How have Notre Dame's 24 early enrollees fared at the University since the program began the practice in January 2006? While reasonable minds can disagree within, it's readily apparent the system has produced wildly varied results to date.
2006 (Grade A) Test CasesA trio of standouts in the classroom but just one made a major impact on the gridiron:
Offensive Guard Chris Stewart: Graduated in three and a half years (May '09) with a history degree…Was accepted to the University of Notre Dame Law School in April 2010…Earned 35 (consecutive) starts in 41 career games with the program.
Running Back James Aldridge: Graduated in three and a half years (May '09) with a psychology degree and spent the summer of '09 studying Dutch art abroad…On the field, finished with just two career touchdowns (none in Notre Dame Stadium) in six starts, playing 36 career games and compiling 979 rushing yards…Missed most of his 2009 senior season with a shoulder injury.
Wide Receiver George West: Graduated in May 2010 with a degree in finance…Scored a touchdown the first time he touched the ball inside Notre Dame Stadium (Purdue 2006) but was replaced in the lineup by an influx of wide receiver talent by 2008 including Golden Tate and Michael Floyd.
2007: Immediate Impact and a ReturneeTwo of the most heavily involved freshmen in program history head the trio while another returning from exile to graduate with his class:
Quarterback Jimmy Clausen: Started nine games as a true freshman…exited school with nine program passing records in tow…finished with a 16-18 W-L record as starting quarterback…left school after junior season to enter the NFL Draft where he was selected in the second round…returned following the 2010 NFL season to earn a Sociology degree from the University.
Running Back Armando Allen: Senior season of 2010 -- his only under the Kelly regime -- was truncated by a pair of hip injuries…Started 26 of 41 games and finished his Irish career as the school's all-time leading receiver among running backs and 10th all-time with 2,560 total yards (including returns)…Scored 12 touchdowns…Graduated in May 2011 with a degree in Sociology.
Cornerback Gary Gray: Sat out his true freshman season but started the final 33 games of his 46 game college career following a one semester expulsion from the University…Remained in school for a fifth season finishing his career with 175 tackles, 17 passes defended, and six interceptions…Graduated in May 2010 with a degree in Sociology and returned for a fifth-season in 2011.
2008 Trenches TandemBoth players of quality; both notable for accomplishments either between the lines (Robinson as a starting freshman) or within the University's walls (Cwynar's remarkable four-year scholastic efforts at the school):
Nose Guard Sean Cwynar: Graduated in three years and completed his MBA during what would have been his true senior season in school…Started seven of 36 career games at the program and was part of the 2010 "Next Man In" brigade that saw the Irish evolve from 4-5 to 8-5 at season's end despite the loss of starters at QB, RB, TE, Slot Receiver, ILB, DE, and NG.
Offensive Guard Trevor Robinson: Started 40 of 48 games played in his Irish career…Earned three starts as a true freshman in 2008, the fifth (and most recent) true freshman to start a game on the offensive line in the history of the program…Earned a degree in Management-Consulting in May 2012.
2009: A Star, a transfer, and a second chanceA mixed bag, both on and off the field. Of note, two remain active college football players.
Safety Zeke Motta: A three-year starter, four-year letter winner and the winner of the program's 2012 Defensive Player of the Year award, Motta finished his career with 34 wins and 17 losses, the former representing the most for a player at Notre Dame since the graduating senior class of 1997 exited campus with a record of 34-12-1…Earned a degree in Industrial Design.
Nose Guard Tyler Stockton: Appeared in six games under first-year head coach Brian Kelly in 2010 but hasn't played since…Earned a fifth season of eligibility for fall 2013…Showed promise with a standout effort in the 2013 Blue Gold Game…Graduated in May 2013 with a degree in Marketing…One of three former early enrollees to remain with the program for a fifth season.
Cornerback E.J. Banks: Was a medical redshirt in his true freshman season after tearing his ACL in the final game of his high school career…Was suspended by the University for the 2010 football season though he did return as a member of the Notre Dame scout team the following season….Did not appear in a game for the Notre Dame program…Transferred to Pittsburgh in summer 2011 where he received a hardship waiver to play without sitting out per NCAA transfer rules.
2010: Present Tense Plus a DefectionRees and Jones rival Clausen and Allen as a same-season duo relative to their combined accomplishments while Boyd's departure served as a portent for ensuing seasons:
Quarterback Tommy Rees: Enters his senior season with a 14-4 W-L record as a starter and 28-11 overall as a member of the program…Enters his final season with the highest completion percentage in program history (63.8)…Is the only first-time starter to lead a Notre Dame team to a bowl victory (December 2010)…Among the program's top 10 in 34 single-game, single-season, and career passing categories...With a full season of starts will finish tied with Irish legend Tony Rice at 31 career starts for the program, a number ranking him behind only Brady Quinn, Ron Powlus, Tom Clements, Rick Mirer, Steve Beuerlein, and Jimmy Clausen.
Wide Receiver T.J. Jones: Enters his senior season with 32 career starts in 38 games, compiling 111 receptions and 1,321yards to go with 10 touchdowns…Tied with first-round NFL Draft pick Tyler Eifert for the team lead in receptions last season, 50…Became the first true freshman to start the season opener at wide receiver for the program since Milt Jackson in 1982….Scored what proved to be the game-winning touchdown vs. Stanford last season, a sliding grab of a pass thrown behind him in overtime.
Cornerback Lo Wood: Appeared in 21 games, mostly on special teams, before rupturing his Achilles tendon in August camp 2012…Was slated to start on the corner prior to injury…Returned to fully participate in 2013 spring practice, just seven months after surgery…Slated to battle incumbent Keivarae Russell for the starting field cornerback role in August camp…Has two seasons of eligibility remaining.
Safety Chris Badger: Took part in the 2010 spring session -- Kelly's first as Irish head coach -- but took a two-year religious mission in Ecuador, returning to the program for the 2012 season…Badger, who has yet to appear in a college contest, has three seasons of eligibility remaining.
Cornerback Spencer Boyd: Left the University after one semester, transferring to South Florida…After suspension at the end of the 2011 season, Boyd transferred in August 2012 to Division II Shepard University in West Virginia.
2011: Two-year downward spiral beginsOf the quintet, just two remain part of the program entering their true junior seasons:
Defensive End Aaron Lynch: Starred from the outset as a true freshman, leading the team with 14 QB hurries while adding 5.5 sacks in just six starts (12 games played)…Transferred the following spring to South Florida and will be eligible to play this season after sitting out 2012 due to NCAA transfer rules…
Quarterback Everett Golson: Was withheld from action as a true freshman in 2011 then emerged last fall to lead the team to a 12-1 mark, finishing 10-1 as a starter and serving as a key player in the program's first BCS Championship game berth…Was expelled from the University for what he deemed "poor academic judgement" but can reapply for admission following the upcoming fall semester…Has two seasons of collegiate eligibility remaining.
Offensive Guard Brad Carrico: Was withheld from action as a true freshman in 2011 and subsequently retired from the program prior to the 2012 season due to recurring foot injuries…Carrico remains enrolled at the University on a medical scholarship.
Linebacker Ishaq Williams: Has appeared in 24 of a possible 26 games with the program and enters the 2013 season where he began and ended the 2012 campaign: as a backup boundary linebacker to Prince Shembo, but a player whose work volume will meet or exceed many of the team's expected starters…Has two seasons of eligibility remaining at the University.
Kicker Kyle Brindza: Enters 2013 as the incumbent at place-kicker and projected starting punter…Set Notre Dame records for field goals made (23) and attempted (31) last fall…Tied a program record when he connected on five field goals vs. USC in the regular season finale…Has averaged 63.9 yards per kick as the team's kickoff specialist over his first two seasons…Eligible through the 2015 football season.
2012: Day is the OneA trio of five-star prospects, two of which transferred without playing a game for the Irish:
Defensive End Sheldon Day: Played in 13 games last season as the team's No. 1 defensive end off the bench and enters 2013 as a lock to start opposite Stephon Tuitt at defensive end…Recorded 23 stops including 3.5 for loss in a heavy reserve role last fall.
Quarterback Gunner Kiel: Was withheld from action as a true freshman last season and subsequently transferred to Cincinnati prior to spring ball 2013.
Cornerback Tee Shepard: Transferred from the school prior to spring ball 2012 without taking part in an official practice. According to Shepard's Twitter account, the former five-star cornerback prospect is enrolled at Holmes Community College (Goodman, Miss.).
2013: A Look AheadThe early enrollment practice continues with a promising quintet of freshmen, each of which could play a major role in 2014 if not sooner:
Offensive Tackle Steven Elmer: Poised to occupy a No. 2 tackle role on the 2013 depth chart thanks to a notable effort this spring. Said Kelly of Elmer, "He plays 11-on-11 pretty good. Generally, the guys who are big, physical, young kids, they look really good but they don't play the game as well. He plays 11-on-11 pretty well. He's got good instincts. He understands front-side/back-side combinations. He's still a work in progress as a pass setter. But in the run game, he's pretty accomplished. I think he's surprised us a little bit in that he's shown a pretty good sense and awareness of how to play the game at that position outside of his physical abilities."
Tight End Mike Heuerman: Likely the team's No. 4 tight end behind upperclassmen Troy Niklas, Alex Welch, and Ben Koyack. Joining Heuerman over the weekend and for summer's voluntary workouts is fellow four-start freshman tight end prospect, Durham Smythe. Said Kelly of Heuerman following winter conditioning, "I would say that I'm really impressed with Mike Heuerman. He's put on almost 15 pounds. He's up to close to 230 pounds. He's got a burst to him. He's going to be a really good player for us."
Wide Receiver James Onwualu: Said Kelly of Onwualu's possible August competition as a slot receiver: "I think he's got a chance. He's certainly physical enough. He's a smart kid. I'd say he's a guy that's probably going to be playing. If he's a guy that plays a lot on offense, that will kind of take care of itself as we go through preseason camp and the year, but he's definitely a kid that's going to be on the field in all of our special teams, he's got that physical ability."
Wide Receiver Corey Robinson: Turned heads in the spring due to his advanced ball skills (translation: he can go get it). Missed the tail end of the session and the Blue Gold Game suffered, fittingly, while making a diving catch in a mid-April practice.
Quarterback Malik Zaire: Entered the University at No. 5 in the position pecking order, but thanks to transfer and expulsion of former early entrants Kiel and Golson, Zaire will enter August camp at no worse than no. 3 on the depth chart.