Whether Joey Tanona will play offensive guard or tackle in college remains unclear.
But what should be apparent is the underlying importance behind his verbal commitment to Notre Dame on Saturday. The Irish added more than just a four-star offensive lineman from Zionsville (Ind.) High.
The 6-foot-5, 280-pound Tanona became the first pledge in Notre Dame’s 2022 class, a recruiting cycle that continues to be inconspicuously impeded by the coronavirus pandemic.
How the pandemic impacts the 2021 class seems more apparent compared to 2022, but both cycles appear to be influenced. From earlier commitments than expected to some recruits choosing schools closer to home, the 2021 class has already experienced a tangible impact. With the 2022 class, recruits are missing a critical juncture often spent toward in-person evaluations and establishing relationships with coaches.
The biggest overall impairment comes from the NCAA perpetually extending its recruiting dead period, which currently lasts through at least Aug. 31. Under the dead-period rules, recruits are prohibited from official and unofficial campus visits. Coaches may not take off-campus visits, which limits the access to evaluations and acquiring information on recruits’ character fit and academics.
That the Irish have not yet offered a 2022 quarterback hints at a delayed timeline compared to previous cycles. Boston College transfer Phil Jurkovec (May of 2016), freshman Drew Pyne (April of 2018) and high school senior Tyler Buchner (March of 2019) committed to Notre Dame more than 18 months before their three-day early signing period in December.
So to land a commitment from Tanona finally provides Notre Dame a solid foundation to build around. He plays left tackle at Zionsville and brings the growth potential to add a sizable amount of weight to his bulky frame. Tanona’s mauling style and height may make him a better fit on the interior, though.
247Sports pegs Tanona as its No. 16 offensive tackle and No. 173 overall player in the class. The one-man Irish class ranks No. 9 and No. 10 nationally on 247Sports and Rivals, respectively.
“I think what people will see over the next couple years and beyond is his athleticism,” said Scott Turnquist, Tanona’s head football coach. “That’s what jumps out when you watch him move and do the different things that we are asking offensive linemen to do. You’ve got to be a great athlete to play at a high level, and he is. He runs really well. He’s got great feet.
“He puts himself in position to use that bruising mentality by using his feet and getting himself into great position that way.”
Notre Dame hosting Tanona just before the pandemic began helped. He swung by for the Feb. 1 Irish junior day — the same recruiting event 2021 defensive end David Abiara and 2021 safety Justin Walters attended before pledging to the Irish.
Tanona had just accrued his first Division I offers from Iowa and Indiana on Jan. 23. Offensive line coach Jeff Quinn headed this recruitment and remained in contact with Tanona before and after offering him on May 1. LSU, Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State and Penn State were also among schools vying for Tanona.
“His relationship that he’s developed with coach Quinn,” said Turnquist about why he believes Tanona chose Notre Dame. “When he first got the offer, he was kind of in awe. Having gone up there to visit and having a chance to talk with Quinn on the phone, I think he just felt at home there and felt a family connection with everything about it.”
Look for the Irish to land another 2022 pledge soon from Jack Nickel, a three-star tight end from Alpharetta (Ga.) Milton High. Westerville (Ohio) South's Kaden Saunders, one of Notre Dame's top wide receiver targets in the class, committed to Penn State on Saturday.
The rest of Notre Dame’s top targets in the 2022 class appear far from committing. And the Irish are still working to identify who their priorities are overall. Coaching staffs are also not permitted to initiate contact with recruits until Sept. 1 of their junior year.
“The 2022s, in particular, we are filling in the blanks as best as we can,” recruiting/special teams coordinator Brian Polian told the Tribune earlier this month. “We have the sophomore film. That’s the easiest part.
“It’s the 'What does the academic profile look like? What’s the background information?' How are we able to get to know these guys even though it’s not Sept. 1 of their junior year yet?”
Securing Tanona now gives Notre Dame a starting point. He may not have a clear position projection, but Tanona brings the tools that suggest he could handle responsibilities on the interior or exterior.
“I think he’s a kid that he can play wherever they ask him to play,” Turnquist said. “I think he can play tackle with the skill set that he has. He’s long. He’s tall. He moves really well. But I think he has the strength and will develop more strength to have the ability to play inside if they need him to.”