New Notre Dame commit Will Schweitzer hyped to play vyper position

Carter Karels
South Bend Tribune

Notre Dame initially didn’t want to take a weakside defensive end in its 2021 recruiting class.

Dubbed as “vyper,” the Irish considered that position as one of their most loaded groups. Too much talent and too much depth persuaded them to pass on potential vyper prospects this recruiting cycle. Graduate senior Daelin Hayes, junior Ovie Oghoufo, sophomore Isaiah Foskey and freshman Jordan Botelho represent Notre Dame’s current unit.

The coaching staff changed course earlier this month though, pursuing Will Schweitzer before flipping his verbal commitment from Nebraska on Sunday. The three-star middle linebacker from Los Gatos (Calif.) High told the Tribune that Notre Dame likes him at vyper. He’s the first Irish pledge this class who flipped his commitment from another school.

Schweitzer knew they would slow-play his recruitment. Reevaluating Schweitzer as a vyper after first projecting him as a middle linebacker played a role. Roster attrition and missing on recruiting targets at other positions also figured to be factors.

Before the coronavirus pandemic, defensive coordinator Clark Lea told Schweitzer he would likely receive his scholarship offer later in the process. Schweitzer received the offer earlier this month but never made the news public.

Now he’s part of Notre Dame’s 18-member class.

“At one point he told me that if I needed to commit to another school, he wanted me to,” said Schweitzer of Lea. “He wanted me to have the option open. He said he would come back. And then if I said, ‘You know what, I’m good,’ he would be happy for me. And if I wanted to commit to Notre Dame, he would be even happier.

“They’ve always been straight and honest with me.”

Having more clarity about scholarship space helped the Irish make room. Notre Dame announced last week that three players have been medically disqualified: graduate transfer running back Trevor Speights, junior offensive lineman Cole Mabry and senior wide receiver Isaiah Robertson.

Now the Irish are at 86 scholarships — one more than the NCAA maximum — including Colin Grunhard. Head coach Brian Kelly put the former walk-on offensive lineman on scholarship for the 2019-20 school year. Former walk-on running back Mick Assaf also earned that distinction, but he announced his retirement from football earlier this month.

Defensive tackle Gabriel Rubio and defensive ends Jason Onye and David Abiara have been committed to Notre Dame’s 2021 class. Onye and Abiara project as strongside defensive ends. The Irish remain in jeopardy of losing Abiara via decommitment.

Part of what makes Schweitzer a valuable addition is his position flexibility at 6-foot-4, 220 pounds. He committed to the Cornhuskers on June 11 with the notion that he would be an outside linebacker in their 3-4 scheme. He knew he could play other positions, however.

“I had different schools that recruited him differently,” said Mark Krail, Los Gatos’ head football coach. “I had several schools that said, ‘This guy could play inside (linebacker). There’s no doubt in our mind that he has the athleticism and the toughness to line up inside the box.’ I think he could definitely do that, depending on a program’s needs and scheme.

“Most of the coaches I spoke with saw him as that weakside (defensive end), outside linebacker type who can drop into coverage but also come off the edge. To me, that would be where I see his strength.”

Los Gatos featured Schweitzer off the edge before moving him to middle linebacker last season. He shined in that new role, recording 130 tackles, nine tackles for a loss, five sacks, 21 quarterback hurries and three interceptions in 14 games.

Michigan State, Utah, Virginia, TCU and Kansas State were among schools to offer Schweitzer following his junior season. 247Sports ranks Schweitzer as its No. 31 outside linebacker and No. 436 overall player in the 2021 recruiting class, while Rivals slates him as its No. 26 weakside defensive end.

The Irish coaching staff started recruiting Schweitzer approximately a year ago. Special teams coordinator Brian Polian has stopped by Los Gatos multiple times. Lea initially envisioned Schweitzer as a middle linebacker. He told him he would not extend an offer unless the Irish suffered injuries at the position, Schweitzer said.

Of Notre Dame’s 11 linebackers, 10 are eligible to return following this season. Senior Drew White leads the middle position and has promising depth behind him in juniors Bo Bauer and Shayne Simon and sophomore JD Bertrand. The Irish will likely take just one linebacker this cycle — Jonesborough (Tenn.) David Crockett’s Prince Kollie.

Reassessing scholarship space and reevaluating Schweitzer helped lead to him receiving an offer at vyper. And that’s what he preferred anyway.

“I feel like most of my skills (translate) to the outside with my length,” Schweitzer said. “My frame is going to put on that weight. So I knew I could be an edge rusher, and that’s where I’m most skilled on the field.”

Defensive line coach Mike Elston increased his involvement in Schweitzer’s recruitment once Notre Dame began pursuing him at vyper. Then he sold Schweitzer on his plan for him at the position. Then Schweitzer took his first visit to Notre Dame’s campus on Aug. 10.

Committed to Nebraska at the time, Schweitzer kept that trip to South Bend under wraps. He also could not enjoy the luxuries that come with typical official or unofficial visits.

Both trips are prohibited under the NCAA’s recruiting dead period. The current mandate lasts through Sept. 30 and has been perpetually extended since March because of the coronavirus pandemic. So Schweitzer could not be with Notre Dame’s football personnel or venture inside its facilities.

Still, Schweitzer managed to feel at home. Previously living in Chicago for nearly five years made Schweitzer familiar with the Midwest and unafraid of frigid temperatures. Visiting on the first day of Notre Dame’s fall semester, Schweitzer experienced its campus culture.

“That was helpful,” Schweitzer said, “because you can’t really get a feel for a school unless you know what the students are like. I didn’t get a chance to talk to too many of them. But the people that I did seemed really nice. The one thing I saw about Notre Dame was that it’s a family there. You walk past someone, and they are all saying hi to each other.

“Everyone just seems like a big family, and I love that atmosphere.”

Whether Schweitzer will play his senior football season remains unclear. The California Interscholastic Federation delayed its fall and winter sports to start in January. Schweitzer has not decided but has the ability to enroll a semester early at Notre Dame.

Regardless of his decision, Schweitzer said he will be ready to develop as a vyper.

“I’m really confident in my skills on the edge and my length, my moves,” Schweitzer said. “I just think that when I’m on the edge, it’s hard to stop me. I’m a force out there.”

Los Gatos (Calif.) High’s Will Schweitzer (88), a three-star defensive end in the 2021 recruiting class, verbally committed to Notre Dame on Sunday.