No program in the last decade has produced more Butkus Award winners than Notre Dame, but despite that on-field success recruiting at the position has been wildly inconsistent. There have been strong classes, but in other years Notre Dame had big misses, came up short on numbers, or missed on the position completely, which was the case in the 2020 class.
Things changed dramatically the moment Marcus Freeman arrived as the defensive coordinator and linebackers coach, and it has continued since his promotion to head coach. Notre Dame's 2022 and 2023 recruiting has been truly outstanding, and a case could be made that no program in the country has recruited the position the way Notre Dame has the last two years.
In fact, no team in the country has signed at least two linebackers that rank in the Top 10 of the 247Sports position rankings in each of the last two classes .... except for Notre Dame.
Notre Dame signed five-star linebacker Jaylen Sneed in the 2022 class, and he was joined by fellow Top 100 recruit Josh Burnham, who ranked as the No. 76 overall player in the 2022 class. Notre Dame also signed Niuafe Tuihalamaka, who ranked No. 95 overall by ESPN, and consensus four-star recruit Nolan Ziegler.
The Irish staff kicked things off in impressive fashion by landing Merrillville (Ind.) Andrean star Drayk Bowen, who ranks as the No. 37 overall player in the country by Rivals. He committed to Freeman when he was still the defensive coordinator and linebackers coach, and he remains the programs top recruiter now. Notre Dame beat Clemson, Auburn, Michigan, LSU, Texas and Texas A&M among many others to land Bowen.
Then the staff also added another talented player this winter in Massachusetts native Preston Zinter, who may not be as highly touted as Bowen but is a really good player in his own right. The 6-3, 215-pound two way star is an ideal fit as a MIKE backer in Notre Dame’s defense.
The staff identified Zinter early and was impressed with his overall skill set and versatile approach. He comes from a football family, with his brother Zak serving as a mainstay on Michigan’s offensive line that was just named the Joe Moore award winners last fall. Zinter is rated as the No. 223 overall player and No. 13 linebacker in the class according to Rivals. Zinter’s style also has a great opportunity to mesh exceptionally well with Bowen’s energetic and athletic approach.
If the class ended there the Irish would have landed a haul that could not be matched by any other program, but the Notre Dame staff wasn't done.
Notre Dame's most recent commit was Baton Rouge (La.) University Lab star Jaiden Ausberry, one of the nation's best players. Going into LSU's backyard - literally - to land one of the best linebackers in the land was a major coup for Freeman and defensive coordinator/linebackers coach Al Golden.
Ausberry ranks as the No. 38 overall player in the country according to ESPN, and he's the No. 4 ranked linebacker in the country according to both ESPN and Rivals. Notre Dame beat out Alabama, LSU, Michigan, Texas A&M, Auburn and many others to land Ausberry.
Landing Ausberry and Sneed in back-to-back years means the Irish went into SEC country to land a Top 40 overall player and top five linebacker in back-to-back classes, which just doesn't happen with programs outside the South.
It's a two-year run that has completely restocked the Notre Dame linebacker depth chart with outstanding talent, top-notch athleticism, excellent positional flexibility and big time potential.
The staff was so comfortable with its overall depth at the position that it decided to move 2022 signee Burnham to Vyper in the spring, and he's been one of the freshman standouts already, as has Tuihalamaka, Ziegler and Sneed. Expect to see all four on the field at some point in the 2022 season.
The scary part: Notre Dame isn’t done.
Notre Dame is still in the running for Bradenton (Fla.) IMG Academy star Samuel M’Pemba at their rover position and this class has the potential to go from elite to silly in a hurry. That is a recruitment, however, that we are fully prepared to play the long game with.
Even if Notre Dame does not ultimately land M’Pemba, it’s hard to imagine a better group to combine with a stellar one from 2022. Since Marcus Freeman came to the program, he has made it a clear priority to get longer and more athletic on the second level. That mission is accomplished.
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