Notre Dame defensive line coach Mike Elston struck a deal with Gabriel Rubio in January.
Improve your grades and an Irish scholarship offer will follow.
Enamored by the challenge, Rubio soon became infatuated with Notre Dame and its academics. Both sides then held up their end of the bargain. When Elston extended an offer on May 26, the 2021 defensive tackle silently committed on the spot.
The 6-foot-5, 290-pounder delayed his public announcement until Saturday. That way, Rubio could celebrate the news while at Notre Dame. He came to campus for ND’s third summer football camp, Lineman’s Challenge. Rubio took home DL MVP honors.
“I worked really hard to let coach Elston know that I was in it to win it,” Rubio said. “I was not going to back down because of some challenge. I wanted to go there. My entire semester was based around working hard in the classroom so that I could ball at the place where I wanted to be.”
The Saint Peters (Mo.) Lutheran product becomes the third commit in ND’s 2021 recruiting class, joining quarterback Tyler Buchner and offensive lineman Greg Crippen. The Irish also hold verbal pledges from four 2020 defensive linemen. Rubio plans to enroll early at Notre Dame.
Rubio emerged on Notre Dame’s radar after he competed in its offensive-defensive line camp last June. He then trekked for ND’s Oct. 13 home game against Pittsburgh. Elston spawned his deal with Rubio during his Jan. 25-27 visit.
Much like 2020 commit Rylie Mills, Rubio rotates at all four of Lutheran’s defensive line positions. Rubio also holds his own at left tackle and as a wrestler. His father, Angel Rubio, played defensive end for Southeast Missouri State before spending time with the Pittsburgh Steelers (1998), Cincinnati Bengals (1998), San Francisco 49ers (1998-99) and Arizona Cardinals (1999).
“He’s got the bloodlines. What he would be is a more stay-at-home defensive tackle,” said Tom Lemming, a recruiting analyst for CBS Sports Network. “I think he could be a really good offensive tackle or guard.
“For a guy like that, you put him where you need him. He’s a very good athlete, so it’s a very good catch.”
Playing offensive line helps Rubio learn more about their technique and tendencies. But if the Irish need him more on offense, Rubio likely would not jump on the opportunity with optimism.
“I would be very, very hesitant on going to the offensive line,” Rubio said. “That is still a minor possibility that I would be able to. But I would not enjoy it. At all. My heart is set on defensive line, and defensive line only.”
Rubio landed his first Division I offer in December after his sophomore season. Ohio State followed Kentucky’s lead a month later. Before he knew it, Rubio received offers from LSU, Georgia, Texas A&M, Iowa and Oklahoma, among others.
247Sports then pegged Rubio as a four-star recruit, ranking him as its No. 16 defensive tackle and No. 195 overall player. He recorded 44 tackles, 15 tackles for a loss, five sacks and two blocked extra points as a sophomore.
Rubio became more aware of his prowess when he attended football camps last summer. He then began to lean on his father’s guidance. Angel, Lutheran’s defensive line coach, tasks his son with workout regimens similar to those he once used during his playing days.
“He has been that entire authority figure,” said Rubio, “telling me what coaches want to see and what they don’t want to see. Because he’s been there. He has been through the whole gig.”
Angel’s influence shaped his son in an old school kind of way. Gabriel compares himself to and scours the film of Pro Football Hall of Fame defensive linemen Reggie White and John Randle, both of whom spent most of their NFL days in the 1990s.
Rappers from the same time frame, like Tupac and Biggie, frequent Rubio’s playlist more than anyone post-2000. Rubio would rather listen to Brenton Wood and 1980s R&B than a modern rapper like Lil Uzi Vert, he said.
“I’m more of a blast from the past kind of guy,” Rubio said. “All this new music, if nobody minds me saying so, is sort of trashy.”
Elston’s impact on Rubio can be felt in the classroom. Before Elston’s proposition, Rubio said he did not take academics seriously. Five months later, he’s now ready for Notre Dame in more ways than one.
“I was OK with being average,” Rubio said. “Now that coach Elston has opened my eyes and shown me that there’s more to it, I feel like from now on, I will dominate in the classroom.”