Listed Measurements: 6-foot-2, 245 pounds.
2019-20 year, eligibility: A freshman, Cross has all four seasons of eligibility remaining, including 2019.
Depth chart: Recruited as an end, likely on the strongside, Cross may dabble at defensive tackle this season. That is in part due to the depths of talent Notre Dame enjoys at end and in part due to the shallows of health the Irish worry about at tackle. Cross could conceivably arrive this summer and immediately be the third-string 3-technique tackle while early-enrolled classmate Hunter Spears recovers from a torn ACL.
Recruiting: A consensus four-star prospect, the Gatorade New Jersey Football Player of the Year chose Notre Dame over offers from a number of Big Ten and ACC programs, including Michigan, Northwestern and Boston College, to name a few typical Irish foes. The son of a former NFL tight end, Cross was rated the No. 27 defensive end in the class of 2019, per rivals.com.
Cross possibly working at defensive tackle does not only stem from the current injuries worrying Notre Dame. It was very much in mind as the Irish recruited him, culminating with both an offer and a commitment in April of 2018.
“The ability to project is important in every class and this one is no different,” recruiting coordinator Brian Polian said upon Cross’ signing in December. “Sometimes you just have guys that can do a lot of different things. Howard Cross can be a good defensive end that when it becomes third-and-long, you can kick inside and now it becomes a mismatch on a guard one-on-one pass rushing. We’re always looking for those type of players that can offer that type of flexibility.”
WHAT WAS SAID WHEN CROSS’ NATIONAL LETTER OF INTENT ARRIVED
“Cross can both shove a blocker upfield and then turn his pursuit after a mobile quarterback. His overall skill set could use some development, but that should be expected at this point.”
If looking at the depth chart ahead of Cross at strongside end, up to five names come before his, led by seniors Khalid Kareem and Ade Ogundeji. At drop end, another four names would come before Cross’, led by seniors Julian Okwara and Daelin Hayes.
But at 3-technique tackle, only junior Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa and sophomore Jayson Ademilola may be ahead of Cross, and that is at a position in which Notre Dame would prefer to have three able bodies in a rotation. In that role, Cross may not be called upon for more than a dozen snaps a game, but those would be valuable moments off for Tagovailoa-Amosa and Ademilola.
There is a scenario in which Cross provides those reliefs, but only in four games, preserving a year of eligibility. That may hinge on Spears reaching full health by mid-October, thus providing those dozen snaps in another four games in the latter half of the season. Even if that is possible, Irish head coach Brian Kelly does not usually go to great lengths to preserve years of eligibility for talented defensive linemen, rarely expecting them to use a fifth year.
DOWN THE ROAD
The drawback to playing as a freshman, so much as there can be one, is it may take some focus away from Cross’ long-term development. He has quick enough hands to play dat defensive end, but his limited wingspan will require even greater technical aptitude.
The decks will largely clear at strongside end following the 2020 season, at which point only Cross, classmate NaNa Osafo-Mensah and sophomore Kofi Wardlow will be remaining of the current roster. Cross and Osafo-Mensah could readily form a duo in which one rotates inside on passing downs, just as Polian suggested and as Kareem does these days.
It is this kind of replenishing Notre Dame has long not had along the defensive line, a change not coincidentally coming along with 22 Irish wins in their last 26 games.
WHY NO. 56?
Cross’ number at Notre Dame is not yet known, but he wore 56 in high school and there is no one on the defensive side of the ball wearing it currently, so it seems a logical guess as to Cross’ future uniform.
NOTRE DAME 99-to-2:
No. 95: Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa, defensive tackle
No. 94: Darnell Ewell, defensive tackle
No. 91: Ade Ogundeji, defensive end
No. 90: Hunter Spears, defensive tackle, early-enrolled consensus four-star
No. 89: Brock Wright, tight end
No. 88: Javon McKinley, receiver
No. 87: Michael Young, receiver
No. 85: George Takacs, tight end
No. 84: Cole Kmet, tight end
No. 83: Chase Claypool, receiver
No. 80: Micah Jones, receiver
No. 78: Tommy Kraemer, right guard, three-year starter
No. 77: Quinn Carroll, offensive tackle, early-enrolled consensus four-star
No. 76: Dillan Gibbons, offensive guard
No. 75: Josh Lugg, offensive lineman
No. 74: Liam Eichenberg, left tackle, two-year starter
No. 73: Andrew Kristofic, offensive tackle, early-enrolled consensus four-star
No. 72: Robert Hainsey, offensive tackle, three-year starter
No. 71: John Olmstead, offensive lineman, early-enrolled consensus four-star
No. 69: Aaron Banks, left guard
No. 60: Cole Mabry, offensive tackle
No. 57: Trevor Ruhland, veteran backup offensive lineman
No. 57: Jayson Ademilola, defensive tackle
No. 56: John Dirksen, offensive lineman