Marc Spindler’s belief that his son, Rocco, will be better prepared than he was for college football carries weight.
USA TODAY Sports named Spindler as its high school player of the year in 1986. He starred as a defensive tackle for the University of Pittsburgh before enjoying a nine-year run in the NFL with the Detroit Lions and New York Jets.
“I was pretty freaking good,” Marc said.
And Rocco could be even better.
At 6-foot-5, 315 pounds, Rocco has a bigger build with thicker legs than his father (6-5, 272) did at that age. Some recruiting analysts project him to outdo Marc’s accomplishments. And in a worst-case scenario situation, he’s still expected to be a significant contributor in college.
The lofty expectations surrounding Spindler match how much Notre Dame covets him. The Irish seem to consider him as the top priority among their remaining uncommitted targets in the 2021 recruiting class.
Spindler included Notre Dame in his top-five school list in May, along with Michigan, Ohio State, Penn State and LSU. The Clarkston (Mich.) High product plans to announce his verbal commitment from his school at 6 p.m. EDT on Saturday.
As a highly touted four-star recruit, Spindler predicted he would receive several recruiting pitches this week. So he decided to go dark. Text messages, emails and phone calls from coaches have been rarely entertained. Interviews with reporters have been mostly off limits.
The Irish looked to be Spindler’s favorite as of Thursday, while the Wolverines are second. Spindler’s reclusive approach may make his decision less predictable, however. He does not plan to tell reporters where he’s going prior to making his decision public. He’s not expected to tell the coaches pursuing him until Saturday, Marc said.
“Do I think he knows where he’s going? Yeah, because he’s had a plan,” Marc said. “And that plan has been clear, concise, compelling and most importantly, committed. My instinct tells me that he absolutely knows where he’s going now. He wants to go to church on Saturday. He’s going to pray about it. He’s going to think about it.
“And I think what he’s going to be doing is solidifying the decision that he may have already made.”
Spindler pledging to the Irish would bear significance well beyond his impressive recruiting ranking in the class on Rivals (No. 3 offensive guard, No. 56 overall) and 247Sports (No. 5 offensive guard, No. 78 overall). He would help fill one of Notre Dame’s biggest position needs: interior offensive line.
Left guard Tommy Kraemer exits following this season. Right guard Aaron Banks will be done by 2021. Center Jarrett Patterson has three more seasons of eligibility, but who will line up beside him in 2022 remains unclear.
Having NFL bloodlines are one of many reasons why Spindler would be a popular candidate. Featured as a left guard and multi-purpose defensive lineman, Spindler was named first-team all-state on both sides of the ball last season. He’s been a two-way player and started every game since winning a state championship as a freshman.
What also may help Spindler is his background as a two-time state qualifier in wrestling. Spindler has translated the bend, toughness and quickness needed for wrestling to the field.
Allen Trieu has extensively studied Spindler as 247Sports’ Midwest recruiting analyst. He compares him to former Irish left tackle Zack Martin. The Dallas Cowboys’ guard has been invited to the Pro Bowl and named All-Pro in each of his six NFL seasons.
“Zack was a guy who was a high school tackle who some schools recruited as a tackle,” Trieu said. “He played some tackle in college and ultimately became a guard. I think that’s what Rocco is. I think he’s a guy who for some schools and in some situations could play some tackle. But he ultimately has his best upside as an inside guy.”
Not landing Spindler would require offensive line coach Jeff Quinn to extend more scholarship offers. There are not many options beyond Spindler after the Irish missed on a handful of key offensive line targets. Tristan Bounds (Michigan), Landon Tengwall (Penn State), Caleb Johnson (Auburn), Wyatt Milum (West Virginia) and Matthew Wykoff (Texas A&M) were among those who committed elsewhere.
Avon (Ind.) High’s Blake Fisher, Chicago Marist’s Pat Coogan and Fridley (Minn.) Totino-Grace’s Joe Alt are the offensive linemen committed to Notre Dame’s 2021 class.
“Any time that Notre Dame can win a Midwest battle over a school like Michigan, that’s significant. But I do feel like this would be a big win for coach Quinn,” said Trieu on what Spindler’s pledge would mean for Notre Dame. “(Michigan offensive line coach) Ed Warinner has been recruiting Rocco very hard.
“I do think that if Rocco picks Notre Dame, Jeff Quinn will have had a huge hand in that. This wouldn’t just be a kid who chose Notre Dame for all the other reasons a kid chooses Notre Dame. He has a really good relationship with coach Quinn.
“I think that would be really important for him as he’s still establishing himself as a recruiter at Notre Dame.”
Notre Dame hosted Spindler for its home game against Stanford on Sept. 29, 2018. He accrued his Irish offer the following week. Spindler returned for Notre Dame’s Oct. 12 home game against USC last season. His two trips to Notre Dame in the spring and planned May 15 commitment date were nixed by the coronavirus pandemic.
Head coach Brian Kelly, offensive coordinator Tommy Rees, Quinn and other members of Notre Dame’s coaching staff were heavily involved in Spindler’s recruitment. Former Irish offensive guard and current Indianapolis Colts star Quenton Nelson also has communicated with Spindler.
Their efforts appeared to pay off. In April 2019, Trieu forecasted Michigan to eventually secure Spindler’s pledge. He said he’s close to changing that prediction.
“If I had to make a new pick right now,” Trieu said, “I would probably put Notre Dame in. I did not want to switch my pick until I felt really confident. I don’t want to jump to Notre Dame, and then I hear late that it’s Michigan and I switch back. I hate jumping back and forth like that.
“I’ve held off on making that switch, but I do think things are trending toward Notre Dame here. I think that’s why you have some of the newer picks coming in for Notre Dame.”
Should Spindler choose Notre Dame, he will enroll a semester early in January. Then his father will hope he surpasses his achievements.
“He’s better prepared in the sense that physically and maturity wise,” Marc said. “He’s bigger. He’s stronger. I don’t know if he’s necessarily quicker, but he’s faster and has good feet.
“I can’t imagine where he’s going to be in six more months.”