Notre Dame football recruiting: Early enrollees have already put in the work

TYLER JAMES - <a href="http:

Only a couple months after finishing their senior football seasons andjust days after being reassured that Brian Kelly would remain NotreDame's head coach, five Irish recruits start their college careers onTuesday.

They've all been verbally committed to Notre Dame for at least eightmonths, and now their recruitment has come to an official end.

Wide receiver James Onwualu was the first to graduate early when hefinished his last trimester at Cretin-Derham Hall in St. Paul, Minn,in November. Onwualu committed to the Irish last March and has alwayshad his eyes set on early enrollment.

Still, his final semester of high school presented challenges.

"It was definitely still hard. It's something that I've had some timeto think about," Onwualu said before leaving for Notre Dame. "I feelmore prepared than I did a couple months ago."

Onwualu admitted to having doubts at times about skipping the end ofhis senior year and missing out on shared experiences with those closeto him.

"There are definitely times like that where I'm with family and goodfriends and I'm not sure why I'm doing it just because I'll miss themso much," Onwualu said. "I'm 100-percent confident that I'll betotally comfortable there and that I'll be successful and fit in witheverybody once I get there."

Quarterback Malik Zaire set his mind on early enrollment a week afterchoosing the Irish last March.

"Committing to Notre Dame gave me the incentive to start early becausethere were a lot of opportunities there, I felt," Zaire said inDecember. "Going to Notre Dame definitely pushed me toward earlyenrolling."

Zaire pushed himself through a rigorous final semester at ArchbishopAlter in Kettering, Ohio, in order to get himself some reps atquarterback during spring practice.

"Oh my goodness, it was stressful from beginning to end trying to getout of there early," Zaire said. "I figured it will pay off when Imove in."

Tight end Mike Heuerman didn't have to look far to find a successfulmodel for enrolling early. His older brother Jeff, who plays tight endat Ohio State, enrolled in January 2011 after graduating from BarronCollier High in Naples, Fla. He's played in 22 games in two seasonswith the Buckeyes.

"Knowing that my brother had done it and put him where he's at today,it gives me a lot of motivation as well," Mike Heuerman said.

Offensive lineman Steve Elmer enjoyed the final semester of courseworkat Midland (Mich.) High and used it as an opportunity to take a testrun at calculus before taking it at Notre Dame.

"It wasn't as much pressure to get 100 percent in the class," Elmersaid. "I could spend more time learning the material because I'mtaking Calc 1 again next semester. That was less pressure."

Wide receiver Corey Robinson, on the other hand, waited until the lastweek before finally finishing up his requirements at San Antonio(Texas) Christian. He had to take extra courses in English andeconomics in order to graduate early.

"It was a little overwhelming," Robinson said during the week beforethe U.S. Army All-American Bowl on Jan. 5. "I'm a terribleprocrastinator. As a matter of fact, I'm not graduated yet. I have totake one more test."

Robinson passed the test on British literature and graduated a weekbefore classes started at Notre Dame.

Now all five recruits will transition from prospects tostudent-athletes and test their merit against the academic rigors ofNotre Dame and the demands of Kelly and his football program.

Staff writer Tyler James: