Darnell Ewell wasn’t ready to disclose his commitment decision on Thursday night, but he was already hinting at big plans for his future.
“Where I’m going, it’s going to make history,” said the four-star defensive tackle recruit.
On Friday, Ewell revealed that destination to be Notre Dame. The 6-foot-4, 295-pound lineman announced his commitment in a ceremony at Lake Taylor High School in Norfolk, Va.
While Ewell’s quest to rewrite history won’t be fully judged for another five-plus years, the significance of his commitment is substantial. Both Rivals and 247Sports peg Ewell, who chose the Irish over offers from Ohio State, Michigan, Clemson, Alabama and more, as the No. 8 defensive tackle in the 2017 class.
If Ewell maintains that status, he would be the highest-ranked defensive tackle to enroll at Notre Dame since Louis Nix in 2010 when he was slated seventh at the position by Rivals and 247Sports.
“Darnell is a big-time guy,” said CBS Sports Network recruiting analyst Tom Lemming. “He’s very athletic. He can play both sides of the ball, but they want him as a defensive tackle. If he came in, he would be more talented than all the other defensive tackles they have right now at Notre Dame. He has great hands and great feet.”
A visit to Notre Dame in June swayed Ewell to become Irish, but defensive line coach Keith Gilmore had been laying the groundwork with Ewell since he was coaching at North Carolina. A connection with Lake Taylor assistant coach Mike Whittington, who played for Gilmore at Norfolk State, helped Gilmore identify Ewell early as a high school player.
“It’s been a really good thing for him and me,” Ewell said. “He checked me out when he was at the other school before he was at Notre Dame. He was looking at me way before. If it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t be able to get this offer.”
As recently as early June, Ewell had listed Notre Dame in fifth place in his recruitment. That changed after his Midwest swing to visit Ohio State, Notre Dame and Michigan on June 23-25. Experiencing Notre Dame’s campus really changed his perception about the school.
“Notre Dame speaks volumes for itself with the tradition and the environment,” Ewell said. “You really got squirrels coming up to you. Come on now. You don’t see that every day. I feel real safe there. It’s a prestigious school that I value greatly. I really see a great opportunity.”
Ewell joins three-star recruit Kurt Hinish as a defensive tackle duo in Notre Dame’s 2017 class which now sits at 16 commitments. If the four defensive tackles — Jerry Tillery, Elijah Taylor, Micah Dew-Treadway and Brandon Tiassum — the Irish signed in 2015 don’t continue to develop, a path to early playing time for Ewell is easy to imagine. Notre Dame decided to forgo signing any defensive tackles in the 2016 class after the four-man haul.
Because his visit to Notre Dame impacted him so much, Ewell wants to encourage other recruits to make a trip to South Bend.
“Many people get discouraged about the academic side of it, but it’s worth it to come up there and see. Once you see the school, it’s just mind-blowing,” Ewell said. “On the academic side by itself, you know you have to go in and do the work. It’s a lot of stuff. Don’t doubt me on that. Whoever has an offer from Notre Dame, I have to say that you’re really lucky and don’t take it for granted.”
Regardless of the challenges Ewell faces in the classroom or on the field, he’s ready to tackle them.
“I’m going to work hard wherever I go,” Ewell said. “I’m going to a place where I know it’s going to get hard, but it’s not in me to quit.”
Below are highlights of Ewell via Hudl.
July just keeps getting better and better!— Mike Elston (@CoachMikeElston) July 15, 2016