SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Because of the national nature of the Notre Dame football program, the Fighting Irish have connections with opposing players every time they suit up for a football game.
But when it comes to the connections between The Ohio State University and the University of Notre Dame, and Notre Dame with the state of Ohio, the overlap of players, coaches and administrators is extensive, beginning with the Buckeyes’ head coach.
Urban Meyer knew Skip Holtz through their coaching affiliation with Colorado State, where both made stops early in their coaching careers. Both worked with the Rams under Earle Bruce, the former Ohio State head coach, where Skip’s legendary father, Lou, also served for the great Woody Hayes.
Meyer, of course, eventually landed at Notre Dame, where he served as receivers coach from 1996-2000 before launching his ultra-successful head-coaching career at Bowling Green and Utah, and then hitting it big at Florida and now Ohio State.
Naturally, because of Meyer’s Notre Dame connections, he took with him several coaches along the way that worked for the Irish, including three current head coaches – Boston College’s Steve Addazio, Texas’ Charlie Strong and Mississippi State’s Dan Mullen.
Addazio was Bob Davie’s tackles/tight ends coach at Notre Dame from 1999-2001. Strong was Lou Holtz’s and Davie’s defensive line coach from 1995-98. Mullen was a graduate assistant under Davie from 1999-2000.
The current coaching overlap between Brian Kelly’s former assistants and Meyer’s is extensive. Ohio State offensive coordinator Ed Warinner served as Kelly’s offensive line/run-game coordinator at Notre Dame in 2010-11.
Tight ends/fullbacks coach Tim Hinton goes back to Kelly’s Cincinnati days where he instructed linebackers and running backs from 2007-09 before joining Kelly at Notre Dame for two seasons and then hopping aboard the Meyer train in Columbus.
Tony Alford worked with Notre Dame’s running backs and wide receivers from 2010-14 before taking a job as assistant head coach with the Buckeyes. Ohio State’s cornerbacks and special teams coordinator Kerry Coombs was Kelly’s defensive backs coach at Cincinnati.
Meyer even tapped into Notre Dame’s strength and conditioning staff when he tabbed Mickey Marotti, who was with the Irish from 1998-2005, to join him at Florida (2005-11) and Ohio State.
Even Ohio State’s director of athletics – Gene Smith – is a former Irish defensive end and assistant coach under Dan Devine.
And the list goes on.
Current Irish standout Jaylon Smith is the brother of former Ohio State running back Rod Smith. Irish freshman slot receiver C.J. Sanders is the son of former Ohio State flanker Chris Sanders.
There is perhaps no state that has produced more Notre Dame players through the years than Ohio. Coombs is the former head coach at Colerain High School in Ohio, where Notre Dame linebacker Jarrett Grace attended.
Grace is one of 12 current Irish players from Ohio, including offensive lineman Jimmy Byrne, defensive linemen Daniel Cage and Jacob Matuska, cornerbacks Nick Coleman and Shaun Crawford, tight end Chase Hounshell, walk-on receiver Chris Fiske and walk-on tight end Ben Suttman.
The top two quarterbacks on the Irish roster – DeShone Kizer and Malik Zaire – both hail from the state of Ohio.
Notre Dame boasts 11 college football Hall of Famers from Ohio, including incomparable defensive linemen Alan Page and Ross Browner, 1966 captain/linebacker Jim Lynch, and even a couple of the Four Horsemen – Don Miller and Harry Stuhldreher.
The overlap of recruits between Notre Dame and Ohio State is extensive as well. Familiar names from the Notre Dame recruiting trail dot the Ohio State roster, including running back Ezekiel Elliott, offensive tackle/captain Taylor Decker, defensive end Sam Hubbard, linebackers Justin Hilliard and Raekwon McMillan, running back Curtis Samuel, and defensive linemen Tommy Schutt and Jashon Cornell.
Among the players Meyer and his staff tried to coerce to Ohio State but lost out to Notre Dame were Grace, linebacker Nyles Morgan, offensive linemen Quenton Nelson and Jimmy Byrne, cornerback Shaun Crawford and Zaire.
Notre Dame has 17 players who are connected via high school and/or city with current Ohio State players. Byrne went to St. Ignatius High School in Cleveland with three current Buckeyes. Irish wide receiver Corey Holmes was a high school teammate in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., of Buckeye standout defensive lineman Joey Bosa.
Seven Buckeyes hail from Cincinnati as do three Irish players – Grace, Cage and freshman defensive lineman Elijah Taylor. Irish linebacker James Onwualu and safety Elijah Shumate have high school teammates on the Buckeye roster.
When Notre Dame and Ohio State square off Jan. 1 at University of Phoenix in Glendale, Ariz., there will be plenty of familiarity between the two programs, not only on the current teams but teams, players and coaches from the past where the connections are much greater than usual.