for granted.

While thousands of words and millions of worries were dedicated to Eddie Vanderdoes, Rochell will walk onto campus as one of the top prospects in the country along the defensive line that nobody seems to be talking about. He’s a big, strong and powerful defensive lineman playing a position that the Irish need to replenish, and is another recruiting victory that Brian Kelly and staff had over SEC powers, with the help of young assistant Scott Booker.

Let’s take a closer look at Isaac Rochell.


In just about every other recruiting class, Rochell is the type of guy that would have Irish fans jumping for joy. An elite defensive line recruit with offers from Alabama, Florida, Florida State, Georgia, Michigan and a few dozen other programs, Rochelle has the type of upside that has Kelly and his coaching staff very excited.

“He’s going to play on the defensive line, and he’s going to impact this program,” Kelly said. “I think he’s got a huge upside, and we’re really excited about getting a player of this caliber here to Notre Dame.”

Rochelle was a consensus Top 125 player across the board for just about every recruiting service.


With the injury to Chase Hounshell and the departure of Eddie Vanderdoes, Rochell has the chance to make an early dent in the depth chart. Looking at this season, behind the locked in starting three of Stephon Tuitt, Louis Nix and Sheldon Day, where Rochell slots in among guys like Tony Springmann, Justin Utupo and Jarron Jones will be interesting to watch.

While we’ve heard nice things about fifth year player Tyler Stockton, he might be a rotational player at the nose with Kona Schwenke. Likewise, a guy like Utuopo might have been just a flash in spring practice, but might never be heard from again. That said, expecting numbers out of Rochell that exceed what Day did last year as a true freshman is probably asking too much, especially considering Day had a spring semester to prepare him for college football.

Like the offensive line last season, the Irish defense up front might be caught in a talented-but-thin predicament and a talented guy like Rochell could be the beneficiary.


With an offer list like the one Rochell possesses and a size and skillset that this staff covets, it’s not hard to think big things are in Rochell’s future. (Tight end coach Scott Booker, who led the charge for Rochell, believes he’s athletic enough to play tight end for the Irish.) That said, the timing of Rochell’s breakthrough will likely correspond with the departure of Stephon Tuitt.

Still, the Irish depend on a solid rotation of players in the front seven to power the defense and a guy like Rochell might find his way into that rotation the day he steps foot on campus. After one or two seasons behind Tuitt, Rochell could work his way into becoming a two year starter — or three if he’s able to redshirt this season.

In a defense like the Irish’s, finding athletes like Rochell are essential to the overall health of the defense. With the chance to develop and learn behind one of the country’s elite defensive lines, Rochell should be a future staple of front sevens to come.

Even amidst chaos, Kelly expecting USC’s best

JuJu Smith-Schuster, Rocky Hayes, Blaise Taylor

USC head coach Steve Sarkisian was fired on Monday, with interim head coach Clay Helton taking the reins of the Trojan program during tumultuous times. Helton will be the fourth different USC head coach to face Notre Dame in as many years, illustrative of the chaos that’s shaken up Heritage Hall in the years since Pete Carroll left for the NFL.

All eyes are on the SC program, with heat on athletic director Pat Haden and the ensuing media circus that only Los Angeles can provide. But Brian Kelly doesn’t expect anything but their best when USC boards a plane to take on the Irish in South Bend.

While the majority of Notre Dame’s focus will be inward this week, Kelly did take the time on Sunday and Monday to talk with his team about the changes atop the Trojan program, and how they’ll likely impact the battle for the Jeweled Shillelagh.

“We talked about there would be an interim coach, and what that means,” Kelly said. “Teams come together under those circumstances and they’re going to play their very best. And I just reminded them of that.”

While nobody on this Notre Dame roster has experienced a coaching change, they’ve seen their share of scrutiny. The Irish managed to spring an upset not many saw coming against LSU last year in the Music City Bowl after a humiliating defeat against the Trojans and amidst the chaos of a quarterbacking controversy. And just last week, we saw Charlie Strong’s team spring an upset against arch rival Oklahoma when just about everybody left the Longhorns for dead.

“I think you look at the way Texas responded this past weekend with a lot of media scrutiny,” Kelly said Tuesday. “I expect USC to respond the same way, so we’re going to have to play extremely well.”

Outside of the head coaching departure, it’s difficult to know if there’ll be any significant difference between a team lead by Sarkisian or the one that Helton will lead into battle. The offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach has been at USC for six years, and has already held the title of interim head coach when he led the Trojans to a 2013 Las Vegas Bowl title after Lane Kiffin was fired and Ed Orgeron left the program after he wasn’t given the full time position.

Helton will likely call plays, a role he partially handled even when Sarkisian was on the sideline. The defense will still be run by Justin Wilcox. And more importantly, the game plan will be executed by a group of players that are among the most talented in the country.

“They have some of the finest athletes in the country. I’ve recruited a lot of them, and they have an immense amount of pride for their program and personal pride,” Kelly said. “So they will come out with that here at Notre Dame, there is no question about that.”

Irish add commitment from CB Donte Vaughn

Donte Vaughn

Notre Dame’s recruiting class grew on Monday. And in adding 6-foot-3 Memphis cornerback Donte Vaughn, it grew considerably.

The Irish added another jumbo-sized skill player in Vaughn, beating out a slew of SEC offers for the intriguing cover man. Vaughn picked Notre Dame over offers from Auburn, LSU, Miami, Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Tennessee and Texas A&M among others.

He made the announcement on Monday, his 18th birthday:

It remains to be seen if Vaughn can run like a true cornerback. But his length certainly gives him a skill-set that doesn’t currently exist on the Notre Dame roster.

Interestingly enough, Vaughn’s commitment comes a cycle after Brian VanGorder made news by going after out-of-profile coverman Shaun Crawford, immediately offering the 5-foot-9 cornerback after taking over for Bob Diaco, who passed because of Crawford’s size. An ACL injury cut short Crawford’s freshman season before it got started, but not before Crawford already proved he’ll be a valuable piece of the Irish secondary for years to come.

Vaughn is another freaky athlete in a class that already features British Columbia’s Chase Claypool. With a safety depth chart that’s likely turning over quite a bit in the next two seasons, Vaughn can clearly shift over if that’s needed, though Notre Dame adding length like Vaughn clearly points to some of the shifting trends after Richard Sherman went from an average wide receiver to one of the best cornerbacks in football, and Vaughn will be asked to play on the outside.

Vaughn is the 15th member of Notre Dame’s 2016 signing class. He is the fifth defensive back, joining safeties D.J. Morgan, Jalen Elliott and Spencer Perry along with cornerback Julian Love. The Irish project to take one more.

With Notre Dame expecting another huge recruiting weekend with USC coming to town, it’ll be very interesting to see how the Irish staff close out this recruiting class.