Notre Dame 99-to-0: No. 91 Aiden Gobaira, sophomore defensive end, former four-star recruit
Listed measurements: 6-foot-4 ⅝, 241 pounds
2023-24 year, eligibility: A sophomore, Gobaira has all four seasons of eligibility remaining since he did not take the field in 2022.
Depth Chart: Gobaira exited his second spring practices as the third in line at “Big” defensive end behind fifth-year Nana Osafo-Mensah and Ohio State transfer Javontae Jean-Baptiste. More playing time should be available for Gobaira at “Big” end rather than at Vyper, where he may be more of a fit but would be No. 4 on the depth chart.
Recruiting: A consensus four-star and the No. 6 weakside defensive end in the class of 2022, per rivals.com, Gobaira turned down an aggressive chase from Arizona State to choose Notre Dame. Virginia Tech, Nebraska and Kentucky also sought the No. 84 overall prospect in the class.
A top-100 recruit would normally elicit offers from more blue-blood programs, but Gobaira was an under-the-radar prospect before his junior season was delayed until the spring by the pandemic. As he grew into his frame, he was out of sight and out of mind for most programs. By the time he showed that on the field, he had already committed to the Irish, dampening the offers from any other programs.
CAREER TO DATE
Gobaira did not play as a freshman. He then made two tackles in the Blue-Gold Game to close spring practices last month, including one for a loss. A modest showing, sure, but he was one of a handful of young defensive linemen — including classmate Tyson Ford and junior Jason Onye — who flashed enough to spark some intrigue in how they fare come preseason practices.
NAME, IMAGE, LIKENESS
If any space on the Notre Dame beat is going to take recruiting rankings as gospel, this would be the last of them to do so. They make mistakes. But Gobaira’s late ascent up the recruiting rankings stands out as a promising trend. That kind of late movement is usually based in something tangible, something concrete that the recruiting services focus on.
In his case, some of it came from his showing in the All-American Bowl. Gobaira was the No. 11 weakside defensive end and No. 207 prospect overall, per rivals.com, when he signed his National Letter of Intent in December of 2021. When the recruiting services watched him log a sack in the All-American Bowl, as well as shine in practices that entire week, he moved up to No. 6 and No. 84, respectively.
So when Gobaira pointed to a self-confidence boost stemming from how he played that week, there was something more to it than a generic platitude.
“My week in San Antonio was a blast,” he said in February of 2022. “It really was a place where I could see how my skills shaped up against elite guys like that.”
Those pass-rush skills have not been seen on Saturdays yet, and they may not be this fall, but Gobaira has done nothing to dissuade the Irish coaching staff of that eventual potential.
“A relentlessness to improve,” defensive line coach Al Washington said this past April. “Physically, he’s put on like 15 pounds. He’s starting to fill out like we had hoped. He’s coachable and he approaches it the right way. He’s trending, he’s playing well.”
WHAT WAS PROJECTED A YEAR AGO
“Notre Dame is set at Vyper end this season. Senior Isaiah Foskey will lead the way, and while he will not play every snap, taking a potential All-American off the field is not something to do too often. Behind him, fifth-year end Justin Ademilola will split his time between both end spots. They should handle the bulk of the work at Vyper.
“Behind them, senior Osita Ekwonu can fill in. Could Gobaira get some mop-up work in an October blowout of UNLV? Absolutely, but that should not be his only work in 2022.
“Go back up to the top of this article and check Gobaira’s listed measurements. He is currently the definition of long. In winter workouts, he was trying to keep up with Foskey in sprints. In other words, Gobaira has the speed and range to excel on kickoff and punt coverage units.
“That should not lead to more than four appearances, simply because preserving that year of eligibility makes too much sense not to do, but Gobaira could exit the season with a handful of tackles and some distinct memories of Notre Dame Stadium on Saturdays.
“If having to guess those four games, UNLV and Navy would be the first nominees.”
Notre Dame focused Gobaira on weight and strength gain rather than on special teams work last season. He weighed 230 pounds at the start of last spring, up to 241 this past March. That effort may continue in 2023, though Gobaira should still see some action simply because there is no eligibility advantage to keeping him on the sideline anymore.
If he is the third “Big” end in reality, and not merely in a post-spring penciled depth chart, then that could lead to a dozen tackles. Some of those would come in mop-up duty, some of them in situational packages, and some may be via special teams.
Suggesting a dozen tackles stems from seeing Osafo-Mensah notched 14 tackles in 13 games last year, and he was arguably the third “Big” end, though he was also more proven than Gobaira is currently.
Acknowledging that, dialing back the 2023 expectations for Gobiara to making any defensive contribution may be more appropriate. If he can prove himself as a viable rotation player, whether that shows up in statistics or not, that will be a strong foundation for the sophomore.
DOWN THE ROAD
Such a meager foundation can also be considered strong for Gobiara because both the “Big” ends ahead of him may be gone in 2024. Jean-Baptiste has only one year of eligibility remaining, while both Notre Dame and Osafo-Mensah would have to want him to return for a sixth season. As Justin Ademilola showed this past winter, some players are simply ready to move on after five years, understandably so.
At that point, the Irish will be looking for an entirely new one-two punch on its edge-setting end. If Gobaira has shown he can hold that edge this season, then he will be a front-runner to be part of that leading duo in 2024.
NOTRE DAME 99-TO-0
The summer countdown begins anew, Rylie Mills to Deion Colzie
No. 99 Rylie Mills, senior defensive tackle, moving back inside from end
No. 98 Devan Houstan, early-enrolled four-star defensive tackle
No. 97 Gabriel Rubio, junior defensive tackle, one of three Irish DTs with notable experience
No. 95 Tyson Ford, sophomore defensive tackle, up 30 pounds from a year ago
No. 93 Armel Mukam, incoming freshman defensive end, former Stanford commit
No. 92 Aidan Keanaaina, a senior defensive tackle now ‘fully healthy’ after a 2022 torn ACL
No. 91 Aiden Gobaira, sophomore defensive end, former four-star recruit
No. 88 Mitchell Evans, the next starter at ‘TE U’
No. 87 Cooper Flanagan, incoming freshman tight end, four-star recruit
No. 84 Kevin Bauman, senior tight end coming off a torn ACL
No. 83 Jayden Thomas, junior receiver, probable No. 1 target in 2023
No. 79 Tosh Baker, senior tackle, again a backup but next year ...
No. 78 Pat Coogan, junior interior offensive lineman
No. 77 Ty Chan, sophomore offensive tackle, former four-star recruit
No. 76 Joe Alt, first-team All-American left tackle
No. 74 Billy Schrauth, sophomore left guard, likely starter
No. 73 Andrew Kristofic, fifth-year right guard, likely starter
No. 72 Sam Pendelton, early-enrolled freshman offensive lineman
No. 70 Ashton Craig, sophomore interior offensive lineman
No. 68 Michael Carmody, senior offensive lineman
No. 56 Charles Jagusah, incoming freshman offensive lineman, four-star recruit
No. 55 Chris Terek, incoming freshman offensive lineman, four-star recruit
No. 51 Boubacar Traore, incoming freshman defensive end, four-star recruit
No. 17 Brenan Vernon, incoming freshman defensive end, four-star recruit
No. 13 Holden Staes, sophomore tight end, up 20 pounds in a year
No. 12 Penn State RB transfer Devyn Ford gives Notre Dame newly-needed backfield depth, experience
No. 4 Rhode Island transfer safety Antonio Carter gives Notre Dame desperately needed backline depth