Notre Dame 99-to-0: No. 91 Aiden Gobaira, early-enrolled freshman defensive end, four-star recruit

Listed measurements: 6-foot-5, 230 pounds.
2022-23 year, eligibility: An early-enrolled freshman, Gobaira has all four years of eligibility remaining, and it is quite likely the same will be said a year from now.
Depth Chart: Gobaira is, at best, fourth among Notre Dame’s Vyper ends.
Recruiting: Gobaira chose the Irish over offers from Arizona State, Virginia Tech and Nebraska, to name a few. The Sun Devils were the most aggressive in chasing the consensus-four star and No. 6 overall end in the class, per rivals.com. Instead, the No. 84 prospect in the class of 2022 committed to Notre Dame more than 10 months before he could sign on the dotted line.

Those recruiting rankings suggest someone who should have been chased by more blue-blood programs. Blame the pandemic for keeping Gobaira out of sight, with so many camps canceled before his junior year, as he started to put on weight. Then, his junior season was delayed until February, by which point he was committed to the Irish. When he broke through on the field, his recruitment was already over, for all intents and purposes.

NAME, IMAGE, LIKENESS
A defensive end buried on the depth chart when he should still be in high school may not be the most likely candidate for an endorsement deal already, but in scrolling through Gobaira’s social media profiles briefly, a thought occurs: How long until the All-American Bowl pays high schoolers for appearing in the showcase?

If nothing else, Gobaira’s time in San Antonio confirmed to him he belonged among the best pass rushers in the class of 2022. There is some value in that confidence.

“My week in San Antonio was a blast,” he said in February. “It really was a place where I could see how my skills shaped up against elite guys like that. I don’t want to say I was the best pass rusher or one of the best pass rushers there, because there were some crazy guys.”

QUOTES
If the pandemic wreaked such havoc on Gobaira’s recruitment, how did the Irish track him down? He did not partake in the usual summer camp circuit in 2020, for obvious reasons, and when he committed to Notre Dame, he had not yet logged any new highlights.

“We got on him early,” former Irish defensive line coach Mike Elston said when Gobaira signed his National Letter of Intent in December. “We watched him do some drill work when coach (Marcus) Freeman first got on campus, and we were deciding who we wanted to target. … We watched at a combine Aiden had gone to, we watched his film and some workouts, and we knew exactly what we would be getting — a big, tall, athletic, high-motor player that has great athleticism that is going to be an elite pass rusher.”

WHAT WAS SAID WHEN GOBAIRA SIGNED IN DECEMBER
“When first hired as Notre Dame’s defensive coordinator, Marcus Freeman’s first two commitments came from defensive ends listed at 6-foot-6. He clearly will focus on length on the edge. …

“Gobaira desperately needs to add weight, but not at the expense of quickness. His lacrosse background should emphasize how athletic he is and why Freeman sought him. …

“Irish defensive line coach Mike Elston has made depth a priority along his front, and Notre Dame did not exactly excel in finding ends in the previous class, ending up with two in Will Schweitzer and Jason Onye. That could yield playing time for Gobaira sooner than otherwise expected. …

“That relative miss in 2021 at defensive end should be to Gobaira’s benefit. After Isaiah Foskey and Justin Ademilola work their way through the program no later than the end of the 2022 season, the Irish will have only NaNa Osafo-Mensah as a proven commodity on the edge, and he will be down to two years of eligibility at that point.”

2022 OUTLOOK
Notre Dame is set at Vyper end this season. Senior Isaiah Foskey will lead the way, and while he will not play every snap, taking a potential All-American off the field is not something to do too often. Behind him, fifth-year end Justin Ademilola will split his time between both end spots. They should handle the bulk of the work at Vyper.

Behind them, senior Osita Ekwonu can fill in. Could Gobaira get some mop-up work in an October blowout of UNLV? Absolutely, but that should not be his only work in 2022.

Go back up to the top of this article and check Gobaira’s listed measurements. He is currently the definition of long. In winter workouts, he was trying to keep up with Foskey in sprints. In other words, Gobaira has the speed and range to excel on kickoff and punt coverage units.

That should not lead to more than four appearances, simply because preserving that year of eligibility makes too much sense not to do, but Gobaira could exit the season with a handful of tackles and some distinct memories of Notre Dame Stadium on Saturdays.

If having to guess those four games, UNLV and Navy would be the first nominees.

RELATED READING: Notre Dame gets the letter: Consensus four-star DE Aidan Gobaira
Ascending Notre Dame freshman DE Gobaira embraces the grind

DOWN THE ROAD
All of a sudden, Notre Dame will need help at end in 2023. Foskey and Ademilola should both be in the NFL at that point, leaving a gap in experience for Notre Dame to turn to. Current junior Rylie Mills and senior NaNa Osafo-Mensah will both have some reps under the belts, but both at “Big” end, not at Vyper.

That will leave names like Ekwonu and Gobaira. If picking between those two, Gobaira could very well be more likely, a youngster’s potential allowing a higher ceiling than an upperclassman who has yet to breakthrough. But someone could also move over to Vyper, such as Osafo-Mensah or early-enrolled freshman Tyson Ford, despite his quick move to tackle this spring.

Suffice it to say, the Irish will need new names at Vyper end in 2023, and Gobaira will be among them as a sophomore.

NOTRE DAME 99-TO-0
From Blake Grupe to Braden Lenzy, the offseason countdown begins anew
No. 99 Blake Grupe, kicker, Arkansas State transfer
No. 99 Rylie Mills, junior defensive lineman, a tackle now playing more at end

No. 98 Tyson Ford, early-enrolled freshman, a defensive tackle recruited as a four-star end
No. 97 Gabriel Rubio, sophomore defensive tackle, still ‘as wide as a Volkswagen’
No. 92 Aidan Keanaaina, a junior defensive tackle who tore his ACL in March
No. 91 Josh Bryan, sophomore kicker

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