Notre Dame football: Irish freshman DE Rochell talks, plays a good game
One of the spoils of winning a Georgia state football championship is that the team goes to Atlanta to meet with lawmakers, with the head coach given the opportunity to make a speech.
And after Eagle’s Landing Christian School in McDonough won the Class A private school title last fall and was scheduled for its visit, head coach Jonathan Gess had a thought.
“I told our headmaster, I said, ‘I’m not the person that needs to address the congress,” Gess said, “because the most well-rounded and best-speaking individual we have is Isaac Rochell.’”
“He did an amazing job,” Gess said.
Amazing would be a bit of a heavy adjective to describe the play thus far of the 6-foot-4, 280-pound Rochell, now a freshman at Notre Dame, but he has impressed the Irish coaches enough to earn a spot on the two-deep as the backup to defensive end Sheldon Day.
Rochell, who has not been made available for interviews since arriving at ND in June, played sparingly in last week’s loss at Michigan, but registered three tackles in the Aug. 31 win over Temple. Irish coach Brian Kelly indicated that the plan is to get more work for backup ends Rochell and Jarron Jones in Saturday night’s game at Purdue.
“We’ve got to get more guys into the game,” Kelly said.
It wasn’t until middle school that Rochell started getting into football. When he arrived at Eagle’s Landing, a private school that has an enrollment of 1,100 in kindergarten through 12th grade and approximately 400 high schoolers, Rochell was more into basketball, as was his brother Matt, who is a year older.
“But then Matt bought in to football, so then Matt bought in to the weight room,” Gess said, “and all of a sudden Isaac starts tagging along with him.
“And then he just exploded obviously.”
Exploded as in going from 190 pounds as a freshman to 220 pounds, all of it muscle.
“And he was dominant as a 10th-grader, not even knowing what he was doing,” Gess said. “Nobody could block him, nobody could handle him. And we knew then. We knew then.”
Prior to that, Gess thought Rochell was a college player — he just didn’t think it would be in Division 1.
Once Rochell “exploded” though, so too did the offers, and he picked Notre Dame from a lengthy list that also included Alabama, Arkansas, Florida and Florida State, Clemson, Georgia and Michigan.
In the meantime, older brother Matt had landed at Air Force, where he’s now the starting left tackle. And that sets up an interesting matchup on Oct. 26 when the Irish play the Falcons in Colorado Springs.
“Both of them are just the greatest kids in the world,” Gess said. “They would never want to block each other, embarrass the other one. They’re going to be like in a state of conflict. I know they’ve got to do their job. You just talk about two unbelievable boys.”
Long before the Irish begin thinking about Air Force, though, there’s this weekend’s game at Purdue. And while Rochell won’t be facing his brother, there will be a friend and former Eagle’s Landing teammate on the other side in Purdue freshman running back Keyante Green.
Green has yet to play this season and Gess sees a redshirt year coming, although with Purdue’s offense struggling, he knows anyone could get a shot.
“I just want both of them to be successful,” Gess said. “I’d hate for him to get a shot and Isaac shut down that shot.”
Rochell figures to get a bigger shot this weekend. If he does enjoy some success, Gess expects the same type of report he got two weeks ago when Rochell registered three tackles against Temple.
“He didn’t talk about the tackles,” Gess said. “He talks about, ‘I made a ton of mistakes, I have to get better. I’ve got to keep improving.’
“And that’s just the type of kid he is.”