Notre Dame 99-to-0: No. 9 Eli Raridon, incoming freshman tight end with a torn ACL

Eli Raridon
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Listed measurements: 6-foot-6, 225 pounds.
2022-23 year, eligibility: An incoming freshman, Raridon has four seasons of eligibility remaining, and five years to use them.
Depth Chart: Given a torn ACL in 2021, assume Raridon is the last of Notre Dame’s six tight ends to see playing time in 2022.
Recruiting: The No. 5 tight end in the class of 2022 and No. 198 overall prospect, per rivals.com, Raridon was chased by most of the Big Ten, most notably both his homestate powers, Iowa and Iowa State. Nonetheless, he committed to the Irish in early May a year ago, and that pledge was never in doubt.

The reality is, neither the Hawkeyes nor the Cyclones ever had much of a chance, since Raridon has been around Notre Dame since his toddler days. His father, Scott, was an Irish offensive lineman from 2002 to 2005. Go ahead, do the math.

NAME, IMAGE, LIKENESS
Raridon is a better football player than a basketball player, but he was plenty accomplished in the latter in high school. There may not be a distinct NIL opportunity tied to that, but it still warrants recognition and, if nothing else, is yet another endorsement of playing multiple sports in high school rather than hyper-focusing on just one.

Watch these highlights and focus on No. 44. You’ll see a comfort level on the hardwood, an ease getting above the rim and an understanding of how to use his unique physical assets. Raridon’s left hand could have used some work, often finishing with his right when his left would have been the better choice, and there is an apparent lack of a jump shot in these highlights, but those are the reasons he is playing football at the next level.

QUOTES
One way or another, Notre Dame would have noticed Raridon. The family ties are too deep. But the recruitment was made easier by how few other programs noticed him early on in high school.

“COVID probably did us a favor on that one because people couldn’t see him live,” Irish offensive coordinator Tommy Rees said when Raridon signed his National Letter of Intent in December. “To be honest with you, the difference-maker for him was when we turned on his basketball film a year ago.

“It’s like, wow, this guy’s athleticism, pun intended, jumps out of the room. He’s someone you get around, see him in-person for the first time, you see the length, you see his athletic ability. To me, the sky is the limit for his potential. He’s someone that we’re extremely excited about. He was very under-recruited for a lot of reasons, and I think of late, he’s gotten the notoriety he deserves.”

Raridon tore his ACL three days later, for timing context.

WHAT WAS SAID WHEN RARIDON SIGNED IN DECEMBER
“Raridon looks like a downfield tight end more than an in-line blocker, his 6-foot-6 frame as used to dunking a basketball as leaping for a pass. …

“Praise is going to follow Raridon and follow him soon. If he adds muscle to that lanky frame, his ceiling could fit right in with some of the bigger names to come through “Tight End U.” Raridon’s speed shines in the seam route that Irish offensive coordinator Tommy Rees has long adored both as a quarterback and as a play caller. File that thought away now.”

2022 OUTLOOK
Raridon is optimistic he will be able to play in 2022. He should be. That is the luxury of youth. Yet, it is rather unlikely.

“Seven and a half months from the surgery is fall camp, and that’s when I’m going to be ready to go,” he said to Inside ND Sports this month. “But I’m hoping by the time I get there June 10, I’ll be able to do everything summer workouts-wise.

“If we were doing pads during the summer, I probably would sit out until late July or beginning of August. We’re not doing any of that from what I know, which is good. So I think I’m going to be good to go. We’ll see what happens, but I’m feeling really good about it.”

The most aggressive timetables for returning from an ACL tear are about nine months. Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson set that new threshold in 2012, and it has increasingly become more common, which is to say, it is still rather uncommon.

Nine months from Raridon’s injury will be mid-September.

If Notre Dame lacked proven tight ends, perhaps there would be an argument for Raridon to ease into the rotation by midseason, but this is “Tight End U,” and the Irish currently enjoy the services of perhaps the best tight end in program history. Even behind Michael Mayer, sophomore Mitchell Evans has impressed many, and then junior Kevin Bauman or sophomore Cane Berrong will be ready as the third option, both coming off their own leg injuries in 2021.

There is no need to rush Raridon into that grouping. A full and prolonged recovery will be the smarter long-term play, and it should absolutely be the expectation for Raridon, despite his natural optimism.

DOWN THE ROAD
There is no version of this world in which Mayer is not a 2023 NFL draft pick. Even if he suffers some injury this season, Mayer would not fall lower than the second or third round, and that itself would be a shock.

Notre Dame will need a new lead tight end in 2023, and it could be Raridon.

His height, body control and soft hands make him the ideal tight end for a modern offense. More and more, the best tight ends are barely distinguishable from the receivers the Irish like to play along the boundary. Think of Miles Boykin and Chase Claypool. They were listed at 6-foot-4, 228 pounds, and 6-foot-4 ⅜, 229 pounds, respectively, in their final collegiate seasons. Raridon has them both beat in height, but he is at a similar weight. If he adds a touch of muscle, he will very much evoke those types of targets.

Notre Dame has other options, and given their recruiting pedigrees, any one of Evans, Buaman or Berrong could erupt and be the next Irish tight end drafted in the first round (after Mayer). But Raridon’s game fits the modern ideals. Once he is healthy, he may need to be reckoned with.

RELATED READING: Incoming freshman Eli Raridon back on the fast track for Notre Dame
‘Tight End U’ finds its next piece with Iowa TE Eli Raridon committing to Notre Dame

WHY NO. 89?
Editor’s Note: The original version of this story was published before Notre Dame announced Raridon would wear No. 9 this season. That version guessed at his jersey number.
Raridon wore No. 88 in high school, but that is currently owned by Evans. And this is one position the NCAA’s strong suggestions for numbers parameters are generally followed. Generally, of course, being the operative word. After all, Tommy Tremble wore No. 24 as a tight end at Notre Dame.

But the strong suggestions prefer tight ends wear a number between 80 and 99, the latter half of those usually defensive. Given that, No. 89 would be appropriate for Raridon. Then again, No. 44 is available, and that is what he wore on the basketball court. Early-enrolled freshman linebacker Junior Tuihalamaka and sophomore long snapper Alex Peitsch both wear No. 44, creating some concerns about multiple players being on the field at the same time with the same number, but the bigger roadblock for Raridon in wanting No. 44? His tight end classmate, Holden Staes, wore No. 44 in high school.

Regardless, this is just an educated guess, designed to slot Raridon among the tight ends he will soon compete with and against.

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
No. 91 Aiden Gobaira, early-enrolled freshman defensive end, four-star recruit
No. 90 Alexander Ehrensberger, junior defensive end, a German project nearing completion

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    Drew Pyne to transfer from Notre Dame; Tyler Buchner reportedly a bowl possibility

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    Notre Dame may start its third quarterback of the season in its bowl game after junior Drew Pyne announced he will transfer from the program on Friday. A graduate, Pyne has three seasons of eligibility remaining.

    ESPN’s Pete Thamel first reported Pyne’s intention to transfer, with Pyne soon thereafter taking to Twitter to confirm as much.

    “One of my proudest honors is to have been a student-athlete at the University of Notre Dame,” Pyne wrote. “… It’s time for me to take on a new challenge, and I will be entering the transfer portal.”

    Pyne took over as the Irish starter after sophomore Tyler Buchner suffered a season-ending shoulder injury in the second week of the season. Pyne went 8-2 as a starter, completing 64.6 percent of his passes for 2,021 yards and 22 touchdowns this season.

    His final action at Notre Dame may have been Pyne’s best game of his career, throwing for 318 yards and three touchdowns at USC while completing 23 of 26 passes, the second-most accurate game in Irish history.

    He appeared in two games in 2021, stepping in for Jack Coan when he struggled against Wisconsin and Cincinnati. Keeping Pyne to minimal appearances in 2021 was intentional, preserving a season of eligibility for him.

    That eligibility will now be used elsewhere.

    Without Pyne, Notre Dame will have freshman Steve Angeli and possibly Buchner available in the bowl game, a location and opponent to be announced on Sunday. Football Scoop’s John Brice reported Friday afternoon that Buchner will play in the bowl game, though perhaps that optimism should be measured throughout practice this month.

    Regardless, the Irish are expected to pursue an incoming transfer quarterback this month. With names like Texas’ Hudson Card and Virginia’s Brennan Armstrong already in the transfer portal, Notre Dame will have a few options to chase.

    That is why Pyne’s transfer makes sense, even if he spoke earnestly about the bowl game following that 38-27 loss in Los Angeles.

    “I think we have a lot to play for,” he said. “We’re going to be in a bowl game, I want to send all the seniors out the right way. We have a lot to play for. We have another game, I’m going to prepare as hard as I can for that and finish the season off on a positive note.”

    Reversing course from those words is understandable given they came minutes after a competitive game, and the last week has shown Pyne how quickly the quarterback transfer market will move.

    In the game of musical chairs that is quarterbacks moving across the country, Pyne waiting until after the bowl game to transfer could serve only to leave him with fewer destinations as options. Not that Pyne may have been looking at Iowa, but the fact that one Power Five starting gig appears to have already been filled by Michigan transfer Cade McNamara presumably underscored the rapid nature of this process.

    Understandably, Pyne needs to make the most of this opportunity, coming off a strong season as Notre Dame’s starter but knowing he is unlikely to start for the Irish in 2023. Depending on the level of transfer joining the Irish and Buchner’s health, it was distinctly possible Pyne would be Notre Dame’s third quarterback next year.

    For someone who grew up as a Notre Dame fan, specifically a Brady Quinn fan, assuredly this decision was not an easy one for Pyne.

    He had a lengthy and notable offer sheet coming out of high school, but Pyne at his best this season would not draw interest from the likes of Texas A&M, Alabama and LSU as he did three years ago. It may be more pertinent to point out he is a Connecticut native, so schools in the northeast could be most logical for his landing spot.

    The Irish should also have quarterback commit Kenny Minchey in the pecking order this spring, expected to sign with Notre Dame on Dec. 21 when the early signing period begins.

    RELATED READING: Notre Dame’s QB room creates a friendly trust that has been crucial to Pyne’s success
    Notre Dame 99-to-0: No. 10 Drew Pyne, junior quarterback

    Notre Dame adds a fourth receiver commit to recruiting class, helping a roster need

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    Notre Dame is addressing its most glaring roster deficiency with a numbers approach. The Irish had only five true scholarship receivers for much of this season, a number they will nearly match in next year’s freshman class alone after adding a fourth receiver commitment on Thursday. Consensus three-star receiver Kaleb Smith (Rick Reedy High School; Frisco, Texas) announced he will join Notre Dame’s class, and he should sign with the Irish on Dec. 21 when the early signing period begins.

    Smith was committed to Texas Tech for more than nine months before he backed off that pledge in early November. Marcus Freeman does not welcome official visitors who are committed to other programs, so if Smith wanted to take an official visit to South Bend to watch Notre Dame play Clemson, he needed to open up his recruitment.

    The Irish 35-13 win against the then-No. 4 Tigers assuredly helped tip the scales away from his homestate Texas Tech.

    Otherwise, Smith has hardly been recruited by anyone. The only other Power Five program to chase him was Baylor when current Notre Dame receivers coach Chansi Stuckey was there.

    Listed at only 6-foot and 168 pounds, it is easy to pencil in Smith as a slot receiver, but he is also willing to go up in the air to get the ball. His highlight footage features him repeatedly and astonishingly open.

    His size, or lack thereof, will make Smith unique among the quartet of incoming signees. By snagging four receivers in this class, the Irish are proactively fixing an undeniable roster problem. In last year’s Fiesta Bowl, Notre Dame had only four receivers available. Through most of this season, in part due to injuries to Avery Davis and Joe Wilkins, the Irish had a total of six receivers available, including former walk-on Matt Salerno.

    While Braden Lenzy will not return for the Irish in 2023, current sophomores Jayden Thomas, Deion Colzie and Lorenzo Styles should all come back, along with current freshman Tobias Merriweather. With these four commitments, a position group of eight may allow Notre Dame to have a genuine two-deep.

    If signing four receivers in a class and seven in two years seems like an unsustainable influx, keep in mind two things. First of all, the Irish desperately need to find receiver depth. Lenzy was famously and admittedly exhausted at the end of that Fiesta Bowl faceplant 11 months ago. One more injury this season would have further crippled Notre Dame’s passing game in 2022. Secondly, the one-time transfer allowance will make departures from the program both more common and more alluring to the players. Natural attrition will occur.

    RELATED READING: A third four-star receiver commitment, Jaden Greathouse, elevates Notre Dame’s class of 2023 from good to Great
    Four-star receiver Rico Flores Jr.’s commitment gives Notre Dame some receiver hope for 2023
    Four-star Texas receiver Braylon James gives Notre Dame needed offensive piece in class of 2023

    CB Cam Hart out for Notre Dame’s bowl game, but will return in 2023

    Notre Dame v North Carolina
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    Perhaps earlier than expected, Notre Dame has already received good news this offseason. Senior cornerback Cam Hart will return for a fifth year in South Bend, though he will not put on pads for the Irish in any bowl game, he announced Tuesday evening.

    “Due to a shoulder injury that I sustained during the Boston College Game [sic], I could not participate in our final regular season game and will not be able to participate in this year’s bowl game,” Hart wrote on Twitter. “Consequently, I believe my time here isn’t necessarily complete. Choosing to attend the University of Nore Dame has been the best decision I’ve ever made in my entire life.

    “In light of that, I’ve decided to return for a fifth season and look forward to taking the field with my brothers in 2023!”

    Hart’s 2023 return should give the Irish four returning cornerbacks with starting experience, only fifth-year nickel back Tariq Bracy a notable departure from this year’s cornerbacks group.

    Note: The use of “should” is not meant to imply anything about other possibilities. The conditional verb is chosen as recognition of the constantly changing rosters in college football in 2022.

    Hart took part in Notre Dame’s Senior Day festivities before facing Boston College, which suggested he was at least considering jumping to the NFL. This quick announcement indicates the injury ruled out that thought process, though the injury had plagued him at points earlier in the season.

    A shoulder injury first flared up for Hart this year in the spring of 2022, costing him spring practices. A concern had previously cost him some of 2019, as he adapted from playing receiver in high school. He nonetheless played in 11 games in 2022, starting 10 and making 25 tackles with three for loss and breaking up four passes.

    His passes defensed fell from nine in 2021, along with two interceptions, in part because opposing quarterbacks were less enticed to test the increasingly-experienced cornerback. His 6-foot-2 ½ length made Hart something just short of a shutdown cornerback.

    With current freshman Benjamin Morrison surging to close this season and classmate Jaden Mickey stepping in for Hart at USC, Notre Dame should enjoy a plethora of tested cornerbacks in 2023. (Current junior Clarence Lewis is the aforementioned fourth.)

    In many respects, this will allow the Irish defense to begin the 2023 season with the same calm it had in 2022, when Hart, Lewis and Bracy provided experienced pass defense.

    “You have three older veteran corners that can really play at any moment, which makes you feel good,” head coach Marcus Freeman said in August. “Those three guys can play those two corner spots and I don’t feel there will be a drop off with any of them.”

    There are a few key decisions left on Notre Dame’s defense — most notably, defensive end Justin Ademilola and safety Brandon Joseph could return in 2023 — but most of them may come after any Irish bowl game. Hart’s choice was presumably expedited by his apparent exclusion from the bowl game due to this injury.

    HART CAREER STATISTICS
    2020: 8 games; 3 tackles, 2 passes defended.
    2021: 13 games, 10 starts; 42 tackles with four for loss, 9 passes defended and two interceptions.
    2022: 11 games, 10 starts; 25 tackles with three for loss, 4 passes defended.

    RELATED READING: Notre Dame 99-to-0: No. 5 Cam Hart, senior cornerback, second-year starter

    Things We Learned: Notre Dame’s offensive shortcomings again highlighted by an explosive counterpart

    COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 26 Notre Dame at USC
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    There are two ways to look at USC’s 38-27 win against Notre Dame on Saturday, and they both tie back to the Trojans’ being the best Irish measuring stick.

    USC beat Notre Dame in a way that underscores how short-handed the Irish always were this season. When Trojans quarterback Caleb Williams began to cement his status as the Heisman frontrunner with a performance that will be long remembered, Notre Dame had no way to consistently counter him.

    “We didn’t stop them,” Irish head coach Marcus Freeman said simply enough.

    Without the offensive skill position players needed to match Williams’ explosive play for explosive play, Notre Dame needed its defense to play perfectly, clearly an unfair ask against a Lincoln Riley offense.

    “USC is a great team,” Irish quarterback Drew Pyne said. “That was a really good team we played out there. They’re going to go on and do great things for the rest of their season. Caleb Williams is a great player.”

    If the Irish had not had junior tight end Michael Mayer — eight catches on nine targets for 98 yards and two touchdowns — they may not have been able to stay in even vague distance of the Trojans. Three heaves to Deion Colzie gained 75 yards and three first downs, but each felt like Pyne was hoping more than anything else.

    Notre Dame still made it a game, but the discrepancy in offensive playmakers stood out in Los Angeles on Saturday night.

    And while both programs will undergo some turnover — most notably Mayer for the Irish; receiver Jordan Addison and running back Austin Jones will both likely be at the next level next year, among Trojans’ contributors this weekend — Notre Dame will need to close that gap to compete with USC next season.

    The variance of a schedule may keep the Irish from too staunchly improving on their 8-4 record this year, but a certainty is that Williams will be ready to dazzle again in South Bend on Oct. 14, 2023.

    Notre Dame right now does not have the offensive firepower to keep up with such a dynamic attack. As soon as the Irish gifted the Trojans chances to take a lead, their running game was mitigated and Notre Dame’s best hopes were reduced to Mayer and those heaves to Colzie.

    Williams can dance his way through any defense, perhaps shy of Georgia’s. Even if the Irish secondary had been fully healthy, Williams’ rhythmic scrambles still would have broken down the defense. If Utah helms him in this weekend, it may be as much due to a USC letdown as it is to any Utes’ scheme. His stardom is an extreme, but this is college football in 2022, again aside from Georgia.

    Many will instinctively point to Pyne’s shortcomings, ignoring how well he played in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. He made two mistakes, yes, but one of them (the cross-body interception) came as Notre Dame was more and more desperate and the other (the fumbled exchange) was in part a result of the Irish abandoning their ground game as they fell further behind.

    Pyne finished 23-of-26 for 318 yards and three touchdowns. Every version of breaking down those stats yields praise for Pyne. A reality of a loss and a reality when the opposing quarterback broke through as a national star, no time was spent in postgame press conferences discussing Pyne’s efficient night.

    But it was, regardless.

    His final incompletion, the interception from Notre Dame’s own red zone, also overshadowed the second-most accurate day in Irish passing history, but it was an understandable mistake. Notre Dame was trailing by two scores with only five minutes remaining. Wasting a play on a throwaway was low on Pyne’s priority list.

    If Pyne had established more of a season-long rapport with Colzie, maybe he sees him down the left sideline as highlighted by Kirk Herbstreit on the broadcast. If Braden Lenzy is a bit less worn down by a season-long receiver shortage, maybe he is able to charge into Pyne’s ill-advised pass rather than try to settle in for a low catch. If … maybe, if … maybe.

    Only twice this season has USC managed as few as 31 genuine points — discounting the short-field touchdown in the final three minutes courtesy of Pyne’s pick, though not all that necessary given the Trojans fell short of 40 points just twice in their first 11 games. Oregon State and Washington State had the luxuries of facing Williams before he had reached the peak of his powers with this new, transfer-obtained complement of receivers.

    The Irish defense did its part against USC. Notre Dame’s offense just could not match the star of the season.

    Williams will star again next year. The Irish defense will most likely still be stout. Those truths this season will carry over. Notre Dame then has to wonder only if its offense can develop and/or find more playmakers, a known need this entire season and now the pressing concern entering the offseason, a need emphasized by the Trojans’ offense, the foe that should again define 2023.