As Notre Dame’s 2014 recruiting campaign was coming to a close, the coaching staff was scrambling to surround new defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder with the pieces he would need to build a respectable defense come fall.
It wouldn’t be easy. Among the players missing from the 2013 defense – many of which made significant contributions in 2012 when the Irish finished seventh in the country in total defense and second in scoring defense – were veteran players Louis Nix III, Stephon Tuitt, Prince Shembo, Dan Fox, Carlo Calabrese, Bennett Jackson and, ultimately, KeiVarae Russell, who would join four other Irish players on the suspended list during August.
So in Notre Dame’s scramble to add talent by the February signing day, the Irish expanded their scope, snagging interior defensive lineman Daniel Cage from the clutches of Michigan State to wrap up the 23-man recruiting class shortly after turning the head of Staten Island, N.Y. interior defensive lineman Peter Mokwuah, who verbally committed to Rutgers – his first offer – some 10 months earlier.
Mokwuah – a three-star prospect ranked the 66th best defensive tackle in the country by Scout – arrived at Notre Dame as a mammoth 6-foot-2 ¾, 325 pounds, which was down from his high school weight. Mobility was not his forte, which ultimately prevented him from making an impact as a freshman at Notre Dame in the fall of 2014.
Mokwuah worked at the three-technique/defensive tackle position this spring behind Sheldon Day and Jay Hayes. That’s a tough spot for a player with questionable mobility to make an impact, but nose tackle already was overcrowded with Jarron Jones, Jerry Tillery, Cage and Jacob Matuska in the mix.
Spot duty – particularly in short-yardage and/or goal-line situations – is likely the ceiling for Mokwuah as a red-shirt freshman in 2015 after preserving a year of eligibility last fall.
More prep-team work as Mokwuah works on his physical conditioning/mobility with some of the competition clearing after the 2015 season. Day is in his final year of eligibility, and Jones conceivably could be an NFL draft prospect if he recovers from his ’14 foot injury and bypasses his final collegiate season.
A comparison was made between Daniel Cage and former Irish interior defensive lineman Emeka Nwankwo, a four-star offensive tackle out of Florida who converted to defense and eventually worked his way to second-team defensive end (in a 3-4) as a senior in 2010. A good role model for Mokwuah could be Tyler Stockton, who emerged from complete anonymity and ineffectiveness after four years to land a fifth-year senior spot in 2013.
It’s a bit early to say Mokwuah is behind schedule considering Notre Dame knew his first year was going to be a wash as they tried to prepare his body for a higher level of competition. But the former three-star prospect did not appear to have made significant progress in terms of fine-tuning his body and increasing his mobility this spring, which makes the summer of 2015 a crucial one for Mokwuah.
To be determined
“He’s a big kid. He’s got good grades. He’s got a big future in whatever he decides to do. He’s got his head screwed on straight. As people come to see him, they realize that he’s a great kid. Every school that comes (here to see him) would love to have him as a part of their school.”
-- St. Joseph by-the-Sea head coach Rich Clark