Bloodlines and upside make OL Joe Alt's commitment to Notre Dame worthy of recognition
The verbal commitment may elicit the equivalent of a golf clap in the recruiting world.
How Notre Dame’s coaching staff values offensive tackle recruit Joe Alt, however, seems to look different than public perception and his three-star rating. The Irish foresee Alt, who pledged to their 2021 class on Monday, as a developmental project with intriguing bloodlines and potential.
Player comparisons might be the best way to explain why Alt emerged as a burgeoning prospect. Members of Notre Dame’s coaching staff compared Alt to Joe Staley, a six-time Pro Bowler for the San Francisco 49ers who played under head coach Brian Kelly and offensive line coach Jeff Quinn during their days at Central Michigan.
Allen Trieu, a Midwest recruiting analyst for 247Sports, compared Alt to Michigan’s expected starting left tackle, Ryan Hayes. Alt often equated himself with his father, John. The Kansas City Chiefs named John to their Hall of Fame following his 13-season career that included two Pro Bowl appearances and 149 starts.
What Staley, Hayes and John have in common aligns with the transition Joe will make in college. The 6-foot-7, 257-pound Alt will embark on the same path that trio embraced, switching to offensive tackle after playing tight end in high school.
“The transition from high school tight end to college offensive lineman isn’t new,” Trieu said. “There’s been enough guys to where that isn’t really the concern if the kid has the frame and the other tools. For us, it’s hard to sometimes project that. But you can use some of the precedent set by some of the other guys who have done that.
“With Joe, he blocks a lot in high school as a tight end. So you do see him as far as run-blocking. He basically plays like an offensive tackle. You combine that with his frame, athletic ability and the fact that we know he’s 257. He’s adding the right weight.
“His father made the same transition from college tight end and was an All-Pro offensive tackle. So that gives us even more confidence that he’s going to be able to make a similar move.”
Joining offensive line commits Blake Fisher and Pat Coogan, Alt’s pledge brings Notre Dame’s class to 12 members. Following defensive end Jason Onye and cornerback Ryan Barnes, Alt becomes the third target to commit to Notre Dame in the last two months despite having never taken a formal recruiting trip to campus.
Clarkston (Mich.) High interior offensive lineman Rocco Spindler remains as Notre Dame’s top target and would possibly complete its O-line haul. Rivals and 247Sports now rank the Irish class No. 17 and No. 20, respectively.
How Alt’s recruitment played out happened by design. Notre Dame pursuing Alt later than others, offering him a scholarship on May 22, hardly deterred him. A handful of virtual visits and persistent communication from Quinn and recruiting coordinator Brian Polian helped. Having an uncle, aunt and cousin graduate from Notre Dame also made Alt more familiar with the university. He even took an informal visit to campus earlier in high school.
Notre Dame’s coaching staff started pursuing Alt in May after missing on a few offensive tackle targets, particularly Wyatt Milum (West Virginia), Landon Tengwall (Penn State) and Caleb Johnson (Auburn). Those offensive linemen are considered three of the more sure bets at their position this cycle.
Adding Alt brought the Irish a rawer offensive tackle but with high upside. Alt’s path at Fridley (Minn.) Totino-Grace shows he remains in the early stages of his development. At approximately 6-0, 190 pounds as a freshman, Alt underwent a seismic growth spurt. He moved from quarterback to inside linebacker as a sophomore before graduating to tight end last season.
By the time Alt arrives to Notre Dame next June, he wants to come in at 275 pounds. Even in Alt's ideal scenario, that weight falls well short of where an Irish offensive linemen needs to be. All five starters are at least 295 pounds.
So Alt understands he will likely redshirt as a freshman and requires much more physical development. He told the Tribune he chose the Irish partly because they are capable of molding rawer offensive linemen like him. Iowa and Minnesota were among his other top schools.
“Then the academics,” Alt said. “If for some reason football doesn’t work out for me, I would have a top of the line education from a great institution, and I’ll be able to carry that on with me for the rest of my life. The final thing is that I’ve gone to a private, Catholic school my whole life. So being able to continue my faith at a Catholic university is very important to me.”
Recruiting camps being canceled in wake of the coronavirus pandemic prevented analysts from observing Alt’s continued growth. 247Sports still considered bumping Alt to four-star status in its updated recruiting rankings update last month and will monitor his improvement as a senior. 247Sports ranks Alt as its No. 34 offensive tackle and No. 327 overall player this cycle.
Totino-Grace’s coaching staff and Trieu refer to Alt’s role as a glorified offensive tackle. He’s featured as a tight end who protects the edge more than a tight end normally would while still catching the occasional pass down the middle. The Eagles intend to use Alt in that capacity this season.
Gaining weight and strength without significantly losing speed and twitch looks to be Alt’s biggest challenge moving forward.
“Almost certainly a redshirt guy,” Trieu said. “And then from there, you are looking at year two or year three and him getting up the depth chart and possibly pushing for a starting spot.
“I think because he’s a smart kid, and because his dad played the position at a high level, and because he’s asked to do some things at tight end that translate over to offensive tackle, it’s going to be less of a transition for him.”
John Alt remembers his body undergoing a drastic change similar to the one Joe experienced. His move to offensive tackle didn’t come until after his first two seasons as a tight end at the University of Iowa. Now John serves as an assistant offensive line coach for Totino-Grace, working with his son to prepare him for the same transition.
The blueprint seems apparent for Alt. Should he reach his ceiling, the Irish missing on top offensive tackle targets may not look so bad in retrospect.
“I think I was more of a later recruit with just how I developed late,” Joe said. “I didn’t have any film at tight end or tackle until my junior year. I knew it was going to be late, so I didn’t want to commit early. I wanted to wait. It got busier this spring with the coronavirus and everything virtually, doing a lot of calls and stuff.
"I was waiting for me to feel right, and I think with Notre Dame, I feel right.”