Raising Cain: Notre Dame lands Marshall All-America offensive guard Madden via transfer

Eric Hansen
ND Insider
Marshall grad transfer offensive guard Cain Madden, a 2020 All-American, committed to joining Notre Dame in June for the 2021 season.

Notre Dame pulled something out of the transfer portal this week the Irish football program had never previously done.

An All-American.

Marshall offensive guard Cain Madden on Friday afternoon verbally committed to play for the Irish in 2021 as he completed his multi-day visit to the Notre Dame campus.

It’ll be the former walk-on’s and three-year starter’s sixth collegiate season, courtesy of the NCAA’s COVID exemption and the 6-foot-3, 313-pounder’s desire to hone his NFL Draft appeal.

Pro Football Focus rates him as the No. 2 returning interior offensive lineman in 2021 for all of college football — two spots ahead of future Irish teammate Jarrett Patterson.

“In 2020, he allowed just six total pressures, none of which were sacks or hits, on over 270 pass-blocking snaps,” PFF’s Anthony Treash wrote. “As for his run blocking, it wasn’t until this past year that we saw Madden perform at an extremely high level.

“He finished the season leading all FBS guards in negatively graded run-block rate en route to a 93.0 run-blocking grade.”

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The Irish (10-2 in 2020) open the season Sept. 5 at Florida State, the team Madden visited early in the week and the program originally considered the heavy favorite to land the South Webster, Ohio, product until the Irish shifted that momentum.

Madden, nicknamed “Dump Truck,” brings coveted experience to an Irish offensive line that lost four starters, including two All-Americans, off a unit that was one of three finalists in 2020 for the Joe Moore Award for O-line excellence.

Two freshmen, left tackle Blake Fisher and left guard Rocco Spindler, emerged at the top of the depth chart as the Irish ended spring drills on May 1. Patterson, a senior who missed all of spring drills recovering from foot surgery, grad senior Josh Lugg and junior Zeke Correll were the other projected starters.

Grad senior Dillan Gibbons, competing with Spindler for a starting spot, transferred to Florida State shortly after spring practices concluded, subtracting an important depth piece from the Irish roster.

Madden figures to restore that and more. Just how that will look will unfold in fall camp, beginning in early August, but the Irish should get some strong hints this summer about who’s playing where and the potential for chemistry.

The returning ND players and 13 later-arriving freshmen report back to campus next weekend for the start of summer school and summer workouts.

Madden was a zero-star recruit with no FBS offers coming out of Minford High in southern Ohio in the spring of 2016. He redshirted as a freshman and became a starter by 2018.

What helped him go from an All-Conference USA second-team selection in 2019 to a second-team All-America pick by the Associated Press and the Walter Camp Foundation last season was how he handled pandemic life.

When Madden was unable to get to traditional weights early in the COVID-19 pandemic, he reportedly went out and bought a 75-pound sandbag to work out with. He also gave up fast food and started cooking healthy meals at home.

From the end of the 2019 season to the start of Marshall’s 2020 season, Madden dropped 25 pounds, going from 338 to 313. The Thundering Herd won their first seven games, but dropped their final three to finish 7-3.

After the Irish took just four grad transfers from 2014 to 2019, Madden becomes the sixth such roster addition in the past two offseasons. And the Irish might not be done.

Tulsa cornerback grad transfer Akayleb Evans visited ND this week and will choose from among Texas, Missouri and the Irish once he takes his final visit to Missouri. 

Quarterback Jack Coan announced his transfer from Wisconsin to Notre Dame in January. All three would be favored to be starters in 2021 for the Irish, though Madden will have to beat out Spindler.

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Last offseason, the Irish added cornerback Nick McCloud (NC State), running back Trevor Speights (Stanford), wide receiver Ben Skowronek (Northwestern) and safety/rover Isaiah Pryor (Ohio State). Pryor returns for the 2021 season.

Among ND’s early grad transfers only cornerback Cody Riggs (Florida) made a significant impact. 

Follow ND Insider Eric Hansen on Twitter: @ehansenNDI