Notre Dame considers Joe Alt to be a top recruiting target at a position he’s never played.
Only until his most recent position switch did Alt understand why offensive tackle suits him best. He played quarterback through his freshman year before a temporary move to inside linebacker the following season and a permanent switch to tight end as a junior.
What Alt described as a late bloom coaxed the Fridley (Minn.) Totino-Grace coaching staff to experiment with him. The 6-foot-7, 257-pound Alt transformed from the 6-0, 190-pound frame he possessed two years ago. His five-inch burst within the last year cemented the offensive tackle projection.
“In the back of his mind, he knew where his body was going to take him,” said his father, John Alt.
In comparing himself to his brother, Mark Alt, Joe said he identified a contrast in their body types. Now at 6-4, 201 pounds, Mark played quarterback in high school before beginning a professional hockey career. The Carolina Hurricanes drafted him No. 53 overall in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft.
The blueprint from his father made the idea of playing offensive tackle easier for Joe to digest. John said his son underwent an erratic growth spurt similar to the one he experienced in high school. Now Joe will brace himself for the same position switch.
John needed convincing prior to moving to left tackle after playing tight end in his first two seasons at the University of Iowa. The switch resulted in Alt hearing his name called by the Kansas City Chiefs with the No. 24 overall pick in the first round of the 1984 NFL Draft. The Chiefs named Alt to their Hall of Fame for his 13-season career that included two Pro Bowl appearances and 149 starts.
As an assistant offensive line coach for Totino-Grace, John works with Joe to prepare him for the same transition.
“But it’s also the mental aspect that has really hit home with me,” Joe said. “(My father) talks about how much he would study film and a player specifically before a game. A majority of the game is about understanding your opponent, and the physical things kind of come with that.”
Totino-Grace featured Alt as a glorified offensive tackle of sorts last season. His length and bend helped seal the edge in pass protection. Alt seems to move well laterally and impressed as a run blocker. Also a basketball player, Alt brought the size and athleticism necessary to become a popular target for his quarterback down the middle of the field.
What Alt showed last season — especially because he had never previously put his hand on the ground — caught the attention of recruiting analysts. 247Sports even debated elevating Alt from three-star distinction in their updated rankings of the 2021 recruiting class last week. He still continued to ascend, coming in as its No. 34 offensive tackle and No. 327 overall player.
Notre Dame missing on a few offensive linemen targets before offering Alt makes him seem like a backup plan. But bringing high upside and learning from his father may help Alt ditch that label, especially if he eventually earns four-star acclaim. John said his son trains four times per week on offensive tackle skills like footwork and pass blocking.
“If anything he’s ahead of the game as an offensive tackle because of the training he’s done,” John said.
Alt knows seismic gains in weight and strength will be the keys to his development. Weighing just seven pounds more than Irish tight end Brock Wright (6-5, 250), Alt’s too light to even play on the interior. All five of Notre Dame’s starting offensive linemen are at least 295 pounds.
Totino-Grace head football coach Jay Anderson said Alt may not be done growing. So eventually surpassing the frame of left tackle Liam Eichenberg (6-6, 305) might be a matter of when, not if.
“I know that when coaches look at him,” Anderson said, “they are just going, ‘Yeah, he’s going to be able to put some muscle and weight on that frame.’ He’s a really athletic kid at 6-7. He’s going to be a handful in a few years.”
Minnesota and Iowa were among the first Power Five schools to recognize Alt’s potential, offering him a scholarship in November and December, respectively. The hometown Gophers and the legacy Hawkeyes are expected to challenge the Irish the hardest for Alt.
Notre Dame heated up its pursuit of Alt last month and offered him on May 22. The Irish coaching staff has seemingly brought Alt up to speed after holding a handful of virtual recruiting visits. From showing video tours of the campus and football facilities to offering academic information, Notre Dame aims to answers any questions during virtual visits.
Offensive line coach Jeff Quinn leads this recruitment, while recruiting coordinator Brian Polian has provided the academics information. Notre Dame will hold another academic virtual visit with Alt, an aspiring engineering major, later this week.
With offensive tackle Blake Fisher and interior offensive lineman Pat Coogan committed, Notre Dame’s looking to add at least one more on the interior and another at tackle in this 2021 class. The Irish hold 11 verbal pledges.
“I’m considering (Notre Dame) pretty strongly,” Alt said. “They are one of the top schools. They’re definitely up there. I would say I’m getting kind of close to where I probably want to make a decision. I’ve checked off most of my boxes. It’s just kind of on me now to find my best fit for myself.”
Rutgers and Notre Dame are the two schools recruiting Alt the hardest at the moment, he said. The Irish needed to overcompensate after missing the chance to host Alt for his first recruiting trip to South Bend last season. He declined the opportunity due to a scheduling conflict.
Because Alt’s aunt, uncle and cousin graduated from Notre Dame, he’s familiar with the school. He even took informal trips to campus throughout childhood. John said he knows a lot about the university after playing with two former Notre Dame standouts on the Chiefs: offensive lineman Tim Grunhard and quarterback Joe Montana.
Grunhard wrote a tweet expressing his excitement when the Irish offered Alt. His son, senior offensive lineman Colin Grunhard, contacted Joe to tell him about his Notre Dame experience.
“He really loves being at Notre Dame, and he loves the people he’s around,” Alt said about Grunhard. “It’s a super fun brotherhood. That’s great to hear, because for me I think family is very important. So being away from home, I want to have a second family. He said that’s kind of like the O-line group.”
In choosing a football program, Alt aims to make his decision with minimal influence. But how Alt prepares for that program will be shaped by his father’s experience and guidance.
“He’s letting Joe grow through this process, too,” Anderson said. “And not telling him what to do, but just offering him fatherly advice. Having him weigh all of his options. He wants the best for Joe, not best for John. So it’s really cool to see them interact with one another. Joe has a high level of respect for his father.”