Notre Dame 99-to-0: No. 97 Gabriel Rubio, early-enrolled freshman defensive tackle the size of a ‘Volkswagen’
Listed measurements: 6-foot-5 ¼, 289 pounds.2021-22 year, eligibility: An early-enrolled freshman this spring, Rubio has four years of eligibility remaining, a clock that may begin this year despite the four-game eligibility exception.Depth chart: When Notre Dame moved fifth-year Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa to end from tackle, it did so in part because there is an expectation Rubio can contribute from the outset. He will be behind senior Jayson Ademilola and sophomore Rylie Mills, but the Irish prefer to get as much use out of their defensive line depth as they can, as exhibited by Mills’ appearing in nine games last season.Recruiting: A consensus four-star and the No. 107 overall player in the class of 2021, per rivals.com, Rubio committed 18 months before he would sign with Notre Dame, a commitment that never wavered despite pursuits from his homestate Missouri, Georgia, LSU and Ohio State. Even when Rubio visited Columbus, Ohio, a couple weeks before Signing Day, it was more a formal exercise than anything for the Irish to worry about.
That may come across as how things always should be, but it particularly sticks out in Rubio’s case. The son of a former NFL defensive tackle, his talent was never in question, but Notre Dame could not offer a scholarship until his academics improved. Rubio did not balk at that hurdle.
“We gave him a challenge of, we need to see your academics go up before we can offer you a scholarship, and it was a risk that we took because Gabriel was getting 15-20 offers from top-10 programs,” defensive line coach Mike Elston said in February. “He held steadfast to what he was looking for.”
NAME, IMAGE, LIKENESS
Only one quote needs to be brought up, one quote that tops all the rest.
“The first thing you notice about Gabe is that he’s as wide as a Volkswagen,” Brain Polian said in December. “He’s a big, big man and he’s really, really light on his feet.”
Rubio’s size and agility were apparent in his recruitment. Next, he needs to build strength.
“I would say strength is the number one thing he’s got to get better at and pad level,” Elston said last month. “He doesn’t win as many as he’s going to in the future when he gets stronger, and as his legs and lower body get stronger, he’s going to play lower and with more power and dominate at the line of scrimmage.
“... He’s possessed. He wants to be good, which I love. That’s 90 percent of it.”
Okay, maybe two quotes are worth bringing up.
WHAT WAS SAID WHEN RUBIO SIGNED
“Notre Dame has prioritized defensive line rotation the last four years, so Rubio will have plenty of motivation to turn his early enrollment into strength and conditioning results. …
“When healthy [in 2020], Ademilola has served as much as a 1B as Tagovailoa-Amosa’s backup. Both have two years of eligibility remaining thanks to the universal coronavirus mulligan, but it would be a surprise to see Tagovailoa-Amosa around South Bend in 2022. But as a freshman, Rubio should focus on simply providing that rotation a few snaps off each game.”
Assuming the hyper-extended elbow that bothered Rubio at the end of spring practices does not linger into the summer and the preseason (and a knee trouble from his senior season does not reoccur), he should be ideally suited to pick up the work done by Mills last season. The then-freshman played 141 snaps throughout the unorthodox season, giving depth to the defensive interior.
That need grows as the season progresses, hence Mills playing in only one of Notre Dame’s first four games. The advantage Rubio has compared to Mills is a real spring followed by a genuine strength and conditioning program this summer.
If he takes to that program and his 289 pounds finds a bit more force, then Rubio can continue the Irish luxury of potent depth up front.
DOWN THE ROADPairing Mills and Rubio in back-to-back recruiting classes is the kind of haul put together by the best programs in the country. That is not hyperbole, as this is only one position, but it shows the trend of Notre Dame’s best position group. Elston has gotten his defensive line to a point where its baseline is as an overwhelming strength.
Ademilola might be back in 2021, but either way, Mills means Rubio does not need to handle a whole game anytime soon, and vice versa. The pair can rotate snaps inside and keep fresh, a thought that would have been incomprehensible among the Irish defensive tackles at the start of this four-year stretch of success. Thinking back to 2017, Kurt Hinish and Tagovailoa-Amosa being contributing backups on their first days was a needed surprise for Notre Dame. They needed to chip in for Jerry Tillery and Jonathan Bonner to get any rest.
That fret is a piece of the Irish past now and for at least the next few seasons.