Notre Dame TE recruit Eli Raridon just keeping it all in the family
Lightning struck twice in the Raridon family.
That’s how former Notre Dame long snapper Scott Raridon Jr. described the blessing of watching his son, four-star tight end Eli Raridon, receive the same opportunity to play for the Irish that he once had.
“This is all beyond my wildest hopes ever,” Scott said Monday, two days before Eli will sign a National Letter of Intent with Notre Dame during the NCAA’s early signing period for college football. “The fact that I played there makes it all the more special.”
The Raridon family knows quite a bit about Notre Dame. Grandpa Raridon — Scott Raridon Sr. — was a strength coach at Notre Dame under head coach Lou Holtz including the 1988 national championship season. Scott Jr. was recruited to Notre Dame as a four-star offensive tackle, played for head coaches Tyrone Willingham and Charlie Weis from 2002-05 and lettered his last three seasons as a long snapper and backup offensive lineman.
In the middle of Scott’s playing career, Eli was born in Mason City, Iowa. Scott married his high school sweetheart, Jena, and all three of them moved to an off-campus apartment ahead of his junior year at Notre Dame. They spent Scott’s last two years on campus as a family of three.
Eli had no choice but to become a Notre Dame fan. He grew up going to so many Notre Dame football games he has no idea which was the first one. Dressing up as a Notre Dame football player eventually became a go-to Halloween costume.
“It’s always been his favorite team,” Scott Jr. said. “I brainwashed him just because he’s my son. When I was doing that, I had no idea he’d end up going there or have the option to go there.”
That still didn’t seem like a possibility even as Eli started picking up scholarship offers during his junior season at West Des Moines (Iowa) Valley. Iowa State and Iowa were among his first offers. Other programs in the Big Ten joined his offer list, but the Irish already had a verbal commitment from tight end Jack Nickel in the 2022 recruiting class.
Scott was aware of Nickel’s commitment and Notre Dame’s depth chart, so he figured the Irish wouldn’t be interested in adding in Raridon to the mix. Then he heard from Notre Dame offensive coordinator Tommy Rees.
“I guess he watched (Eli’s) film and watched the basketball film,” Scott said, “and was very angry that he was just finding out about this kid whose dad played there and grandpa was the head strength coach. He called me and was almost apologetic.”
Notre Dame extended Raridon an offer on Feb. 9 of this year. The following day, the Irish offered tight end Holden Staes as well. Nickel exited the class in April and made room for Notre Dame to accept commitments from both Raridon and Staes in May.
Though Notre Dame was excited about Raridon’s potential, Rivals and 247Sports weren’t quite as sold on him. At the time of his commitment, both recruiting sites rated him as a three-star recruit and ranked him No. 22 and No. 17 at the tight end position in the 2022 class, respectively.
“The amount of work I put in,” Eli said, “people really couldn’t see that during COVID. I was really the only one who knew how good I could be.”
Eli was in the middle of a physical transformation while working out with trainer Steve Giblin, a long-time family friend who also trained Eli’s father. By the time his senior season came around, Eli developed into a 6-foot-6, 230-pound physical specimen.
“It was all lifting with my trainer,” Eli said. “That really brought my athleticism to where it is right now. Just seeing the growth every day. Every week the numbers were going up. I saw how much better I was getting. That was really motivating.”
Eli is most proud of his hang clean, which has been calculated at a 360-pound maximum lift.
“Eli was always super committed to never missing a lift,” Scott said. “I remember sometimes I dreaded lifts. Eli’s never dreaded a lift that I’ve ever seen. He looks forward to it. I’m happy for him in that way, because I didn’t love lifting like he loves it.”
Even as Eli is starring on the basketball court, the lifting doesn’t stop. He found time for a couple workouts last week before scoring 37 points and grabbing 12 rebounds in a victory over Dowling Catholic on Friday.
Then he headed to South Bend for one last official visit this past weekend with 17 fellow Notre Dame commits. The Irish coaching staff wanted to give all of its recruits a chance to meet with new head coach Marcus Freeman on campus in the aftermath of Brian Kelly’s sudden departure to LSU less than two weeks prior.
“The coaching change was definitely something unexpected,” Eli said. “It was obviously very hectic for a couple of days. No matter who the coach was going to be, I was pretty set on going to Notre Dame unless they hired someone that didn’t use tight ends.”
That wouldn’t make much sense for a program that likes to claim the Tight End U moniker. With Rees and tight ends coach John McNulty remaining on staff, Raridon shouldn’t have anything to worry about. Eli will have a chance to learn from All-American tight end Michael Mayer in what could be his last year at Notre Dame as a junior.
“It’s the best place in the world to go to plus they produce the best tight ends,” Eli said. “It’s more than an honor to be able to go there and have the opportunity to play there with all the awesome tight end tradition and the awesome school and football history they’ve had. It really means everything to me.”
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After spending some time with Freeman on campus, Eli confidently called him “the coolest head coach in all of college football.”
Eli and his father discussed what he should do after Kelly left the Irish. They both agreed that he didn’t choose Notre Dame for a coach.
“I was really impressed with his maturity and the way he was thinking about his future,” Scott said. “It was a little rattling to have that happen so suddenly out of nowhere. Certainly some emotions were running high. I also could see a calmness in him. He didn’t panic.”
When Eli signs with Notre Dame on Wednesday morning, the national perception of him will be much different than it was when he first committed to the Irish. As a senior, he caught 53 passes for 627 yards and 10 touchdowns for West Des Moines Valley and received a four-star rating from Rivals and 247Sports. Now he’s considered one of the top tight ends in the country.
247Sports slates Eli as the No. 2 tight end and No. 66 overall in the 2022 class. Rivals ranks him as the No. 5 tight end and No. 178 overall.
The accolades are rewarding for Scott, who first put Eli into tackle football as a second-grader even though the youth league was designed for third- and fourth-graders. Eli always played a grade up with Scott as his coach.
As a father, Scott appreciates Eli being commended for all his accomplishments, but he can’t help but downplay it too.
“It’s kind of like being All-State in football,” Scott said. “It just an acknowledgment. It doesn’t mean anything.
“One side of me was really proud of him for the fact that he got acknowledged for all his hard work and ability. The other side of me was like, ‘Don’t let this go to your head. You have to keep working hard. None of this matters. You can’t say you made it now. You’re just getting started.’
“I didn’t want it to affect him that way. I want him to keep his head down and keep working hard.”
That hard work can resume on Thursday. Wednesday will be time to celebrate.
“It’s more,” Eli said, “than a dream come true for me.”
Follow ND Insider Tyler James on Twitter: @TJamesNDI.