Tommy Kraemer laid foundation for Notre Dame's 2016 class

Al Lesar
South Bend Tribune

Every building project begins with a solid foundation.

When the Notre Dame football team set out to construct its recruiting class for 2016, it didn’t take long to get its cornerstone in place.

Exactly 16 months ago, in an unusual circumstance for such a talented player, Irish coach Brian Kelly got a verbal commitment from 6-foot-5, 310-pound, five-star offensive tackle Tommy Kraemer, from Elder High School in Cincinnati.

Wednesday, he makes it official by signing his letter-of-intent.

“(Signing day) is kind of cool because I will have been committed to Notre Dame for 16 months on that day,” Kraemer said. “It’s great to wrap it all up then. Once (the signature) is on the paper, it’s real. I’m looking forward to what’s going to come next.”

It just doesn’t happen often when the big-time stud of a recruiting class comes wrapped up in a bow before the cycle starts in earnest.

“(Kraemer) got all the offers he wanted early,” said Steve Wiltfong, recruiting director for 247Sports. “He was able to take some visits and narrow it down to what he wanted.

“Notre Dame was a little bit of a dream school for him. When he got that opportunity, he made sure that other schools didn’t stack up. When he committed to Notre Dame, that was actually a lot later than he wanted to. His family pulled him back a little bit.”

“When (offensive line) coach (Harry) Hiestand came to my hometown, my first contact with Notre Dame, ever, I felt a connection with him right away,” Kraemer said. “Then, on my first visit (to Notre Dame), I knew that was where I wanted to go.”

“He knew what he wanted,” said Elder head football coach Doug Ramsey. “Notre Dame is a special place. Being a west side (of Cincinnati) Catholic kid, those things all played a part. He built a relationship with coach Hiestand.

“Tommy knows what he wants. He’s a mature kid. He’s a smart kid. He knows the benefits of going to Notre Dame, whether it’s the academic side or playing for someone like coach Kelly and coach Hiestand, he’ll have a chance to be an NFL player.”

Though he has yet to step on campus as a student, Kraemer became an active recruiter. He said he played an active role in convincing running back Tony Jones Jr. and fellow offensive linemen Parker Boudreaux and Liam Eichenberg to commit to the Irish. Then during the U.S. Army All-American Bowl he did some coaxing with linebacker Caleb Kelly and receiver Demetris Robertson.

“From Day 1, when I committed in coach Kelly’s office before the Stanford game (2014), (coaches) said, ‘You’re the leader of this class. How this class turns out determines how good of a guy you are,’” Kraemer said. “I was ready to be the leader of this class. We’re all just excited to come there and start tearing it up. We’re ready to get after it (in the summer) and work toward the fall.”

Kraemer, who Wiltfong said has the physical strength and maturity to find his way into the Irish two-deep right away, had more pancakes than IHOP in his senior season. Under the tutelage of his dad, Mike, offensive line coach at Elder and a former lineman at Vanderbilt, Kraemer developed what it takes to be special.

“He’s kinda got two personalities,” Ramsey said of his large prodigy. “Off the field, he’s a guy people like to be around; a good leader. Guys gravitate toward him. On the field, he’s nasty. He has a different mentality when he plays. He wants to completely dominate someone when he’s blocking them.

“During his sophomore year, you could see the weekly improvement. (As the season went on) you realized that Tommy wasn’t just a big guy who was athletic, he had a chance to be really, really good.

“I don’t know if people realize how good he really is. He is so dominating. We play good people. It’s not like he was blocking guys who weren’t any good.

“He’s just dominant — a good athlete with the right mentality.”

“I’m a lot more confident in my game (than before the commitment),” Kraemer said. “I was seeing things for the first time (then). Since then I’ve gotten a lot better. I’ve become comfortable in our program. I’ve done a lot building up my body.”

Kraemer took an unconventional approach to conditioning this winter. He joined the Elder swim team. Though he hasn’t scored any points for his team in meets, he has taken the competition seriously.

“I honestly think swimming is a tougher workout than some of the sprints we did in the summer for football,” Kraemer said. “It’s a tough sport; a great cardiovascular workout.”

“Tommy’s been around football all his life,” said Ramsey. “He’s seen (former Elder tight end) Kyle Rudolph go through here and go to Notre Dame; (Elder grad and tight end) Alex Welch.

“He’s been around too many things; he’s seen too many things. He’s a mature kid.”

That maturity, and a solid support system at home, helped him navigate what could be the choppy waters of the recruiting process with ease.

“I was able to stay grounded and I stayed pretty humble,” said Kraemer, regarded by Wiltfong as one of the top two offensive linemen in the country. “I stayed to my roots, stayed with it, and tried to find the best place for me.

“Coming into the recruiting process, I heard so many negative things about it. I did not have a negative experience about it, at all. You meet so many great people. You get to see so many great universities. You get to experience so many different lifestyles.

“At times, it could be a little bothersome with calls (from coaches) during the night. That got old. But, I really enjoyed it. I had a great time and wouldn’t change anything about it.”

Through it all, the “pancake guy” never waffled. A solid finish and a great beginning.

Exactly what a cornerstone is supposed to be.

Tommy Kraemer is the cornerstone of Notre Dame's 2016 recruiting class and could be the the anchor of future Irish offensive lines. (Photo courtesy of Rivals)