Notre Dame senior defensive lineman Alexander Ehrensberger has retired from football to return to his home country of Germany, he announced Thursday afternoon. After three seasons and appearances in 23 games, Ehrensberger will now head to medical school. Per Irish Sports Daily’s Matt Freeman, Ehrensberger earned two degrees during his seven semesters, plus three summers, in South Bend.
“Along with getting my degree, I have made friendships and memories that will last FOREVER,” Ehrensberger wrote on Instagram. “With a heavy heart, I have made the decision to go back to Germany to start the next chapter of my life.”
Ehrensberger was penciled to be no higher than third string at any position along the Irish defensive line in 2023, always considered a development project but one that never quite caught an on-field groove.
With Ehrensberger’s departure, Notre Dame now has only 81 scholarship players expected in the 2023 season. For years, this had been a common Irish problem, failing to stay within range of the NCAA maximum of 85 scholarship players. Regular roster attrition of transfers, academic eligibility issues and medical retirements would keep Notre Dame from having the depth allowed, depth the Irish often found themselves wanting by season’s end.
Former head coach Brian Kelly began signing noticeably more than 85 players in four-year cycles in the mid-2010s, pulling in 94 players in the recruiting classes between 2013 and 2016, a six-player jump from the overlapping stretch between 2012 and 2015. That would not fall below 91 until the four years leading into 2020, when it dropped to 87 players and somewhat stood out in the chaotic season to follow. But again, that cyclical number rose to 93, 89 and 90 in the subsequent years.
Then the NCAA’s allowance of immediate one-time eligibility for undergraduate transfers beginning in 2021 suddenly made it so Notre Dame needed to reach even bigger in recruiting cycles. More players transfer out of South Bend than in and now more players transfer overall, worsening the Irish scholarship math.
None of that is Ehrensberger’s problem. Nor is his retirement the item that knocks Notre Dame into troubling roster territory. But falling to 81 players — presumably plus a couple incoming transfers in the next few weeks — will make life more difficult in 2023 and should be a precursor for larger recruiting classes moving forward.
In the spirit of the summer, let’s recap Ehrensberger’s career via the “99-to-0” format …
Listed measurements: 6-foot-6 ⅞, 267 pounds
2023-24 year, eligibility: The incoming transfer of Javontae Jean-Baptiste from Ohio State knocked Ehrensberger down to third string at “Big” end, and his springtime interior work featured him no higher than that despite having more experience than all but two defensive tackles.
Recruiting: Former Irish defensive line coach Mike Elston burned valuable recruiting time on a transatlantic flight to recruit Ehresnberger, but that time was quickly noticed by the three-star German and it effectively ended his recruitment.
CAREER TO DATE
Even the pandemic’s peak could not yield extensive playing time for Ehrensberger, though he was just a freshman. When a coronavirus outbreak in the Irish locker room left Notre Dame shorthanded on defense against South Florida, Ehrensberger still played in only mop-up duty of the 52-0 rout, notching two tackles for loss, including one sack. Further reserve duty followed in 2021 before focusing on special teams in 2022.
2020: 1 game; two tackles for loss with one sack.
2021: 10 games; three tackles with one sack.
2022: 12 games; two tackles.
WHAT WAS PROJECTED A YEAR AGO
“There is every reason to believe in (Nana) Osafo-Mensah. This space will continue to espouse that this summer; he only fell off the general radar thanks to the pandemic and then an injury, not to mention depth along the defensive line. When (Myron) Tagovailoa-Amosa made the move to ‘Big’ end last season, it benefited both him and the Irish. The biggest loser was Osafo-Mensah, back down to third on the depth chart through no fault of his own.
“But, Osafo-Mensah has not proven his abilities on Saturdays. Until he does, nothing should be taken for certain. Such is the nature of projecting the futures of 18- to 23-year-olds.
“If Osafo-Mensah stumbles, Ehrensberger may get a chance for an early arrival. His development was long expected to take at least three years. This is the third. As a recruit, he was relatively new to the sport of football. His length drew Elston’s and Notre Dame’s eyes. The rest would take time.
“Is now the time? Frankly, unlikely. Projects usually wait until their senior years to pay off, and Ehrensberger was always known as a project. But, his length may expedite Ehrensberger’s arrival. While he is listed at 255 pounds and that may seem light, the Irish strength and conditioning staff has not made it a priority to add more. Ehrensberger was listed at 247 pounds as a freshman and 252 as a sophomore. This is his body.
“Given that reality, his size still exists. He is wide, he is very wide. Ehrensberger can set the edge and allow the linebackers behind him to track down the running back. That may get him some playing time, regardless of how Osafo-Mensah performs.”
Well, medical school.
Looking back on last year’s predictions, Osafo-Mensah indeed stepped into his backup role behind Justin Ademilola and Rylie Mills. Osafo-Mensah made 14 tackles with two quarterback hurries and one forced fumble. Ehrensberger would have been fourth in that pecking order if a fourth end had ever genuinely been needed. For that matter, Notre Dame managed just one genuine blowout all season long, routing Boston College 44-0 on Senior Day.
Unsurprisingly, both of Ehrensberger’s 2022 tackles came against the Eagles in the snow.
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