The most meaningful part of Mark Harrell’s college career may be happening right now.
The senior offensive lineman is part of Notre Dame’s select travelling party to South Africa this month thanks to the Student Athlete Opportunity Fund. The program sent Harrell, Jaylon Smith, Doug Randolph, Corey Robinson and Scott Daly overseas this week. The group, which includes student-athletes from other sports, has already visited an orphanage and Nelson Mandela’s home.
“Unreal experience today. Makes you evaluate how severe your problems truly are,” Harrell tweeted on Tuesday.
So while playing time hasn’t happened for Harrell during the past three years – he’s appeared in just two games, both last season – a college experience has.
Irish Illustrated’s A-to-Z look at Notre Dame’s roster moves to Harrell, a product of Charlotte, N.C., who’s been battling top talent for reps ever since he arrived in South Bend three years ago.
Harrell’s game takes a step forward during fall camp and he wins the third tackle job, backing up Ronnie Stanley and Mike McGlinchey. That would mean Harrell holds off Hunter Bivin at tackle while Alex Bars sticks at guard, assuming Quenton Nelson wins that interior competition. While being the third tackles behind Stanley and McGlinchey won’t get Harrell onto the field much, Notre Dame’s season includes some blowouts that give Harrell a chance to soak up reps.
Bivin and Bars develop into Notre Dame’s top backup tackles, effectively cutting off Harrell’s path to meaningful playing time. With guard and center also stocked with talent, Harrell’s contributions are limited to practices and preparations.
Like every program, Notre Dame is loaded with offensive linemen who never bubbled up beyond backups. It’s the nature of the position. But there is a decent career comparison for Harrell in the Irish archives: James Bonelli. When Notre Dame signed Bonelli in 2002, he was viewed as a utility lineman, like Harrell. And like Harrell, Bonelli spent most of his time in the background, making just six career appearances. Also like Harrell, Bonelli was linked to a star running back within his high school program that Notre Dame wanted. Harrell played one season with former Irish commit Elijah Hood at Charlotte Catholic. Bonelli teamed with Lorenzo Booker at St. Bonaventure in California, with the back spurning Notre Dame on National Signing Day for Florida State.
Harrell was actually not a consensus three-star prospect in the recruiting world, with ESPN tagging him as a four-star prospect and giving him the same grade out of high school as Ronnie Stanley. Rivals tagged Harrell as a three-star and the nation’s No. 25 offensive tackle. Scout also put Harrell as a three-star and at No. 52 among offensive tackles. While three-star prospects are projected to play later in the their careers, it’s hard to see Harrell’s path to playing time considering how Notre Dame has recruited this position. The 247 network rated Harrell similarly to Scout. Was Harrell overrated as a three-star? No. He simply ran into too much tackle talent in South Bend.
There are only two to choose from in Harrell’s career, so go with the Michigan blowout last season. It was good enough for Harrell to use a shot from it on his Twitter bio.
“I think when you talk about this class, it's still about Notre Dame and how they fit here … and I know you hear that all of the time, RKGs, they have to be RKGs. They have to have the right character traits, they have to understand Notre Dame and the value of an education, and Mark Harrell comes from that environment.” – Brian Kelly on National Signing Day in 2012