Five-star OT Blake Fisher among Notre Dame freshmen of impact

Eric Hansen
ND Insider

Notre Dame's 2021 recruiting class was ranked No. 9 in the country by both 247sports and Rivals. Here are five incoming freshman who could make substantial contributions for the Irish by the end of the season:

Blake Fisher

Blake Fisher is an incoming five-star offensive tackle from Avon (Ind.)

Offensive Tackle | 6-6 | 330

THE “IT” FACTOR

Fisher’s five-star pedigree was perplexingly undersold in the months before his arrival, perhaps because there was a question about whether his optimum position was as a tackle or a guard and also whether he needed time in Notre Dame’s strength-and-conditioning program in order to compete at a high level. Turns out he was more than ready, not only to start but to star — and at left tackle. 

HOW HE PROJECTS LONG TERM

Originally considered a place-holder at left tackle as an early enrollee this past spring for sophomore Tosh Baker to leapfrog or for injured O-line veteran Jarrett Patterson to move outside and take his place, Fisher has put himself on a trajectory to be mentioned with eventual first-round draft choices Zack Martin, Ronnie Stanley, Mike McGlinchey and second-rounder Liam Eichenberg, should he continue to progress.

Avon (Ind.) High’s Blake Fisher, a top offensive tackle in the 2021 recruiting class, verbally committed to Notre Dame in June.

WHERE HE PLUGS IN NOW

On Sept. 5 at Florida State, Fisher is expected to become just the second Irish offensive lineman to start a season opener since freshman eligibility became permanent in college football in 1972. Tackle Sam Young (2006) is the other to do so. The Avon, Ind., product was also a force on the recruiting front with his own class and continues to be with prospects in the 2022 and 2023 classes. 

Tyler Buchner

La Mesa (Calif.) Helix's Tyler Buchner, a four-star quarterback in the 2021 recruiting class, signed with Notre Dame in December 2020 and was an early enrollee.

Quarterback | 6-1 | 207 

THE “IT” FACTOR

It wasn’t just a Blue-Gold Game flourish, the type of flashes that historically become mirages as often as they predict an impressive fall sequel. It was the practices in the final third of spring leading up to the May 1 intrasquad game — in more telling circumstances — in which Buchner’s perceived high ceiling consistently showed itself and the rust from his lack of experience convincingly ebbed. 

HOW HE PROJECTS LONG TERM

There is every reason to believe that if Buchner’s growth curve continues in the fall the way it did in late spring that he’ll be the favorite to top the depth chart when Notre Dame opens its 2022 season against Ohio State in Columbus, Ohio. That’s true whether he begins the 2021 season as No. 2 or 3 on the depth chart, behind presumptive starter Jack Coan and/or sophomore Drew Pyne.

Notre Dame freshman quarterback Tyler Buchner (12) hands off to running back Chris Tyree (25) during the Blue-Gold NCAA spring football game on May 1.

WHERE HE PLUGS IN NOW

Brian Kelly was asked at the end of spring might there be a niche role for the QB on the roster who clearly is the best runner and may have the strongest arm of the five? And the Irish head coach didn’t rule it out. August training camp will reveal just what kind of summer Buchner had and how realistic jumping over Pyne to No. 2 will prove to be.

Rocco Spindler

Rocco Spindler, a freshman offensive lineman out of Clarkston High School in Michigan, is expected to play a big role for the Irish in 2021.

Offensive Guard | 6-5 | 315

THE “IT” FACTOR

Spindler was in lockstep with Fisher all spring, moving to the top of the Irish depth chart at left guard before the end of spring when Fisher was promoted to the No. 1 left tackle spot. His confidence is unflinching. His technique and poise are well beyond what would be expected of even an advanced freshman offensive lineman.

Clarkston (Mich.) High's Rocco Spindler, a four-star offensive lineman in the 2021 recruiting class, is expected to see amble playing time as a freshman.

HOW HE PROJECTS LONG TERM

Spindler projects as a multi-year starter with incredible upside. He can play any of the interior positions, though hasn’t had experience at center yet. Like Fisher, Spindler has All-America potential. It wouldn’t be surprising if the two spring roommates rekindled their spring chemistry in 2022 and lined up next to each other to form a formidable left side of the ND offensive line.  

Rocco Spindler hoists Leo Albano after scoring during the Blue-Gold game May 1, 2021 at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend.

WHERE HE PLUGS IN NOW

The Irish added Marshall All-America guard Cain Madden in June, so it’s more likely Spindler will start the season as the No. 1 interior line option off the bench rather than being in the starting lineup. However offensive line coach Jeff Quinn opted to return Jarrett Patterson to his old center position, leaving Spindler to push and compete with Zeke Correll for a starting guard spot.

Lorenzo Styles Jr.

Pickerington Central (Ohio) wide receiver Lorenzo Styles Jr. looks for running room in a game against Hilliard Darby  on Oct. 16, 2020

Wide Receiver | 6-1 | 186

THE “IT” FACTOR

Styles has the elite speed and the wiggle to not only impact the Notre Dame passing game, but he could forge a role on special teams in the return game as well. He played in a run-oriented offense in high school for a team — Pickerington Central — that won an Ohio state title but that didn’t showcase Styles’ receiving prowess. He’s the son of former Ohio State standout linebacker Lorenzo Styles Sr.  

Lorenzo Styles Jr. is shown on the Notre Dame campus during an official visit in October 2019.

HOW HE PROJECTS LONG TERM

The potential roster turnover at wide receiver after the 2021 season would put Styles in position to compete for a starting spot in 2022 in the slot. And the slot receiver position during the Kelly Era  hasn’t been a consistently productive one. He could get a look as an outside/field receiver as well, depending on the talent around him.

Notre Dame wide receiver Lorenzo Styles Jr. (21) tries to move around a pack of players during the Blue-Gold NCAA spring football game May 1, 2021, in South Bend.

WHERE HE PLUGS IN NOW

Avery Davis figures to be the starter in the slot, with a rejuvenated Lawrence Keys III looking to tag-team. Styles seems too polished and primed already, though, to leave out of the rotation. Special teams coordinator Brian Polian will use August to find a punt returner, though Matt Salerno is still on the roster. Styles, though, is a more dynamic option.  

Prince Kollie 

Jonesborough (Tenn.) David Crockett linebacker Prince Kollie is expected to play his way onto the field as a freshman on the Notre Dame defense.

Linebacker | 6-1 | 219

THE “IT” FACTOR

Kollie draws constant comparisons to recent Notre Dame All-American Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, for his speed, his twitch, his passion and his versatility. It just took colleges and recruiting analysts a while to find him. COVID-19 — limiting travel and evaluations — and geography played a role in that. He was the No. 448 player nationally per 247Sports when ND offered him a scholarship and No. 91 when he signed. 

HOW HE PROJECTS LONG TERM

Because he can play any of the three linebacker positions, including rover, Kollie has multiple pathways to meaningful playing time. The 2020 high school Butkus Award winner, as the nation’s top linebacker, will have as much competition — if not more — coming from the class being recruited behind him. It’s considered collectively as ND’s best collection of talent at that position group in decades. 

Prince Kollie.

WHERE HE PLUGS IN NOW

Players like safety Khari Gee, for instance, have a clearer path to the two-deeps, but Kollie is both the best athlete and best prospect on defense in the 2021 class. And at the very least that should earn him prominent roles on ND’s special teams. There are veteran players backing up junior Jack Kiser at rover (Isaiah Pryor, Paul Moala), but Kollie may earn his way on the field in certain niche packages.