The incoming freshman class of Notre Dame football players might not need to rely on Yelp for recommendations on local restaurants. Fellow freshman defensive tackle Gabriel Rubio has them covered.
The four-star recruit has visited South Bend so many times that he’s become well-versed in some of the options South Bend has to offer. His areas of expertise may be limited to breakfast spots and pizza joints for now, but that will likely expand when he settles into his dorm this weekend for mid-year enrollment.
He’s ready to take on the role of South Bend tour guide for his fellow early enrollees.
“Oh absolutely, especially the guys that are all the way on the West Coast,” Rubio said. “I’ll be like, ‘Come over here and take a look at this. This is going to blow you away. You’re going to love this.’”
Rubio, who said he lost count of how many times he’s visited campus but estimated 10, spent the first two weeks of 2021 in South Bend with his family. Rubio’s parents built a home in South Bend that they will use to visit throughout his Notre Dame career, and it needed some finishing touches before he officially becomes a Notre Dame student.
The Rubios returned to the St. Louis area last week, but Gabriel will be back with the help of his sister to move into his dorm Saturday. He will be rooming with Cane Berrong, an incoming freshman tight end, for the spring semester.
Just like he’ll study his textbooks and playbook at Notre Dame, Rubio has already studied up on South Bend.
“I’ve started to learn the layout of the city and get to know where things are relative to each other,” Rubio said.
He might not be ready to settle the Rocco’s vs. Bruno’s vs. Barnaby’s pizza debate, but Rubio’s knowledge of the contenders alone is a sign of his familiarity with the place he’ll call home for much of the next four or five years.
“I like how simple (South Bend) is,” Rubio said. “I like how friendly everybody is up there. You never see an angry face or at least not on purpose. It’s a rising college town and it has a very rich history. It’s a nice place to be.
“During the two weeks that I was up there, we only saw the sun I think once. It’s always cloudy and overcast, so hopefully it’s different in the spring.”
Rubio’s recent two-week stay in South Bend wasn’t limited to household chores and restaurant exploration. He needed to continue his physical preparation for his freshman year at Notre Dame, so he worked out at World Gym in Mishawaka.
Early playing time may be hard to come by for Rubio due to the experience returning on the interior of Notre Dame’s defensive line, but he will join the Irish with established pedigree. Rubio’s father, Angel, played in the NFL, XFL and AFL.
Rivals ranks the 6-foot-5, 285-pound Gabriel Rubio as the No. 9 defensive tackle and No. 106 overall in the 2021 class. 247Sports slates him as the No. 11 defensive tackle and No. 149 overall.
“I feel like I am prepared, but I can always be more prepared,” Rubio said. “There’s no telling until you get in there and start doing the work, but I’m ready to face any challenge that they throw at me.”
The challenges will include an early opportunity to learn what new defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman’s scheme will ask of its defenders. Rubio, who could develop into a defensive tackle or nose guard in a four-man front, believes it won’t look too different from how the Irish have operated in previous seasons at least along the defensive line.
“I had a FaceTime call with (Freeman) like a week after he got hired,” Rubio said. “He was saying basically, ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.’ So he’s going to keep the same defensive line scheme.
“He’s going to change some little things that need work improving on. We’re going to stay in that 4-3 look and that 4-3 multiple and all that good stuff.”
That transition should be easier with long-time Notre Dame defensive line coach Mike Elston staying on staff. Rubio said he hadn’t asked Elston about his future with the program after not being promoted to defensive coordinator.
“Whenever that opportunity arrives, I’m going to be like, ‘Uh-oh,’” Rubio said of Elston potentially leaving for another job in the future. “I’ll try to tug on his sleeve and say, ‘Can you stay for a little bit longer, please?’”
Elston’s actions as a recruiter, including recently pursuing a verbal commitment from four-star defensive end Tyson Ford, seem to indicate Elston’s not in a hurry to leave Notre Dame.
Ford’s commitment continued the Irish interest in mining the St. Louis area. Ford, a junior at John Burroughs School in St. Louis, was teammates in elementary school with Rubio, a graduate of St. Peters (Mo.) Lutheran. Notre Dame signed running back Kyren Williams and wide receiver Jordan Johnson from the St. Louis area in the 2019 and 2020 class, respectively.
Rubio’s new home will have some reminders of his old home. Maybe they can convince one of the dining halls to add toasted ravioli to the menu.
“It’s amazing,” Rubio said of Notre Dame’s recruiting efforts in St. Louis. “If you go back to one of my previous interviews when I was a sophomore, I stated that St. Louis is a place of untapped talent. They just need to search for it.
“More and more colleges are coming around and stirring up the pot. It’s going to be a great benefit to all the younger guys coming in and all the guys who didn’t have a chance to show out for camps last season because of COVID.
“I can’t wait. Tyson and I, we played together for a short period of time. I can’t wait to have him back on a team where we can wreck shop together once again.”