Notre Dame 99-to-0: No. 97 Gabriel Rubio, sophomore defensive tackle, still ‘as wide as a Volkswagen’
Listed measurements: 6-foot-5 ¼, 290 pounds.2022-23 year, eligibility: A sophomore, Rubio still has four seasons of eligibility remaining since he played in only the Fiesta Bowl as a freshman.Depth Chart: The incoming transfer of Harvard veteran Chris Smith knocked Rubio down a rung on the depth chart and out of the two-deep. Smith provides both depth and experience for Notre Dame at a position that was lacking them behind senior Jacob Lacey.Recruiting: The No. 107 overall player in the class of 2021, Rubio could have gone to Georgia, LSU or Ohio State, to name a few. Instead, the son of a former NFL defensive tackle improved his grades until the Irish would extend a scholarship offer, at which point he quickly committed.
NAME, IMAGE, LIKENESS
His father now a fireman, there may be some charitable endeavor that would tie Rubio to a firehouse. It would certainly be fitting. The newest Notre Dame NIL collective — Friends of the University of Notre Dame — claims its focus will be charity work, paying the players to then advocate for a cause of their choosing, so this may be more viable than simply some misguided musings on the endless internet.
CAREER TO DATE
Rubio played in only the Fiesta Bowl as a freshman, making one assisted tackle. Ahead of him, the Irish still had five defensive tackles in rotation, between Kurt Hinish, Jayson Ademilola, Howard Cross, Rylie Mills and Jacob Lacey.
A hyperextended elbow that plagued him in the spring of 2021 did not aid the early enrollee’s chances of early playing time.
WHAT WAS SAID WHEN FORD SIGNED IN DECEMBER
“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.”
This is not intended to come across as bluntly as it will: If Rubio had been wowing the coaching staff in the spring, the addition of Smith would not have been as heralded as it was in early April. Some of that was mere depth concerns. No team can have enough quality defensive linemen. But some of it was a need to shore up nose tackle.
Rubio will play this season. There is no year to preserve eligibility. And he will presumably play well, possessing just about every physical attribute wanted for the position. To further support that with logic, if he was truly condemned to another year on the sidelines, Rubio likely would have worked at three-technique more this summer, where the Irish are better set with Ademilola and Cross, rather than filling in behind Lacey. The coaching staff expected Rubio to be within the two-deep.
That thin line between reserve and rotation player could be Rubio’s home for 2022, the fifth defensive tackle with all five playing. If Lacey was the fifth such tackle last season, he still appeared in 11 games and made 12 tackles with two for loss. He was a veritable piece of that defense.
Such a standard for Rubio in his sophomore year may seem small given his high recruiting ranks, but that is not always the best barometer. Defensive line has been Notre Dame’s best and deepest position group for the last four seasons. Underclassmen should be expected to need time to work their way into that rotation.
DOWN THE ROAD
At the least, the Irish will lose Ademilola and Smith after this season. That should leave Cross and Lacey as the 2023 starters, with Rubio their most experienced backup. Suddenly, the afterthought of the rotation could be a key piece to it.
And then, Rubio should start in 2024. Notre Dame continues to pull in quality defensive linemen — early-enrolled freshman Tyson Ford and incoming freshman Donovan Hinish will both demand playing time before too long — but Rubio’s size alone will establish him in the middle. He needed to add strength to that size when he arrived, and one year may not be enough time to add as much strength as needed, but two years will be.
Consider Rubio in 2023 a ripe candidate for what may come for senior end NaNa Osafo-Mensah this season. Once a high-profile recruit, an injury and a tough case of COVID cost Osafo-Mensah early chances. He fell from the outside’s view. Now, he is in the two-deep at “Big” end, a position that rotates frequently. He could explode back into the public’s consciousness this season and be deemed a revelation; really, he would simply be making the most of his first opportunity.
Rubio has not lost time to injury, but the Irish excess of talent in the middle has robbed him of those early opportunities all the same. To be clear, that is a good thing for Notre Dame, even if it means Rubio slowly falls from public anticipation. When he rectifies that, it will be less a dramatic moment and more an inevitable one.
NOTRE DAME 99-TO-0
From Blake Grupe to Braden Lenzy, the offseason countdown begins anewNo. 99 Blake Grupe, kicker, Arkansas State transferNo. 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