First in Class

Offensive tackle prospect Jerry Tillery serves as Notre Dame's earliest pledge over the last decade, more than 18 months prior to his 2015 class's National Signing Day. We take a look back at 10-plus years of initial pledges that eventually signed with the Irish.

Four have yet to play a college game while one, conversely played 55 in the NFL. At least six others harbor such professional dreams, with one from the group battling through his first training camp. Three matriculated to South Bend but transferred away; a fourth did so as a Notre Dame graduate.

One beloved graduate and teammate passed far too soon.

A year-by-year look at Notre Dame's initial football pledges, each of which that later signed on the dotted line to play for the country's most storied program, offers a mixed-bag of results, both on and off the field.

Shreveport (La.) Evangel Christian Academy offensive tackle prospect Jerry Tillery is the latest pledge likely to join that list, announcing his intentions to play for Notre Dame a full 18 months prior to his class's official Signing Day of February 2015.

Below is a look at Tillery's 13 predecessors, the first in their respective classes to pledge Irish during the Sports NEXT era.

2002 -- Bob Morton (July 24, 2001): The four-star prospect from McKinney, TX, was the nation's No. 8 ranked offensive linemen in the 2002 class. Morton pledged to fifth-year head coach Bob Davie but played his first three seasons in South Bend under Tyrone Willingham before finishing under Charlie Weis. Morton played 46 games for Notre Dame, starting 39 including each game he played in 2003, 2004, and 2006.

2003 -- Chinedum Ndukwe (July 17, 2002): A four-star wide receiver prospect from Dublin-Coffman (Ohio) High School, Ndukwe was the No. 23 ranked player at his position in the 2003 class. Willingham moved Ndukwe to safety in his second spring in South Bend (2004) and during his four-year tenure started 25 games at safety, all under Weis. Ndukwe was selected in the seventh-round of the 2007 NFL Draft and played five seasons with the Bengals and Oakland Raiders, recording seven interceptions with 7.5 sacks and two touchdowns scored. He's currently on Notre Dame's Monogram Club Board of Directors and president and founder of the Ndukwe Foundation.

2004 -- Justin Hoskins (July 2, 2003): A four-star prospect and the nation's No. 13 ranked running back, Hoskins played 11 games for the Irish, splitting his tenure between the Willingham (2004) and Weis (2005) eras. Hoskins started in the 2004 Insight Bowl loss to Oregon State. He transferred to Central Michigan prior to the 2006 season, sitting out his first season under third-year Chippewas head coach, Brian Kelly.

2005 -- Asaph Schwapp (July 15, 2004): Schwapp, who pledged to Willingham prior to the coach's final season, was the nation's No. 88 ranked running back and a three-star prospect from Hartford, Conn., who played in 39 career games, starting 12, all at fullback. Schwapp passed away on May 8, 2013 of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. (For more on Schwapp's life, Click here.)

2006 -- Munir Prince (April 2, 2005): A three-star prospect and the No. 38-ranked running back in his class, Prince played nine games at running back as a true freshman in '06 before moving to cornerback in the spring of 2007. He played 10 games as a reserve corner in 2007 and subsequently transferred to Missouri in January, 2008. Prince will serve as a first year offensive graduate assistant for the Tigers this season.

2007 -- Kerry Neal (February 24, 2006): A four-star prospect and the No. 31 ranked defensive end in his class, Neal started 33 of 50 career games, playing three seasons for Weis and his last, 2010, for Kelly as the defense's drop linebacker. Along with fellow 2007 signee Ian Williams, Neal played in every game of his collegiate career.

2008 -- Mike Golic, Jr. (February 19, 2007): A three-star prospect and the nation's No. 30-ranked offensive guard in '08, Golic started the final 17 games of his Irish career including the BCS National Championship game. A 40-game veteran for the Irish, Golic signed with the Pittsburgh Steelers as a rookie free agent following the 2013 NFL Draft.

2009 -- Jake Golic (April 5, 2008): A three-star prospect and the No. 54 ranked tight end in his class, Golic played in just five games -- all for Kelly, including three in 2010 and two last fall -- after pledging to Weis for the five-year head coach's final season in South Bend. A 2013 Notre Dame graduate, Golic will use his fifth-season of collegiate eligibility at Cincinnati this fall.

2010 -- Christian Lombard (January 2009): The nation's No. 2-ranked offensive guard and a four-star prospect overall, Lombard enters his senior season as the incumbent starter at right tackle for Kelly's Irish. He earned the first 13 starts of his collegiate career last fall after previously appearing in 13 games as a reserve sophomore in 2011. Lombard, who pledge to Weis in January 2009, is eligible through the 2014 season after being withheld from action in 2010.

2011 -- Brad Carrico (March 20, 2010): A three-star prospect and the No. 64 ranked offensive tackle in his class, Carrico sat out the 2011 season with a foot injury suffered in high school. In August 2012, Carrico retired from the program as a result of that recurring injury, accepting a medical scholarship alleviation to remain a student at the University.

2012 -- Tee Shepard (March 2, 2011): The nation's No. 3 overall cornerback and a five-star prospect from Fresno, Calif., Shepard enrolled in January of what would have been his senior season in high school. He later transferred from the University prior to spring ball 2012 and is expected to play for Holmes Community College (Mississippi) this fall. Shepard sat out his senior season of high school due to transfer rules and thus hasn't played a down of high school or college football since the end of the 2010 season, his high school junior year.

2013 -- Steven Elmer (September 17, 2011): A four-star prospect and the No. 6 ranked offensive tackle in his class, Elmer enrolled at Notre Dame in January 2013 and concluded his first spring session a member of the two-deep depth chart at tackle where he'll compete for backup duties with 2012 signee Ronnie Stanley and fellow 2013 rookie Mike McGlinchey in August.

2014 -- Greer Martini (July 3, 2012): A four-star prospect and the No. 16-ranked outside linebacker prospect per FOX Sports NEXT, Martini will be a senior at Woodberry Forest School (Woodberry, Va.) this fall. He's expected to play inside linebacker for the Irish when he arrives in 2014.

2015 -- Jerry Tillery (June 22, 2013): Pledged to Kelly and the Irish last Saturday following a visit to the program's weekend camp. Tillery is a 6'6" 315-pound offensive tackle prospect, not yet rated prior to FOX Sports NEXT's official rankings set to be revealed later this summer. Tillery serves as the earliest pledge to the University over the last decade, more than 18 months prior to his class's National Signing Day. Top Stories