Offensive tackle commit Blake Fisher: Notre Dame will have a top-five recruiting class in 2021

Carter Karels
South Bend Tribune

Blake Fisher often knows what’s happening inside Notre Dame’s football recruiting department.

Since verbally committing to the Irish last June, the five-star offensive tackle has carved himself a role as an unofficial extension of the coaching staff. Fisher tracks all the scholarship offers extended by the Irish and frequently communicates with those who land them. To familiarize himself with them, he watches their film and interviews to understand who they are.

So when Fisher dishes his opinion on the 2021 recruiting class, people listen. The Avon (Ind.) High product weighed in on a variety of recruiting topics on video Zoom call this weekend, but one sentiment stood out.

“Just with the information I have, the knowledge I have and the things I know, we will be a top five (recruiting) class,” Fisher said. “With everything slowed down right now, it’s tough to say anything about when decisions will come or when people will make their commitment.

“But I’d say before the season, before August, I think the months of June and July will be very commitment-packed. Irish people should be on the watch for some really great dudes coming in.”

The Irish rank No. 5 and No. 8 nationally on Rivals and 247Sports, respectively. Holding that position may prove to be challenging. Notre Dame will take a smaller class nearing the 17-20 range. Smaller classes often mean a lower spot in the rankings.

To flirt with that top-five range, Notre Dame must at least land four-star running back Will Shipley and a few others with similar recruiting pedigree. Like Rocco Spindler, who joined Fisher on the Zoom call.

Spindler, a four-star offensive lineman from Clarkston (Mich.) High, touched on a variety of topics and updated his recruitment. So did Warwick (R.I.) Bishop Hendricken defensive end Jason Onye and Gardena (Calif.) Junipero Serra defensive back Devin Kirkwood.

The three uncommitted targets joined Fisher and newly committed offensive lineman Pat Coogan for a 34-minute conversation. Below were the highlights for each of them:

Rocco Spindler: How Spindler avoids being bombarded by coaches revealed his refreshing sense of humor.

“I’ll text them late at night so I know that they are not going to respond,” Spindler said. “In the morning, I’ll wake up to like 50 texts. And throughout the day, coaches will just be texting and texting.

“I go to my farm, and I’ve got no service there. So I’m like, ‘Yes, I don’t have to talk with any coaches.’ If I spend the night or something, then they start wondering, ‘Hey man? You OK? You alive? What’s good?’”

With more time at their disposal after the coronavirus pandemic started, Division I coaches increased communication with Spindler and other recruits. In Spindler, coaches may have seen an opportunity to make a move in his recruitment. He no longer plans to announce his commitment on May 15.

Notre Dame, Penn State and Michigan are thought to be Spindler’s unofficial top three schools. Spindler said he will release his top five school list soon and will look to take all five official visits before committing.

“I want to take them as soon as possible,” said Spindler of the official visits. “I was supposed to be taking them all this month and all next month. But that’s how it goes. So hopefully by the end of the summer I can take them. But if not, I’ll extend it through the fall.”

Jason Onye: No uncommitted recruit has a higher chance of landing in Notre Dame’s class than Onye.

That Onye has never visited South Bend explains why he’s yet to verbally commit to the Irish. But Onye already feels Notre Dame will remind him of Bishop Hendricken, the all-male Catholic high school the three-star defensive end attends.

“We’ve pretty much built a brotherhood there. That’s what I see at Notre Dame,” Onye said. (Defensive line) coach (Mike) Elston will talk to me about his locker room, how it’s like a brotherhood at Notre Dame. They are all together. There’s a sense of putting God first in all that they do. The community aspect, all that.”

Look for Onye to pledge to the Irish on or before his June 12-14 official visit. If that recruiting weekend is canceled because health officials still deem large gatherings unsafe, Onye would likely still end his recruitment and pledge to Notre Dame around that time.

Other recruits have accelerated their decisions during this uncertain climate. Defensive end David Abiara and Coogan ended their recruitments earlier than expected, committing to the Irish just after saying they wanted to take more visits. Onye also fits that mold.

“I’m ready to be done with this recruiting process, to be honest,” Onye said. “I’m ready to commit to a school and find my home for the next four years.”

Devin Kirkwood: By a wide margin, Kirkwood is less likely to commit to Notre Dame than Onye and Spindler.

Notre Dame defensive pass game coordinator Terry Joseph makes Kirkwood feel like a priority and communicates with him weekly. But there are still plenty of questions to be answered. Kirkwood will take a June official visit and wants to learn more from Notre Dame’s players and the role defensive coordinator Clark Lea envisions for him.

“They’ve been giving me virtual visits, and they’ve been talking with me a lot,” Kirkwood said. “Their virtual visits are different because you don’t really get to be on campus and see how other people interact with each other. But it’s fun seeing how the campus is, seeing how the coaches are and getting to know the coaches on a personal level.”

Pat Coogan: Offensive coordinator Tommy Rees was the first to hear the news that Coogan wanted to choose Notre Dame.

Coogan’s verbal commitment on Wednesday came approximately three years after the Chicago Marist product began to forge a relationship with Rees. He’s obtained more knowledge on Rees — Notre Dame’s geographic recruiter of Chicago — than most offensive line recruits.

Both Fisher and Coogan expect Rees’ offense to feature an emphasis on the running game.

“I think he’s one of the best young, bright coaches in the game,” Coogan said. “It’s an unbelievable opportunity to play underneath him for a long time to come. The passion he has for Notre Dame is unmatched. I know the offense is going to take off under him. That offense is going to lead them to a national championship for sure.”

Will Shipley: A scheduling conflict resulted in Shipley missing this Zoom call, but his name still came up.

Considered Notre Dame’s top recruiting target this cycle, Shipley hears from Notre Dame’s eight commits often. Fisher and Coogan said they listened to Shipley’s interview on the Tribune’s “Pod of Gold” podcast on Friday and liked what they heard.

“The podcast was really interesting,” Fisher said. “Throughout me and Will’s relationship and in the time I’ve gotten to know Will, Will is really good with his words. With me just being able to get to know Will, I’ve been able to break it down and see through.

“A lot of people are really confused, but I have a pretty good idea. Will doesn’t really say too much, but walking away, I kind of just felt like (Notre Dame) has a step forward.

“…Walking away listening to that podcast, I 100 percent feel that we have that step forward in a slight-edge lead. We’ll see in the upcoming weeks where Will goes.

“If Will does decide to come to Notre Dame, he is going to break the Internet.”

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Avon (Ind.) High’s Blake Fisher, a top offensive tackle in the 2021 recruiting class, verbally committed to Notre Dame in June.