Just a few months after boasting the nation’s No. 1 college football recruiting class for 2021, Notre Dame appears to be losing its footing.
Landon Tengwall’s announcement on Thursday may have cemented an uphill climb the Irish must take to meet their lofty ambition of securing a top five class. Tengwall, a four-star offensive lineman and consensus top 80 overall player in the class, verbally committed to Penn State over Notre Dame.
Tengwall’s decision and two decommitments this month leaves Notre Dame ranked No. 5 and No. 9 nationally on 247Sports and Rivals, respectively.
The Irish expected Greg Crippen — the four-star offensive lineman who committed to Michigan earlier this week — to depart from their class. But losing the pledge of Deion Colzie, a top 75 overall player from Athens (Ga.) Academy, set back Notre Dame’s plans of adding three high-end wide receivers.
Tengwall’s loss may hurt a little more considering the Irish were once regarded as his favorite. The Olney (Md.) Good Counsel product called Notre Dame his No. 1 school following a recruiting trip to South Bend last March. Tengwall never returned, though he planned on visiting Notre Dame last weekend and for an April 3-5 official visit. The coronavirus pandemic canceled both trips.
Meanwhile, the Nittany Lions added Tengwall, despite changing their offensive line coach in January. In Tengwall, Penn State landed the No. 5 offensive tackle and No. 27 overall player in the 2021 class, per Rivals. 247Sports pegs him No. 11 at the position and No. 77 overall.
In the months leading up to Tengwall’s decision, Notre Dame made him feel like a high priority. The Irish coaching staff told Tengwall their vision of a dream 2021 class featured him. Notre Dame considered commit Blake Fisher, Clarkston (Mich.) High’s Rocco Spindler and Tengwall as its “big three” for offensive line recruiting. They marketed the label by sending them “the big three” graphics to post on Twitter.
Offensive line coach Jeff Quinn will now need to recalibrate his options. The Irish securing a stout offensive line haul once seemed like the surest bet this class.
The Irish are looking to sign two or three offensive linemen to go along with Fisher, a four-star offensive tackle from Avon (Ind.) High. Who the Irish add alongside Fisher may not materialize for at least a few months.
No uncommitted offensive lineman favors Notre Dame more than Spindler. Yet even his decision will be delayed. Father Marc Spindler told the Tribune that Rocco won’t announce his commitment on May 15, as originally planned. He wants to take all five official visits before reaching a decision.
Notre Dame is not pursuing four-star offensive lineman Garrett Dellinger as heavily as Spindler, his high school teammate. Recruiting analysts expect Dellinger to pick LSU.
The 6-foot-8, 289-pound Nolan Rucci expected to visit Notre Dame last weekend with Tengwall, Spindler, Fisher and Dellinger. Clemson and Penn State are considered to have a better chance at signing Rucci, a four-star offensive tackle from Lititz (Pa.) Warwick.
Todd Rucci, Nolan’s father, told the Tribune his son will treat the recruiting process day-to-day going forward. Nolan still hopes to announce a commitment before his senior season, so Notre Dame will have to host him for a visit in order to make up that lost ground.
Ocala (Fla.) Trinity Catholic’s Caleb Johnson, Richmond (Texas) Foster’s Reuben Fatheree II and Fairfax (Va.) Robinson Secondary’s Tristan Leigh are other offensive linemen worth monitoring. The Irish would need to host all three for visits to legitimize their chances of landing them.
The 6-foot-7, 295-pound Johnson landed his Notre Dame scholarship offer this month but already planned a trip to South Bend in June. Whether he needs to reschedule that visit remains to be seen. Fatheree named Notre Dame as a top-nine school last month.
After Tengwall’s commitment to Penn State, Notre Dame expanded its offensive line recruiting board by offering Chicago Marist’s Pat Coogan, Oak Park (Mich.) High’s Rayshaun Benny and Magnolia (Texas) High’s Matthew Wykoff. Coogan has been an Irish fan since a young age, so his recruitment will be one to watch.