A few weeks ago, 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 linebackers. The top linebacker commit from each recruiting class since 2005 according to the 247 Composite rankings.
2005 — 3-Star Kevin Washington
Washington took a redshirt his freshman year, saw no action in 2006, and had 3 tackles combined in 2007 and 2008. He transferred to Abilene Christian and led them in tackles in 2009. He is now the Director of Player Development for the Texas Longhorns.
2006 — 3-Star Toryan Smith
Smith played in 39 games for the Irish from 2006 through 2009, but a vast majority of time seen on the field was on special teams. He tallied 56 tallies during his time at Notre Dame.
2007 — 4-Star Kerry Neal
Neal played right away as a freshman and saw action in every game during his first two seasons. Although he was always a tweener that played multiple spots, during Neal’s junior year, he mostly played at defensive end. He ended up playing in every game during his career with 31 starts, and racked up 112 tackles and 7 sacks.
2008 —4-Star Darius Fleming
Fleming was one of two “must get” linebackers from Chicago that the Irish signed in the 2008 class (Steve Filer as the other). Like Neal, Fleming did play a hybrid role, though most of his time was at linebacker. He was a starter in 36 of the 50 games that he played and amassed 157 tackles and 14.5 sacks during his career.
2009 — 5-Star Manti Te’o
Te’o was a recruit that Notre Dame really had no business signing — but they did thanks to Charlie Weis and Brian Polian. As a freshman, this elite 5-Star player started in 10 of the 12 games on the schedule, and by the end of the year he was the 4th on the team in tackles. After four years with the Irish, Te’o tallied 437 tackles for his career. His unanimous All-American senior season is the stuff of legend as he became the most decorated defensive player in college football history by winning; Maxwell Award, Bednarik Award, Lott Trophy, Walter Camp Award, Bronco Nagurski trophy, Butkus Award, Lombardi Award, and finishing 2nd in the Heisman Trophy.
2010 — 3-Star Prince Shembo
Although Shembo was “just a 3-Star” player, he made an impact at Notre Dame right away as a freshman and appeared in all 13 games registering 15 tackles and 4.5 sacks. Shembo became the full-time starter as a junior, and remained so for his final 26 games with Notre Dame. During his 4 years at Notre Dame, he tallied 71 tackles, 19.5 sacks, and had one bike seat stolen. Controversy will always surround Shembo’s name due to his involvement in a handful of violent incidents.
2011 — 4-Star Ben Councell
Councell redshirted his freshman year, and the rest of his time at Notre Dame was quite unproductive as he suffered several injuries. He opted to move on from football in 2015 rather than accept the invitation from Brian Kelly to return to Notre Dame for a 5th year.
2012 — NO LINEBACKER COMMITS
The Irish did everything but admit that they took a hard pass at linebacker in 2012 with only 9 offers out to recruits — most of which barely considered Notre Dame.
2013 — 5-Star Jaylon Smith
Notre Dame struck Butkus gold again — but one a little closer to home than Hawaii. As a freshman, Smith started in all 13 games for the Irish and registered 67 tackles and an interception. Then Brian VanGorder became his defensive coordinator and linebackers coach. During the next two seasons, Smith tallied 226 tackles — but only one sack (2015) as BVG had no idea what to do with a physical freak like Smith. In 2015 Smith won the Butkus Award, but suffered a horrendous knee injury in the Fiesta Bowl against the Ohio State Buckeyes.
2014 — 4-Star Nyle Morgan
Morgan played right away for the Irish in 2014, and appeared in every game with 4 starts. As a freshman he registered 47 tackles on the year, but did very little in 2015 with only 17 tackles. During Morgan’s final two years, he started every game and made 186 tackles.
2015 — 4-Star Josh Barajas
Barajas redshirted his freshman year, and saw very limited action in 2016. He transferred to Illinois State in 2017 where he played in 11 games in two years and had 5 total tackles.
2016 — 3-Star Jonathan Jones
Jones redshirted his freshman year and saw action in 35 games over the next three years in reserve duty and special teams play. He transferred to Toledo after the 2019 season and will play against Notre Dame in 2021 for the Rockets.
2017 — 4-Star David Adams
Adams never saw the field for the Irish and was medically disqualified in 2018. This past February he put his name in the transfer portal to try and comeback as a player somewhere else, but has yet to announce any decision.
2018 — 4-Star Shayne Simon
Simon started to see action as a freshman for the Irish, but through 3 seasons, he has only amassed 26 total tackles. He did show vast improvement in 2020, and there is hope that is will all click for him as he enters his senior year in 2021.
2019 — 4-Star Osita Ekwonu
In two seasons, Ekwonu has played in 3 games and has registered 3 tackles. He was briefly used at running back during fall camp in 2020. In spring of 2021, Osita was moved to VYPER (defensive end).
2020 — NO LINEBACKER COMMITS
The Irish took another unofficial hard pass at linebacker in 2020. They did have 16 offers out, but only Cody Simon was ever considered a real possibility — and then it was reported that Notre Dame “let off” with Simon. Jordan Botelho was listed as a linebacker, but he was always destined to play defensive end.