When 6-foot-0, 205-pound junior running back Markese Stepp became the second verbal commitment of Notre Dame’s Class of 2018, he theoretically gave the Irish their backfield of the future.
Stepp followed quarterback Phil Jurkovec’s verbal commitment to the Irish a little more than a month after the Pennsylvanian gave his pledge, giving Notre Dame backfield-eligibility until at least 2021.
Stepp completed his sophomore season at Indianapolis Cathedral High School as a legitimate four-star prospect, rushing for approximately 1,300 yards on 155 carries (8.3-yard average) and 17 touchdowns.
Michigan, Michigan State, Missouri, Tennessee and Wisconsin were among the offers he spurned for Notre Dame.
At his size with a typical level of physical development, we’re likely looking at a 215-220-pound running back with the Irish a few years from now with above-average power to go along with very good if not great speed.
There are numerous qualities to like about Stepp, particularly with the knowledge that he has two more seasons to hone his game on the prep level. He’ll have tons of success during those two years with one of the preeminent football powers in the state of Indiana. Cathedral chews up and spits out most of its competition in football…and virtually every sport.
First and foremost, Stepp is a downhill, one-cut, north-south runner who is light on his feet and has some elusiveness. When we say one-cut back, that doesn’t mean he won’t cut it back against the grain and use his footwork to extricate himself from a logjam. But he would prefer to take the handoff, make a quick assessment, plant his foot and burst through the hole created between the tackles.
Working from predominately an I-formation with a fullback aligned or offset, Stepp takes his handoffs eight yards deep of the line of scrimmage. Behind an offensive line that is large and mauls most of its opponents, Stepp makes a living on stretch runs and delays that give that front wall time to batter on opposing defensive line.
When the Cathedral left guard pulls and leads the way with the fullback, Stepp uses his quality vision to burst past the line of scrimmage and into the second level.
Stepp shows a proclivity in the short passing game, taking swing passes that get him into wide-open spaces on the edge. He’s also a willing and alert check-down option for the Cathedral quarterback when the downfield pass routes don’t materialize.
Stepp carries himself like a big back with speed. He’s a load in the open field, and when he turns the corner, he is an unfriendly target for defensive backs giving away 25 pounds-plus.
There’s power in those legs that makes it difficult to bring him down with a clean tackle. It usually takes some tugging and pulling to drop him to the turf, which means yards after contact.
Stepp is a nice combination of power and light-on-his-feet speed.
There remains much for Stepp to develop on the prep level. He has some real built-in advantages for the school he plays for and its style of offense. Eight yards deep behind that offensive line, it’s easy pickings for Stepp a majority of the time.
He must learn to run with a lower base and consistently drop his shoulder pads when contact is imminent. He’ll have to do it at an accelerated pace on the next level where a quick-hitting running style is necessary.
He gets away with being able to run through the tackle attempts of smaller opponents. He sometimes offers too big of a target in the open field as well as at the point of attack. He’ll also need to run with the football in his left hand as well as his right.
Be on the look out the next two years as Stepp evolves on the prep level where he creates more big plays as opposed to a mauling offensive line that takes care of most of his dirty work. He looked stiff on a swing pass thrown behind him and on a play in which he tried to hurdle a defender.
Flexibility/improved athleticism should be a focus of Stepp’s as he continues to get bigger and stronger. He needs to add more of a fast-twitch approach to running the football on the next level. He has the foot-speed to improve in this area. He’ll play faster if he’s at his very best cardio-wise.
This is quite a catch for the Irish at this stage of compiling the Class of 2018. As good as he was as a sophomore, there’s plenty of room for growth. He’s just beginning to fully tap into his upside.