Listed measurements: 6-foot-5 ¼, 302 pounds
2023-24 year, eligibility: A junior, Rubio has three seasons of eligibility remaining since he played in just one game as a freshman in 2021.
Depth Chart: Body-wise, it makes the most sense to view Rubio as the No. 2 defensive tackle behind senior Rylie Mills, though Rubio has the most experience of any reserve interior defensive lineman, so he could also be called upon to back up fifth-year Howard Cross alongside Mills.
Recruiting: This recruiting story is not remembered as often as it should be: Rubio wanted to go to Notre Dame, but his grades were not good enough to earn an Irish scholarship offer. Then-Notre Dame defensive line coach Mike Elston made it clear to Rubio what marks he needed to reach to receive that offer, and the son of a former NFL defensive tackle put his head down until he did so. Rather than head to Georgia, LSU or Ohio State, all of whom had already offered him a scholarship, the No. 107 overall player in the class of 2021 focused until he got the Irish offer he sought.
CAREER TO DATE
Memorably billed as “wide as a Volkswagen” by former Notre Dame recruiting coordinator Brian Polian — and new John Carroll athletic director — Rubio did not make an impact in his freshman season, not surprising given the Irish defensive interior depth was so trusted, multi-year starter Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa moved outside to end.
He was Cross’s primary backup in 2022, also supporting Jayson Ademilola in the few moments he actually came off the field. Most notably, Rubio played heavy snaps in Cross’s absence (sprained ankle) against Stanford, making seven tackles in that still-head-scratching loss, a role buoyed in part by the in-season transfer announcement from veteran tackle Jacob Lacey.
2021: 1 game; 1 tackle.
2022: 12 games; 17 tackles with four for loss, plus two quarterback hurries.
NAME, IMAGE, LIKENESS
Paying athletes for charity or otherwise-volunteer work does not devalue the charity or volunteer work. The deeds still need to be done, and 18- to 22-year-olds doing them may lay a foundation for more such work in their adult lives.
That is the general premise of Friends of the University of Notre Dame (FUND), which pays every player on the Irish roster in exchange for them working with charities. To think, this was forbidden by the NCAA until recent years.
Anyway, that is Rubio in the gray jumpsuit drawing with chalk on the sidewalk with a South Bend kid.
Tonight was the “Play into Spring” event with over 130 kids in South Bend!
— FUND Foundation (@FUNDFoundation1) March 24, 2023
It was a bit of a throwaway line from Notre Dame defensive line coach back in mid-April, but it revealed where Rubio falls in the pecking order of Irish interior defensive linemen.
“We’ve got guys that have played,” Washington said. “The first wave of guys and even Rubio played a lot last year. I shouldn’t say a lot, but he played enough.”
Washington was actually discussing the reserves, but specifically mentioning Rubio as not among them made it clear, Rubio is the most trusted backup behind Mills and Cross, and that should only increase his role in 2023 while junior Jason Onye and sophomore Tyson Ford prove themselves.
WHAT WAS PROJECTED A YEAR AGO
“This is not intended to come across as bluntly as it will: If Rubio had been wowing the coaching staff in the spring, the addition of (Harvard graduate transfer Chris) Smith would not have been as heralded as it was in early April. Some of that was mere depth concerns. No team can have enough quality defensive linemen. But some of it was a need to shore up nose tackle.
“Rubio will play this season. There is no year to preserve eligibility. And he will presumably play well, possessing just about every physical attribute wanted for the position. To further support that with logic, if he was truly condemned to another year on the sidelines, Rubio likely would have worked at three-technique more this summer, where the Irish are better set with Ademilola and Cross, rather than filling in behind Lacey. The coaching staff expected Rubio to be within the two-deep.
“That thin line between reserve and rotation player could be Rubio’s home for 2022, the fifth defensive tackle with all five playing. If Lacey was the fifth such tackle last season, he still appeared in 11 games and made 12 tackles with two for loss. He was a veritable piece of that defense.
“Such a standard for Rubio in his sophomore year may seem small given his high recruiting ranks, but that is not always the best barometer. Defensive line has been Notre Dame’s best and deepest position group for the last four seasons. Underclassmen should be expected to need time to work their way into that rotation.”
That assessment of Rubio’s 2022 role was rather accurate, playing in 12 games and making 17 tackles with four for loss an approximate uptick from Lacey’s 2021 of 11 games and 12 tackles with two for loss. Thanks to Lacey’s midseason departure, Rubio was the No. 4 Irish defensive tackle, accounting for that uptick.
Looking at that logic, Rubio should jump to something akin to 23 tackles with five for loss including three sacks this season. That is the midpoint between the No. 3 tackle’s stat lines from the past two seasons.
2021 Howard Cross: 22 tackles with 4.5 for loss including three sacks.
2022 Rylie Mills: 24 tackles with six for loss including 3.5 sacks.
The Irish will need the sacks from Rubio. With no Isaiah Foskey comparable on the roster, Notre Dame will need to find sacks from across the defensive line, from ends and tackles, from starters and reserves.
That may never be Rubio’s forte. His body is, well, as wide as a Volkswagen and his arms match that, but he is not excessively quick. His best usage is to absorb multiple run blockers to make life easier for linebackers JD Bertrand and Marist Liufau behind him, but on passing downs, Rubio will need to find a way past a solitary blocker and help collapse the pocket on opposing quarterbacks.
If Rubio can do that well enough to be the beneficiary when ends Jordan Botelho and/or NaNa Osafo-Mensah force the quarterback to step up under pressure, that will be a boon for the Irish defense. More than total tackles, Rubio notching a few sacks will be the best metric by which to measure his 2023.
Departing station. Next stop…sophomore season. Time to breakout family ☘️☘️☘️ pic.twitter.com/GFpcTEca3c
— Gabriel Rubio (@GabeRubio97) April 29, 2023
DOWN THE ROAD
While both Cross and Mills have two years of eligibility remaining, Cross using his final year may be a surprise. He has always been a strong player, but sixth-year players will be more and more rare the further we get from the 2020 pandemic universal eligibility waiver. That is not a reflection on Cross but rather on general roster construction.
Cross could return to Notre Dame in 2024, and the Irish would be better off in the short-term, but consider it unlikely. At that point, Rubio should get his chance to start. Traditionally, he fits better at the same position as Mills, but with them being the most veteran tackles next season, defensive coordinator Al Golden likely will move one of them into the hole left by Cross to create what may be the longest tackle combination in college football.
Both standing taller than 6-foot-5, their wingspans would stretch from the outside shoulder of the left guard to the outside shoulder of the right guard. It would be an intriguing concept to at least try.
NOTRE DAME 99-TO-0
The summer countdown begins anew, Rylie Mills to Deion Colzie
No. 99 Rylie Mills, senior defensive tackle, moving back inside from end
No. 98 Devan Houstan, early-enrolled four-star defensive tackle
No. 97 Gabriel Rubio, junior defensive tackle, one of three Irish DTs with notable experience
No. 95 Tyson Ford, sophomore defensive tackle, up 30 pounds from a year ago
No. 92 Aidan Keanaaina, a senior defensive tackle now ‘fully healthy’ after a 2022 torn ACL
No. 91 Aiden Gobaira, sophomore defensive end, former four-star recruit
No. 90* Brenan Vernon, incoming freshman defensive end, four-star recruit
No. 90* Boubacar Traore, incoming freshman defensive end, four-star recruit
No. 88 Mitchell Evans, the next starter at ‘TE U’
No. 86* Cooper Flanagan, incoming freshman tight end, four-star recruit
No. 85 Holden Staes, sophomore tight end, up 20 pounds in a year
No. 84 Kevin Bauman, senior tight end coming off a torn ACL
No. 83 Jayden Thomas, junior receiver, probable No. 1 target in 2023
Rhode Island transfer safety Antonio Carter gives Notre Dame desperately needed backline depth
Penn State RB transfer Devyn Ford gives Notre Dame newly-needed backfield depth, experience