It didn’t take long for Brian VanGorder to put his stamp on the Notre Dame defense. And before he coached a single game or practice for Brian Kelly, VanGorder went out and identified freshman defensive tackle Pete Mokwuah.
While some players recruitments take years, Mokwuah’s took minutes. And with Rutgers waiting to pick Mokwuah up for his official visit, the Staten Island product committed to Brian Kelly on the spot, giving the Irish a key defender at a position of need in the recruiting cycle’s final weeks.
Let’s take a closer look at the Irish’s newest defensive tackle.
6'4", 315 lbs.
Freshman, No. 96
As mentioned before, Mokwuah’s recruitment was short, but efficient. After being committed to Rutgers since May, Mokwuah got an offer from Notre Dame and gave a commitment pretty much instantaneously.
Not on any Top 250 list, Mokwuah still has the raw materials that you look for in a defensive tackle, and Kelly talked about what they expect from Mokwuah on Signing Day.
“A shorter recruiting period for us, but Pete was a great fit for us, and looking to augment our defensive line position, we wanted to find the right profile young man,” Kelly said. He’s Nigerian. We’ve had a great Nigerian connection here, Romeo Okwara, Prince Shembo, just to name a few, and then Pete was able to the connect Catholic institution, he goes to a Catholic school. That profile fit very well for us. A kid that’s serious about his academics here at Notre Dame. All very good profiling for us in terms of the right fit here at Notre Dame and a 6'4", 315‑pound defensive lineman, pretty good fit there, too.”
If a program is going to chase a recruit at a position of need late, the very best thing they can do is take a guy with exceptional size and potential. Those attributes seem to describe Mokwuah, who looks the part of a destructive defensive lineman at 6-foot-4 and 315 pounds.
Even if he isn’t quite as big as his recruiting profile indicates (that won’t be the first or last time), Mokwuah looks to follow in the mold of a Jarron Jones type, and could slide into the 3-technique spot at defensive tackle, adding some much needed bulk at the position. Watching high school tape, you see a player that’s constantly double-teamed, though still finds an opportunity to make plays.
Perhaps the best thing Mokwuah brings to the Irish defense is another big body, the type of player that’ll allow Notre Dame to shift back to a three-man front, with Mokwuah potentially playing nose guard.
There’s no pressure on Mokwuah to step onto the field and play in 2014. While the depth chart isn’t the deepest up front, it could benefit Mokwuah to spend a year watching, learning and growing even larger under Paul Longo’s guidance.
But it’ll be interesting to watch Mokwuah’s development at Notre Dame -- mostly to see if VanGorder was able to quickly identify a contributor at defensive tackle in just a few weeks of work, especially after spending most of the last decade in the NFL. Transition recruiting periods are always difficult, and the personnel needed in VanGorder’s scheme is different than what Bob Diaco was looking for.
But Kelly acknowledged casting a wider net at defensive tackle after being incredibly selective, and it resulted in Daniel Cage and Mokwuah joining the class when they weren’t even on the radar at Thanksgiving.
Ultimately, what should make Mokwuah succeed at the collegiate level is his size and versatility. And while he’s only been on campus since June, his newest nickname certainly shouldn’t have Irish fans upset.
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Torii Hunter Jr.