Report: Clemson graduate transfer DT Scott Pagano includes Notre Dame among finalists

Mike Vorel
South Bend Tribune

Notre Dame may find defensive reinforcements from an unexpected source.

Clemson defensive tackle Scott Pagano, who announced his intentions to make a graduate transfer for his final season of eligibility last week, has included Notre Dame among seven finalists, according to a report by 247Sports' Ryan Bartow.

Pagano reportedly communicated with 37 programs before narrowing his list. The former Tiger will take a series of visits, then choose between Notre Dame, Oklahoma, California, Oregon, Nebraska, Texas and Arkansas. He graduated from Clemson in December with a degree in sociology.

A 6-foot-3, 295-pound junior, Pagano made 31 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss and two sacks last season in 12 games, while making four starts. The Honolulu, Hawaii, native has made 92 tackles in his four seasons at Clemson.

Prior to his arrival in Clemson, S.C., Pagano — a Moanalua High School standout — was ranked as a four-star recruit and the No. 22 defensive tackle in the 2013 class by Rivals, and a three-star prospect by 247Sports.

Pagano's addition would certainly fill a vacancy on the Irish defensive line. Next season, Notre Dame will be without graduate student nose tackle Jarron Jones, who recorded 45 tackles with 11 tackles for loss last season. Strongside defensive end Isaac Rochell — who tallied 55 tackles, 10 quarterback hits and seven tackles for loss in 2016 — is also headed to the NFL.

Notre Dame does return two interior defensive linemen with significant experience: senior Daniel Cage (10 tackles in eight games last season) and junior Jerry Tillery (37 tackles and three tackles for loss in 12 games). A rash of soon-to-be juniors — Elijah Taylor, Micah Dew-Treadway and Brandon Tiassum — have combined for just three tackles in their two seasons in South Bend.

To confront a potentially troublesome hole in the middle of the Irish defense, Notre Dame also signed three interior defensive linemen in its 2017 class — Darnell Ewell, Kurt Hinish and fellow Hawaiian Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa. Ewell, specifically, was ranked as a four-star prospect by both Rivals and 247Sports and is expected to contribute immediately this fall.

But will he be competing with Pagano for playing time? Notre Dame would certainly welcome the addition of a proven performer and 2017 national champion. Last fall, while Pagano was chasing Clemson's first national title since 1981, Notre Dame ranked 72nd nationally in rushing defense (182.4 yards per game), 106th in tackles for loss (61) and 117th in sacks per game (1.2).

Moreover, only three of those sacks came from defensive linemen, the least of any of the 65 Power Five programs.

It will be up to first-year defensive coordinator Mike Elko to create pressure and reshape Notre Dame's defensive identity. Pagano's presence, if only for a season, would make it easier to achieve those goals. 

Tuesday update: Bartow reported on Tuesday that Pagano will make his first visit to Notre Dame on the weekend of March 24.

Clemson's Scott Pagano wears a lei while greeting fans during the "Tiger Walk" before the start of an NCAA college football game against SC State Saturday, Sept. 17, 2016, in Clemson, S.C. (AP Photo/Richard Shiro)