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Notre Dame 99-to-0: No. 9 Eli Raridon, incoming freshman tight end with a torn ACL

Eli Raridon

Listed measurements: 6-foot-6, 225 pounds.2022-23 year, eligibility: An incoming freshman, Raridon has four seasons of eligibility remaining, and five years to use them.Depth Chart: Given a torn ACL in 2021, assume Raridon is the last of Notre Dame’s six tight ends to see playing time in 2022.Recruiting: The No. 5 tight end in the class of 2022 and No. 198 overall prospect, per, Raridon was chased by most of the Big Ten, most notably both his homestate powers, Iowa and Iowa State. Nonetheless, he committed to the Irish in early May a year ago, and that pledge was never in doubt.

The reality is, neither the Hawkeyes nor the Cyclones ever had much of a chance, since Raridon has been around Notre Dame since his toddler days. His father, Scott, was an Irish offensive lineman from 2002 to 2005. Go ahead, do the math.

Raridon is a better football player than a basketball player, but he was plenty accomplished in the latter in high school. There may not be a distinct NIL opportunity tied to that, but it still warrants recognition and, if nothing else, is yet another endorsement of playing multiple sports in high school rather than hyper-focusing on just one.

Watch these highlights and focus on No. 44. You’ll see a comfort level on the hardwood, an ease getting above the rim and an understanding of how to use his unique physical assets. Raridon’s left hand could have used some work, often finishing with his right when his left would have been the better choice, and there is an apparent lack of a jump shot in these highlights, but those are the reasons he is playing football at the next level.

One way or another, Notre Dame would have noticed Raridon. The family ties are too deep. But the recruitment was made easier by how few other programs noticed him early on in high school.

“COVID probably did us a favor on that one because people couldn’t see him live,” Irish offensive coordinator Tommy Rees said when Raridon signed his National Letter of Intent in December. “To be honest with you, the difference-maker for him was when we turned on his basketball film a year ago.

“It’s like, wow, this guy’s athleticism, pun intended, jumps out of the room. He’s someone you get around, see him in-person for the first time, you see the length, you see his athletic ability. To me, the sky is the limit for his potential. He’s someone that we’re extremely excited about. He was very under-recruited for a lot of reasons, and I think of late, he’s gotten the notoriety he deserves.”

Raridon tore his ACL three days later, for timing context.

“Raridon looks like a downfield tight end more than an in-line blocker, his 6-foot-6 frame as used to dunking a basketball as leaping for a pass. …

“Praise is going to follow Raridon and follow him soon. If he adds muscle to that lanky frame, his ceiling could fit right in with some of the bigger names to come through “Tight End U.” Raridon’s speed shines in the seam route that Irish offensive coordinator Tommy Rees has long adored both as a quarterback and as a play caller. File that thought away now.”

Raridon is optimistic he will be able to play in 2022. He should be. That is the luxury of youth. Yet, it is rather unlikely.

“Seven and a half months from the surgery is fall camp, and that’s when I’m going to be ready to go,” he said to Inside ND Sports this month. “But I’m hoping by the time I get there June 10, I’ll be able to do everything summer workouts-wise.

“If we were doing pads during the summer, I probably would sit out until late July or beginning of August. We’re not doing any of that from what I know, which is good. So I think I’m going to be good to go. We’ll see what happens, but I’m feeling really good about it.”

The most aggressive timetables for returning from an ACL tear are about nine months. Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson set that new threshold in 2012, and it has increasingly become more common, which is to say, it is still rather uncommon.

Nine months from Raridon’s injury will be mid-September.

If Notre Dame lacked proven tight ends, perhaps there would be an argument for Raridon to ease into the rotation by midseason, but this is “Tight End U,” and the Irish currently enjoy the services of perhaps the best tight end in program history. Even behind Michael Mayer, sophomore Mitchell Evans has impressed many, and then junior Kevin Bauman or sophomore Cane Berrong will be ready as the third option, both coming off their own leg injuries in 2021.

There is no need to rush Raridon into that grouping. A full and prolonged recovery will be the smarter long-term play, and it should absolutely be the expectation for Raridon, despite his natural optimism.

There is no version of this world in which Mayer is not a 2023 NFL draft pick. Even if he suffers some injury this season, Mayer would not fall lower than the second or third round, and that itself would be a shock.

Notre Dame will need a new lead tight end in 2023, and it could be Raridon.

His height, body control and soft hands make him the ideal tight end for a modern offense. More and more, the best tight ends are barely distinguishable from the receivers the Irish like to play along the boundary. Think of Miles Boykin and Chase Claypool. They were listed at 6-foot-4, 228 pounds, and 6-foot-4 ⅜, 229 pounds, respectively, in their final collegiate seasons. Raridon has them both beat in height, but he is at a similar weight. If he adds a touch of muscle, he will very much evoke those types of targets.

Notre Dame has other options, and given their recruiting pedigrees, any one of Evans, Buaman or Berrong could erupt and be the next Irish tight end drafted in the first round (after Mayer). But Raridon’s game fits the modern ideals. Once he is healthy, he may need to be reckoned with.

RELATED READING: Incoming freshman Eli Raridon back on the fast track for Notre Dame‘Tight End U’ finds its next piece with Iowa TE Eli Raridon committing to Notre Dame

WHY NO. 89?
Editor’s Note: The original version of this story was published before Notre Dame announced Raridon would wear No. 9 this season. That version guessed at his jersey number.
Raridon wore No. 88 in high school, but that is currently owned by Evans. And this is one position the NCAA’s strong suggestions for numbers parameters are generally followed. Generally, of course, being the operative word. After all, Tommy Tremble wore No. 24 as a tight end at Notre Dame.

But the strong suggestions prefer tight ends wear a number between 80 and 99, the latter half of those usually defensive. Given that, No. 89 would be appropriate for Raridon. Then again, No. 44 is available, and that is what he wore on the basketball court. Early-enrolled freshman linebacker Junior Tuihalamaka and sophomore long snapper Alex Peitsch both wear No. 44, creating some concerns about multiple players being on the field at the same time with the same number, but the bigger roadblock for Raridon in wanting No. 44? His tight end classmate, Holden Staes, wore No. 44 in high school.

Regardless, this is just an educated guess, designed to slot Raridon among the tight ends he will soon compete with and against.

From Blake Grupe to Braden Lenzy, the offseason countdown begins anew
No. 99 Blake Grupe, kicker, Arkansas State transfer
No. 99 Rylie Mills, junior defensive lineman, a tackle now playing more at end

No. 98 Tyson Ford, early-enrolled freshman, a defensive tackle recruited as a four-star end
No. 97 Gabriel Rubio, sophomore defensive tackle, still ‘as wide as a Volkswagen’
No. 92 Aidan Keanaaina, a junior defensive tackle who tore his ACL in March
No. 91 Josh Bryan, sophomore kicker
No. 91 Aiden Gobaira, early-enrolled freshman defensive end, four-star recruit
No. 90 Alexander Ehrensberger, junior defensive end, a German project nearing completion

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