Notre Dame was desperate for defensive tackle help when it flipped Pete Mokwuah from Rutgers two years ago.
The Irish had just landed defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder from the New York Jets with plans to transition to a 4-3 front hurting for bodies along the line. Long-time commit Richard Yeargin had just dropped Notre Dame for Clemson. A commitment from Daniel Cage wouldn’t come until National Signing Day. So when Notre Dame made its move on Mokwuah it did so with no guarantees about what was coming next.
Turns out, Mokwuah was just the start of Notre Dame’s overload of defensive tackles. Not only did the Irish get the higher-ranked Cage a month later, it would enroll four defensive tackles in the class that followed. All those additions put tremendous pressure on Mokwuah, who’s struggled to get a foothold in the defensive meeting room.
The junior is next in Irish Illustrated’s A-to-Z series.
Mokwuah dominates during summer workouts and it shows when training camp opens in August. Perhaps the New Jersey product doesn’t have elite athletic ability, but he needs to put his extra year in the weight room to use when compared to Notre Dame’s four-man class of sophomore defensive tackles. There’s no starting job to be won, nor are there meaningful minutes for Mokwuah to grab. But what the rising junior can do is transform into a reserve who does more than get time in blowouts. Perhaps that can be the start of something more significant in the coming years.
In some ways it’s already happened for Mokwuah as somebody has to be at the bottom of the depth chart just based on numbers. During spring practice Mokwuah was a forgotten man in the rotation with four rising sophomores already in front of him: Jerry Tillery, Elijah Taylor, Micah Dew-Treadway and Brandon Tiassum. On top of that, former offensive guard John Montelus moved to defensive tackle and also appears ahead of Mokwuah. If there’s any chance for real playing time for Mokwuah this season (or next) he must climb over an entire two-deep of talent.
While his recruiting profile was much different than U.S. Army All-American Tyler Stockton coming out of high school, Mokwuah was also a New Jersey product. Both took red-shirts as freshmen before getting spot work as sophomores. Stockton played in six games and made one tackle while Mokwuah played in two games and didn’t make a stop. Stockton didn’t see the field as a junior or senior but got invited back for a fifth year because of his locker room presence and leadership. Perhaps Mokwuah can do the same. Regardless, it’s going to be a long road to playing time.
Development Vs. Recruiting Ranking
Mokwuah was a consensus three-star prospect and slotted way down among defensive tackles. Scout had Mokwuah ranked No. 66 at his position, which was behind defensive tackles that signed with Wake Forest, Louisiana Tech, Kansas, Rutgers and Western Michigan. Rivals didn’t rank Mokwuah at his position while 247 put him No. 69 and ESPN ranked him No. 77. Based on Mokwuah’s inability to get reps during spring practice and Notre Dame’s defensive tackle depth chart, the ranking looks accurate.
Mokwuah At His Best
He’s played in just two career games, getting on the field against Texas and UMass last season. He did not record a tackle in either blowout.
Quote To Note
“A shorter recruiting period for us, but Pete was a great fit for us … we wanted to find the right profile young man. He's Nigerian. We've had a great Nigerian connection here, Romeo Okwara, Prince Shembo, just to name a few, and then Pete was able to connect to the Catholic institution, goes to a Catholic school. That profile fit very well for us. A kid that's serious about his academics here at Notre Dame. All very good profiling for us in terms of the right fit here at Notre Dame and a 6-foot-4, 315-pound defensive lineman, pretty good fit there, too.” – Brian Kelly on National Signing Day two years ago