Notre Dame commits Kraemer, Eichenberg didn't find fit at Ohio State

Tyler James
South Bend Tribune

Tommy Kraemer’s phone rang three times Saturday night.

Each time it was the same number. Each time Kraemer ignored it.

Ohio State offensive coordinator Ed Warinner wanted to talk. Kraemer, a long-time Notre Dame commit and Cincinnati resident, wasn’t interested.

The Buckeyes have never stopped recruiting Kraemer, but he’s never wavered from his Irish pledge.

The 6-foot-5, 310-pound offensive tackle from Cincinnati Elder High School won’t be pushed from his Notre Dame plan.

“Notre Dame is very similar to Elder, kind of what I’m used to, with an Irish Catholic background and a smaller campus,” Kraemer said. “The people there were a little better for me. I felt like I would connect with them more than at Ohio State, with a big campus.

"The guys on the team were a little different than some of the guys at Notre Dame. There were a bunch of differences. I just had a better feeling that Notre Dame was home over Ohio State.”

Despite growing up in Ohio, Kraemer never considered himself an Ohio State fan. Instead, he sided with Notre Dame. Watching former Elder tight end Kyle Rudolph’s career with the Irish certainly helped.

When it became Kraemer’s turn to become a highly coveted recruit, both schools came calling. He never let the pressure to stay in state impact his decision.

“Some of my friends are huge Ohio State fans, and with (head) coach (Urban) Meyer coming to my school a lot and talking to me, there’s obviously pressure,” Kraemer said. “Other than that, not really. I kind of knew Notre Dame was my home since I visited the first time.”

Kraemer became the first 2016 recruit to give Notre Dame a verbal commitment, and he did so in October of 2014. He said he felt comfortable with the school and developed a strong relationship with Irish offensive line coach Harry Hiestand.

Hiestand earned Kraemer’s trust. He couldn’t say the same about the Ohio State coaching staff.

“They were kind of like car salesmen,” Kraemer said. “Coach Hiestand is a real down-to-earth guy, real honest with me all the time. The guys up there just weren’t. They were either doing something else when they were on the phone or talking to other guys. Coach Hiestand was very honest throughout the whole process.”

Kraemer, ranked as one of the top offensive tackle recruits in the country (No. 2 by 247Sports, No. 3 by Rivals), isn’t focused solely on football. The education he can receive at Notre Dame was part of the attraction.

Perhaps Ohio State’s coaching staff thought it couldn’t compete with a Notre Dame degree, because Kraemer says that was never part of the recruiting pitch from the Buckeyes.

“It’s been an attack of Twitter messages, calls, e-mails, everything from day one,” Kraemer said. “They haven’t really stopped. It’s a message of, 'Win a national championship, NFL.' They really don’t talk about education or anything like that. It’s all about football up there. That’s really been their approach the whole time.”

The lure of winning a national championship almost led Liam Eichenberg to Ohio State. The 6-5, 285-pound offensive tackle from Cleveland St. Ignatius once thought that would be his path.

After Ohio State won last year’s College Football Playoff, Eichenberg received a visit from Hiestand. He thought Notre Dame’s offensive line coach might have been wasting his time.

“I was thinking, ‘Why is he here? I’m going to Ohio State. They just won the national championship game,’ ” Eichenberg said. “Then I went on a retreat for school, and I thought about it. I realized that the more mature decision would be to go to Notre Dame and a get a good degree.”

Eichenberg eventually gave his verbal commitment to Notre Dame in April. He chose what he felt was the harder path.

Plenty of people close to Eichenberg would have supported an Ohio State commitment. He grew up cheering for the Buckeyes in a family that did the same. Eichenberg didn’t want the easy choice.

“That would be doing what everyone else wanted,” Eichenberg said. “It would be the best for them but not the best from me.”

After making visits to both schools and examining what each one offers, Eichenberg realized the decision wasn’t as hard as he originally thought. Notre Dame continued to impress him.

“Notre Dame overall offers a better education,” Eichenberg said. “I think they have better facilities and a lot nicer of a campus.”

The way the 2015 season has played out, Eichenberg feels justified in his reasoning. Ohio State failed to return to the College Football Playoff, but Notre Dame suffered the same fate. What surprised Eichenberg less was the off-the-field issues at Ohio State.

Quarterback J.T. Barrett was suspended for one game after being arrested for operating a vehicle while intoxicated. Defensive tackle Adolphus Washington is suspended for the Fiesta Bowl following a citation for solicitation. Eichenberg took note.

“I told my mom right after I committed to Notre Dame that I didn’t think good things were going to happen to OSU after the national championship game,” Eichenberg said.

“I don’t think they’re going in the right direction there.”

The directions of both schools led Notre Dame and Ohio State to a collision course for Friday’s Fiesta Bowl. The game will have an extra meaning for the Irish commits from the Buckeye State.

“The minute (the matchup) came out, I probably got 10 texts from different friends talking smack,” Kraemer said. “I’m really excited. It’s going to be a great game.”

tjames@ndinsider.com

574-235-6214

Twitter: @TJamesNDI

Left to right: Sophomore Quenton Nelson, 2017 commit Dillan Gibbons (in the back), sophomore Alex Bars, 2016 commit Tommy Kraemer and 2016 commit Liam Eichenberg watch Notre Dame football prospects during Irish Invasion Friday, June 19, 2015 in South Bend. (SBT Photo/BECKY MALEWITZ)