Last week I broke down how the top wide receiver in the last 16 Notre Dame recruiting classes had fared out of a conversation sprung from the Jordan Johnson debate. It was an interesting look that forced us to rethink a few things, and in doing so, it made me curious about the other position groups.
So here we are... let’s do the running backs. The top running back from each recruiting class since 2005 according to the 247 Composite rankings.
2005 — 3-Star Asaph Schwapp
It’s almost unimaginable to think that a fullback would be the highest rated running back for a Notre Dame team in the 21st century. The strange thing is, however, that in 2006 the Irish signed Luke Schmidt as a 4-Star fullback and the 152nd ranked player overall. Anyways... Schwapp played right away as a freshman and tallied 89 total yards in 12 games — though he was used primarily as a blocker. By the time he left Notre Dame after the 2008 season, he only totaled 160 yards from scrimmage — but his incredible size and power helped the Irish running game as a blocker. Sadly, last week was the 8 year anniversary of his untimely death. R.I.P. Asaph.
2006 — 5-Star James Aldridge
Before Aldridge even enrolled at Notre Dame, he had a massive knee injury in high school that ultimately took a lot of his youthful explosion as a runner away. He played a little in his freshman year in 2006, but it seemed like Darius Walker was on the field for almost every offensive snap. As a sophomore he was the team’s leading rusher — but that was a mere 463 yards. By the time James finished his senior year, injuries and a lack of production became a big reason why he only rushed for 979 yards and 3 touchdowns in 36 games played.
2007 — 4-Star Robert Hughes
Hughes committed to Notre Dame just a week before signing day and was seen as a tremendous big back to go along with classmate “speedster” Armando Allen. Hughes saw action right away as a freshman, and ran for 294 yards and 4 touchdowns. Throughout his 47 game career, Hughes tallied 1762 yards from scrimmage and 15 touchdowns. He wil likely be best remembered for his performance against the USC Trojans in 2010 to help the Irish break a 7 game losing streak to their rival.
2008 — 4-Star Jonas Gray
Notre Dame generally doesn’t get top talent out of Detroit, so getting the signature from Jonas Gray on signing day was a huge win for the Irish. As a freshman, Gray saw limited action and only ran the ball 21 times for 90 yards. Over the next two seasons, Gray did very little to improve as he ran it 54 times for 219 yards and no touchdowns. It was “now or never” for Gray as a Senior, and he finally made a big mark with 114 carries for 791 yards (6.9 YPC) and 12 touchdowns.
2009 — 4-Star Cierre Wood
Wood was redshirted as a freshman in 2009, but with the arrival of Brian Kelly in 2010, he began to see the field a lot more as a sophomore. His best year in South Bend was as a junior when he rushed for 1102 yards on 217 carries with 9 touchdowns. His production dropped as a senior with 114 carries and 742 yards (6.5 YPC) but an early season suspension and a very strong year from classmate Theo Riddick meant that he would handle the ball less. Sadly, Cierre was charged with child abuse and murder in 2019 and is still awaiting trial in Las Vegas.
2010 — 4-Star Cameron Roberson
To the best of my knowledge, Roberson never saw the field at Notre Dame and went on a medical hardship due to a number of knee related injuries.
2011 — 4-Star George Atkinson III
Though listed as a WR by the recruiting services, George was recruited by Notre Dame as a running back and he came to Notre Dame with his twin brother Josh in 2011. As a freshman, GA3 rushed 9 times for 27 yards and 2 touchdowns, but his biggest impact was returning kicks as he averaged 26.1 yards a return and had two touchdowns. He never became the lead back, but he did contribute 916 yards on 144 carries and 8 touchdowns over the next two seasons before he left early for the NFL. Sadly, Josh Atkinson committed suicide in December of 2018 and George did the same a little more than a year later. R.I.P Josh and George.
2012 — 4-Star KeiVarae Russell
Russell was recruited as a running back, but very early in fall camp of his freshman year, he was moved to cornerback where he started every game of his Notre Dame career.
2013 — 4-Star Greg Bryant
Greg Bryant arrived at Notre Dame in 2013 alongside Tarean Folston, and the two represented a new hope for the Irish running game. Bryant played sparingly as a freshman as he adjusted to college life, and as a sophomore he only ran the ball 54 times for 289 yards and 3 touchdowns. Bryant eventually transferred to UAB, but before he could ever play a game for the Blazers, he was gunned down in an incident in Miami. R.I.P Greg.
2015 — NO RUNNING BACK COMMITS
The Irish only had 9 offers out at running back in 2015 and unsurprisingly signed none of them. Some interesting names of note from those 9 offers; Joe Mixon, Christian McCaffery, Leonard Fournette, Nick Chubb, Sony Michel, and the decommitment of Elijah Hood.
Maybe someone would count Tyler Luatua and/or Justin Brent... but I’m not that guy.
2015 — 4-Star Dexter Williams
Dexter Williams arrived at Notre Dame with more opportunity than he knew was coming. The departure of Greg Bryant and the early injury of Tarean Folston meant there were carries to be had, but those carries mostly went to classmate Josh Adams while Dexter carried the ball just 21 times for 81 yards and a touchdown. He had 39 carries in 2016, and another 39 in 2017 to go along with 360 yards for an amazing 9.2 YPC. In his senior year, Dexter had the silent 4 game suspension to start the season, but on his very first carry of the 5th game — he took it to the house on a long run. He eventually carried the ball a total of 158 times for 995 yards and 12 touchdowns.
2016 — 4-Star Tony Jones Jr.
Jones was redshirted as a freshman, but got involved in the rotation as a sophomore and junior. During his senior season, Jones ran the ball 144 times for 857 yards (6.0 YPC) and 6 touchdowns. I will always sing the praises of Jones as a Trojan killer with his performances against Southern Cal in 2018 and 2019.
2017 — 4-Star C.J. Holmes
During his freshman campaign, Holmes carried the ball 8 times for 32 yards. He was kicked off the team after an incident at the end of the 2018 season and transferred to Penn State as a walk-on defensive back. He transferred again in 2020 to Kent State.
2018 — 3-Star Jahmir Smith
Jahmir Smith saw action in just two games as a freshman. During his sophomore season, Smith carved out a bigger role as a power back with 42 carries for 180 yards and 2 touchdowns. In 2020, Smith played in the first game of the year and then opted out of the rest of the season. He eventually transferred to Appalachian State.
2019 — 4-Star Kyren Williams
Kyren played right away as a freshman but a misstep against Louisville in the first game helped contribute to just one other appearance on the year. He had a total of 4 carries for 26 yards. In his second year, however, Williams became an incredible player for the Irish with 211 carries for 1125 yards and 13 touchdowns. He also added another 313 yards and 1 touchdown receiving the ball in a breakout year.
2020 — 4-Star Chris Tyree
Tyree came to Notre Dame as “the answer” as being one of the highest rated running backs in a few years for the Irish. With the emergence of Kyren Williams, Tyree was allowed to be a part of the gameplan without the pressure of BEING the gameplan on the ground. Tyree ran the ball 73 times for 496 yards and 4 touchdowns in a solid debut season.