Notre Dame's defensive recruiting has been on fire since Marcus Freeman arrived, and one of the early defenders to jump on board was Chantilly (Va.) High School star defensive end Aiden Gobaira.
Ranked as a three-star recruit by the national services when he committed, Gobaira is now ranked as a consensus four-star recruit and is now part of the Top247 by 247Sports (No. 148), the Rivals250 (No. 248) and the ESPN300 (No. 286) after a dominant junior season.
Prior to becoming one of the nation's top defensive ends Gobaira considered focusing on lacrosse, but that was before he received a letter from Cincinnati. The man in charge of the Cincinnati defense? .... Marcus Freeman.
“[Aiden] was a lacrosse first kid, actually. He was looking at one of the more prestigious lacrosse private schools, even after his freshman year- really even into the start of his sophomore year with us,” explained Chantilly head coach Sean Curry. “Coincidentally, I’ll never forget this day, we were sitting in our office, a couple of coaches and I, and our jaws about hit the floor when (Aiden) said, 'Yeah I don’t know if I’m going to stay (at Chantilly),' and I looked down at my desk and I saw his first letter of interest from Cincinnati. I looked back up at him and said, “Buddy I think your future is in football.”
According to Curry, Cincinnati was the first FBS school to kick the tires on Gobaira. Gobaira will now play for Freeman at Notre Dame.
“It seems destined to be,” stated the Chantilly head coach.
Gobaira is already 6-6 and 230 pounds, and he's filled that frame out considerably over the last year. Playing lacrosse helped his footwork, but the athleticism he possesses at that size is unique.
“Obviously, (Aiden’s) been blessed with a frame and natural twitchiness that’s rare.” continued Curry. “What makes him special … is just his motor, that is above and beyond anything I have ever been around; he just does not stop. He doesn’t really seem to tire. You can’t block him with one or two people - unless you’re holding him. Even then, he probably made four or five of his 16 sacks in the spring season fighting through blatant holds.”
That's right, Gobaira had 16 sacks in just eight games against very good northern Virginia competition.
“It’s just a desire, he embodies one of our core values of the program," explained Curry. "Just this relentless pursuit. He’s just so competitive, he just has this relentless drive. His drive, his effort is just so impressive, especially for a kid as gifted as him physically.”
That drive and effort are not just built into Aiden Gobaira the football player, but also Aiden Gobaira the student, which explains one of the many reasons Notre Dame stood out to him.
“It translates to every element of his life," Curry explained. "Kids love him, teammates love him. He works hard in school and even that comes naturally to him. He’s just one of those special people who never seem to tire. He just never seems to have a bad day.”
Notre Dame got on Gobaira before his breakout junior season. The Irish recruited him based off sophomore film in which Gobaira showed talent, but he was tall, skinny and he was a long way away from being a dominant high school player. The Irish staff clearly knew what they were doing, and when Gobaira blew up as a junior it was a nice reward for Notre Dame.
“Really, it caught all of us by surprise.” Curry said about Gobaira's breakout junior campaign. “It went from, 'This kid is special, maybe he’s a Virginia Tech, Virginia, Maryland kind of kid' to he jumped into unique rare air, into national recruit status.”
The main reason for the jump was Gobaira’s consistency according to Curry.
“It was a consistency thing," Curry explained. "As a sophomore he was really just learning how to play the game at a varsity level, where you have to use technique. He had some awesome highlight reel moments, but it wasn’t at that level of consistency where you thought, 'Oh yeah, that kid is going to go anywhere in the country he wants.'”
During the Covid-19 lockdown, Chantilly’s weight room was closed, but that didn't stop Gobaira from adding a lot of size and strength.
“He found a way to one of his teammate’s in-home garage weight room and he just kept getting after it," Curry noted. "On his own he started doing some outside work, some speed and agility work or movement work. Next thing you know, [Aiden] was just an absolute monster on the football field the next spring.”
When discussing Gobaira’s positional outlook at the next level, Curry had this to offer.
“In an even front, he’s that weakside defensive end, and that’s where [Notre Dame] projects him to be," stated the Chantilly head coach. "[Notre Dame] kind of looks at him as that speed guy. Obviously, he has that frame that he can probably bulk up and be that heavier edge. [Aiden’s] knack is to be that weakside edge speed rusher."
Curry sees Gobaira as both an excellent run defender and pass rusher. When describing his talents, he remembered a specific play from the last year.
“Let me put it this way, [Aiden] fought through a holding and still sacked the quarterback [who is going to Old Dominion] while he was throwing a bubble. He just dominates the line of scrimmage. He will run down an outside zone from the backside. It’s pretty fun to watch.”
Gobaira reminds Curry of another former great defensive lineman from the state of Virginia.
“[Former Alabama defensive lineman] Jonathan Allen, he’s that type of kid. In terms of a high school comp in Northern Virginia, Jon Allen is the closest thing to anything I have ever seen to Aiden before," continued Curry. "In terms of sheer dominant performance after dominant performance, impossible to block, good against the run, good against the pass, fights through holdings, plays offense. [Aiden] is just one of those special guys.”
Gobaira is not yet a finished product and there are a few areas Curry would like to see improved.
“Going into his senior year, we want to continue to see that steady presence," Curry explained. "I’d like to see him build his frame, build up the armor a little bit. He is just one of those kids who seems to get bigger every time they go into the weight room, so I don’t doubt that he will be able to build upon that frame.”
Curry believes his dominant edge player has the tools to be a special player at the next level.
“It’s all dependent on health. He is one of those kids who is going to continue to develop, he’s got that hunger, he’s got that motor, he’s as coachable as anyone I have ever been around in 17 years of coaching high school football," Curry said. "The sky is the limit.”
Aiden’s presence on the field is only matched by his presence off as Curry points out.
“You get caught in his orbit, that’s the best way to describe it.” Curry continued. “It doesn’t take long to get acquainted with Aiden, he’s just a big personality. He’s a loquacious kid with a big smile. People just gravitate towards him. Teammates, teachers, coaches it doesn’t matter ... To know Aiden, is to like Aiden.”
The Irish program is a great fit for the young Virginia star.
“Notre Dame is one of those true blue bloods, where it really doesn’t matter who you are, as an athlete or a football player you’re not going to be bigger than the program," Curry said. "And it seems like that would require a great deal of humility, it really seems like you have to be a pretty special person, and that’s Aiden. As gifted as he is, he’s very humble. He’s the type of kid you could have come over and babysit your kids. I don’t think you can find a better fit [at Notre Dame] than Aiden Gobaira.”
That was exactly the message defensive line coach Mike Elston gave Gobaira, and it worked.
“This is Notre Dame football," Curry recalls Elston’s pitch. “We’re the bluest of the blue bloods and we’re building something special.”
The appeal of football was important to Gobaira, but it was Notre Dame's entire package that won the day.
“You can also get a world-class education, and that is quite honestly what sold Aiden more than anything else," stated Curry. "Just the fact of regardless of how his career pans out, whether it’s healthy, or God forbid an injury, he was mature enough as a high school junior to realize that a degree from the University of Notre Dame is going to mean more long term than anything in the short term. He looked at it and said, 'Look, I can go to one of the best programs in the country that also happens to be one of the best institutions academically, why wouldn’t I?'”
When asked about how solid Gobaira’s commitment was to Notre Dame, Curry was emphatic.
“Oh yeah, [Aiden’s] in love with Notre Dame.”
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