A fortuitous encounter with Lou Holtz in Mexico left Rocco Spindler wondering if he’s destined for Notre Dame.
When Spindler joined his father, Marc, for a work convention in late February, he had no idea he would meet the second-winningest head football coach in Notre Dame history. The identity of Holtz as the event’s guest speaker became known only moments before he took the stage.
Holtz recognized Marc as he introduced himself following the event. He remembered recruiting Spindler in 1986 before he chose Pittsburgh and enjoyed a nine-year NFL career as a defensive tackle for the Detroit Lions and New York Jets.
Then Holtz parlayed their conversation into another Irish recruiting pitch for Rocco, a four-star offensive lineman in the 2021 class.
“(Holtz) gave us a lot of great quotes and inspirational messages that will stay with me for the rest of my life,” Rocco said. “Then we just talked about everything, life, football, what I love doing the most and my hobbies. It was really motivational and touching.”
The experience served as a precursor for Notre Dame’s recruitment of Spindler before he makes his commitment decision public on May 15. The Irish will host Spindler for their vaunted March 20-22 recruiting weekend before he takes his first of five official visits to South Bend on April 3-5.
Spindler feels like a high priority and communicates with Notre Dame offensive line coach Jeff Quinn every other day.
“He’s almost like a father figure with his players and with his recruits,” Spindler said. “He truly cares about you with everything he does. He wants the best for you more than he wants a championship.
"Every coach wants that championship and his players as well. But if you become a better man than win a championship, I think he’d rather have that.”
Quinn and the Irish will need to add more recruits with high-end pedigree like Spindler to sustain their top 10 class ranking. With eight verbal pledges, Notre Dame’s 2021 class comes in at No. 4 nationally on 247Sports and Rivals.
Quarterback Tyler Buchner, wide receiver Lorenzo Styles Jr., tight end Cane Berrong, defensive tackle Gabriel Rubio and offensive lineman Blake Fisher are the Irish commits accompanying Spindler on the first trip. Fisher will also join him for the second visit.
With those campus visits returning this week, here’s a position-by-position update of Notre Dame’s recruiting class on offense and what to expect this spring.
The upcoming visitors listed as TBD haven't scheduled a specific date but intend to swing by Notre Dame. Click here to read ND Insider's defensive recruiting update.
Committed: Bradenton (Fla.) IMG Academy’s Greg Crippen; Avon (Ind.) High’s Blake Fisher.
Upcoming visits: Clarkston (Mich.) High’s Garrett Dellinger and Rocco Spindler, Huntington (W.V.) Spring Valley’s Wyatt Milum, Olney (Md.) Good Counsel’s Landon Tengwall and Warwick (Pa.) Lititz’s Nolan Rucci will visit March 20-22. Tengwall and Spindler will also take an April 3-5 official visit to South Bend.
• 2022 target Carson Hinzman plans to visit this spring.
Outlook: The prevailing sentiment inside the Guglielmino Athletics Complex is that March 20-22 will be the biggest offseason recruiting weekend of the Brian Kelly Era.
Two of Notre Dame’s most coveted defensive linemen will be in attendance: Aaron Armitage and David Abiara. The top Irish target on offense in 2021 (running back Will Shipley) and defense in 2022 (safety Braelon Allen) also plan to visit.
Yet the star-studded event will feature the offensive line group visiting: Tengwall, Spindler, Fisher, Milum and Dellinger. All six rank among the top 75 overall players in the class on either 247Sports or Rivals.
Quinn initiated the beginning stages of the weekend near the end of last season, penciling in Spindler, Tengwall and Fisher for the trip. Quinn and that trio later persuaded the other three to join them.
Whether Crippen decommits will determine how many of those offensive linemen Notre Dame can accept. He’s the only Irish commit that didn’t come to a game last season and visited other schools. Notre Dame would not be surprised if Crippen signed elsewhere.
That possibility leaves the Irish with a numbers game to consider with those five uncommitted offensive linemen. Notre Dame securing commitments from at least two of those five appears to be a reality and would be considered an achievement.
Upcoming visits: Matthews (N.C.) Weddington’s Will Shipley (March 20-22).
TBD visits: West Bloomfield (Mich.) High’s Donovan Edwards.
• 2022 target Nicholas Singleton plans to compete in Notre Dame’s Irish Invasion recruiting camp on June 6. Irish Illustrated reported Stanford graduate transfer running back Trevor Speights will visit on March 20-22.
Outlook: When Notre Dame running back signee Chris Tyree nearly committed to Oklahoma, run game coordinator Lance Taylor visited his school at Chester (Va.) Thomas Dale and helped reverse his course before landing him.
Shipley feels like the Tyree of this Irish recruiting class. Weddington High coach Andy Capone told the Tribune that no other out-of-state coach visited their school more than Taylor in December and January. That Shipley’s idol and mentor, star Carolina Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey, played under Taylor at Stanford is also a bonus.
Plucking Shipley out of Clemson’s backyard will require more of that effort down the stretch. Shipley’s parents attended N.C. State, making the Wolfpack a threat as well. Shipley plans to take an official visit to Notre Dame. The Irish are also pursuing Edwards, Cincinnati Roger Bacon’s Corey Kiner and Garland (Texas) Lakeview Centennial’s Camar Wheaton at running back.
Committed: Athens (Ga.) Academy’s Deion Colzie; Pickerington (Ohio) Central’s Lorenzo Styles Jr.
Upcoming visits: Baltimore Mount Saint Joseph’s Dont’e Thornton Jr. (April 14-15) and Ewa Beach (Hawaii) James Campbell’s Titus Mokiao-Atimalala (June official visit).
TBD visits: Fort Lauderdale (Fla.) Cardinal Gibbons’ Troy Stellato, Gardena (Calif.) Junipero Serra’s Devin Kirkwood, East Lansing (Mich.) High’s Andrel Anthony Jr. and Atlanta Pace Academy’s Jayden Thomas.
• 2022 targets C.J. Williams (April 9) and Kaden Saunders (TBD) also plan to visit this spring.
Outlook: Santa Ana (Calif.) Mater Dei’s Cristian Dixon, a four-star receiver, once seemed likely to land at Notre Dame. But both sides have cooled off recently. The Irish earned the right to be picky for their final receiver spot this class after garnering verbal pledges from four-star standouts in Styles and Colzie.
Thornton’s name surfaces the most when talking to Notre Dame’s commits about the remaining options. Styles, Colzie and Thornton are ranked among the top 55 overall players in the class on either 247Sports and Rivals. Penn State appears to be Notre Dame's biggest challenger for Thornton.
Kirkwood and Mokiao-Atimalala are Notre Dame’s other realistic options. The former seems to consider Notre Dame and USC as his top schools. The Irish also like both of them as defensive backs.
Committed: Hartwell (Ga.) Hart County’s Cane Berrong.
Upcoming visits: Napa (Calif.) High’s Brock Bowers (March 4), Council Bluffs (Iowa) Lewis Central’s Thomas Fidone Jr. (April 1).
Outlook: Pairing Berrong with another four-star tight end would require a solid start from pending coach John McNulty.
Aurora (Colo.) Cherokee Trail’s Sam Hart verbally pledged to Ohio State in December, leaving the Irish searching for other tight ends. The most realistic options remaining, Fidone and Bowers, still seem in the early stages of their interest in Notre Dame.
Bowers (October) and Fidone (January) recently landed their Irish scholarship offers. McNulty and Co. would need to make a lasting impression on their first visits to South Bend this spring. They are in high demand and rank as the top two tight ends in the class on 247Sports.
Nebraska, Michigan and Iowa are among schools pursuing Fidone, while Bowers will consider Washington, Oregon, California, Georgia, Penn State and others. The Irish may take one tight end this class.
Committed: La Jolla (Calif.) The Bishop’s School’s Tyler Buchner.
Outlook: Notre Dame is finished recruiting this position.