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Notre Dame 99-to-0: No. 54 Blake Fisher, early-enrolled freshman left tackle, starter?

Blake Fisher 2021

Listed measurements: 6-foot-6, 330 pounds.2021-22 year, eligibility: A freshman, though a semester ahead, Fisher has all four seasons of eligibility remaining.Depth Chart: Fisher turned Notre Dame’s offensive line expectations on their head early on in spring practices. Very quickly clearly a possible starter on Labor Day Eve (95 days), Fisher created a new set of lineup permutations for the Irish to consider. He is not yet the definitive starter, but either Fisher or sophomore Tosh Baker should start at left tackle at Florida State.Recruiting: An All-American and five-star, Fisher ranked as the No. 1 prospect in Indiana, the No. 6 offensive tackle in the class and No. 25 overall prospect in the country. Thus, expectedly, he held a scholarship offer from every pertinent program.

That’s called style.

Along with fellow early-enrollee guard Rocco Spindler, Fisher could not have impressed more people this spring. No matter how highly recruited, no true freshman is genuinely expected to emerge as a starter — especially as an offensive lineman — let alone force his way into the starting lineup in spring practices held when he should still be in high school.

But that is exactly what the pair did.

“You have Rocco and Blake come in, they’re playing at a very high level right now through spring,” fifth-year offensive lineman Josh Lugg said in mid-April. “That’s awesome to see.

“That gets the guys so juiced, when you watch film and you see these young guys, they’re applying what they’re learning in the meeting room so quickly. They’re very coachable, and they should be in high school. They should have prom next weekend, but instead, they’re blocking Kurt Hinish in a scrimmage today.”

And the fifth-year defensive tackle noticed those blocks.

“Rocco Spindler and Blake Fisher are damn good,” Hinish said. “They’re really good offensive linemen and they’re going to be really good here. They’re the best two freshman offensive linemen that I’ve ever seen or have gone against. They’re supposed to be seniors in high school, but these guys are grown men playing with us, and they play with us, it’s not like they are seniors in high school and just compete with us here and there.”

This was, admittedly, wrong.

“Fisher has the size, the strength and the footwork to play as a backup from day one. He’ll have to adjust to the speed of the college game, but that is true for anybody. ...

“There are other former top-line recruits in the pipeline, Tosh Baker chief among them, but Fisher should have the inside track on starting on the outside by 2023 at the latest.”

Despite all the springtime praise, it should not be presumed Fisher starts in Tallahassee. If he does so, he will be the first Notre Dame freshman starter on the offensive line in the season opener since Sam Young in 2006. And Baker is a quality player himself.

But all that springtime praise makes it seem likely Fisher will start, quite possibly alongside Spindler. At that point, all bets are off.

Many will see a pair of 18-year-olds starting on the offensive line and punt on the Irish season. That would be rash. Both Fisher and Spindler played at a collegiate level this spring, somehow.

There will undoubtedly be hiccups, just as there would be with Baker getting his first true action, but if Fisher can find some footing in September and maintain through the grueling stretch that awaits the Irish in October, he could put together a November impressive enough to garner even more hype entering 2022.

RELATED READING: ND OL comes into focus thanks to early-enrolled duo and a fifth-year utility man

DOWN THE ROADIt feels distinctly rash to look at a player that has not seen a single collegiate snap and ponder him jumping to the NFL after his junior season, but given that the Irish have produced only first- and second-round draft picks from left tackle during the entire Brian Kelly era, the thought of Fisher starting as a true freshman plays right into him heading to the draft after the 2023 season. (To again acknowledge one’s own error, suggesting 2023 would be when Fisher might first start was conservative to a fault.)

To risk pulling this into a bigger and broader conversation than any “99-to-0" entry warrants, at some point the years remaining in Kelly’s tenure need to be considered. This past spring, Aaron Banks became the first offensive lineman in Kelly’s 11 years to spurn one more season for the NFL draft when a first-round possibility was not assured. Banks going in the second round proved the logic to his decision, but the intended point is that Kelly and his staff have made a habit of talking elite offensive linemen back into one final season. Ronnie Stanley and Mike McGlinchey top the list of those who benefited from such persuasion, but the list covers Kelly’s 11 years.

Come 2023, though, Kelly will have been at Notre Dame for 14 seasons. If he is retiring then — not a prediction, just an acknowledgment that with every season passed, the odds of Kelly stepping away increase — that sales pitch may not land with the same effectiveness. Fisher could head to the NFL after only three seasons, not that anyone could blame him.

Fisher is not the average 18-year-old. He was so active in recruiting on behalf of Kelly and the Irish staff that Fisher earned the nickname “The Mayor.” He never wavered in that decision, an in-state decision that thus carries some additional weight with it.

But in addition to all that, he has known tragedy most of us hope to never ponder. His sister, Breonna, died in 2011 from a virus that was never thoroughly understood, per a local news story during the coronavirus pandemic. She remains a constant note in his life.

Let’s try this again
No. 99 Rylie Mills, sophomore defensive tackle
No. 98 Alexander Ehrensberger, sophomore defensive end
No. 97 Gabriel Rubio, early-enrolled freshman defensive tackle the size of a Volkswagen
No. 95 Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa, fifth-year defensive tackle-turned-end
No. 92 Aidan Keanaaina, sophomore defensive tackle
No. 88 Mitchell Evans, early-enrolled freshman tight end, a former high school quarterback
No. 87 Michael Mayer, star sophomore tight end and lead offensive weapon
No. 85 George Takacs, senior tight end, ‘152 years old’
No. 84 Kevin Bauman, sophomore tight end
No. 82 Xavier Watts, sophomore receiver
No. 81 Jay Brunelle, speedy sophomore receiver
No. 80 Cane Berrong, early-enrolled freshman tight end
No. 79 Tosh Baker, sophomore offensive tackle
No. 78 Pat Coogan, incoming freshman center
No. 77 Quinn Carroll, junior offensive lineman
No. 76 Joe Alt, incoming and towering freshman offensive lineman
No. 75 Josh Lugg, fifth-year right tackle, finally a starter
No. 73 Andrew Kristofic, junior offensive tackle, possible backup center
No. 72 Caleb Johnson, early-enrolled offensive tackle, former Auburn commit
No. 70 Hunter Spears, junior offensive guard, former defensive tackle
No. 68 Michael Carmody, sophomore offensive tackle
No. 57 Jayson Ademilola, senior defensive tackle
No. 56 John Dirksen, senior reserve offensive lineman
No. 56 Howard Cross, junior defensive tackle
No. 55 Jarrett Patterson, the best Irish offensive lineman
No. 54 Jacob Lacey, junior defensive tackle

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