The physical toughness displayed on a football field by Notre Dame’s 16th verbal commitment in the Class of 2017 – Darnell Ewell from Norfolk, Va. – is the first thing that jumps out at you on tape.
And the second, and the third, and the fourth…
Ewell (pronounced YOU-ell), the 6-foot-4, 295-pound nose tackle/offensive guard from Lake Taylor High School, plays football with a beast-mode mentality.
Other than pure speed, which is essential in today’s ultra-fast-paced game, the toughness and physicality Ewell brings to the gridiron is the most coveted asset the Fighting Irish can add to a defense that has been, shall we say, “yielding” in recent seasons. This is a full-grown, full-blown man with a year of high school football remaining.
If you never saw a clip of Ewell, but simply saw his final list of suitors – Notre Dame, followed by Michigan and Ohio State, and then Alabama and Clemson – you’d know we’re talking about a pretty special interior lineman. Then you turn on the tape and the impression is indelible.
To quote Irish Illustrated’s Pete Sampson, Ewell is a “ball of muscle.” Every snap is a physical test of his manhood, and he’s motivated to express it. His passion for physicality can be matched but unlikely surpassed.
Defensively, the Irish have landed a point-of-attack brick wall. He’s not going to cover a wide patch of land laterally. He could maximize his strength by getting a better bend at the knees and getting underneath the offensive lineman. But his strength, fight and determination are a 10 on a 10-point scale. Effort and want-to are assets in which Ewell is in large supply.
In landing Ewell, it is important to extrapolate the meaning of Ewell’s Friday commitment to the Irish. He’ll join Kurt Hinish (Pittsburgh, Pa.) in the Class of 2017 to form one of the most exciting one-two punches the Irish have added in a long, long time. With his limiting 5.55 time in the 40 but the physical barrier he presents up front, Ewell is the ideal nose tackle prospect for the Irish while Hinish adds more mobility and penetration/one-gap skills.
Considering the state of Notre Dame’s interior defensive line heading into training camp in three weeks, it’s a shame both of these players aren’t available to the Irish this fall.
Long-time recruiting analyst and current CBS Sports Network contributor Tom Lemming told the South Bend Tribune of Ewell’s commitment to the Irish: “If he came in, he would be more talented than all the other defensive tackles they have right now at Notre Dame.”
As far as pure football/athletic skill on the defensive line interior, Jerry Tillery still would rank as the best on the squad because of his length, athleticism and potential. But what Lemming says makes sense. An infusion of the football savvy that Ewell possesses would be a welcome addition to Notre Dame’s defensive front and an instant asset. Hinish brings a similar mindset to the field.
Ewell’s emotional maturity also was displayed during the recruiting process. Not only does he look and play physically advanced for his age, but this is an adult in terms of goal-setting and future achievement. He’s involved in ROTC, which he views as a real asset to his life and his game. He’s a proud member of the National Honor Society. When he says academics are important – don’t most recruits? – your immediate sense is he means it.
Ewell has left little doubt that he chose Notre Dame for all the right reasons, including the near-certainty that he’s in the mix at nose tackle from the first day he walks on campus. Jarron Jones will be gone and Daniel Cage, with one year of eligibility remaining in 2017, will be the only legitimate candidate for the job as it is presently perceived.
Here’s the kicker with Ewell, and because of his physicality, we’re probably never going to see it. He’s an even better offensive guard than he is an interior defensive line prospect because he can better utilize the level of his athleticism at guard. Harry Hiestand and Co. seems to have things in pretty good order up front on offense.
At guard, Ewell would use his aggressiveness to make multiple blocks, and thus, “multiple impacts” per play. Ewell is a reactionary player. If it moves, he’ll hit it, and an offensive play allows him multiple opportunities for contact.
He has active feet as an interior-line pass-blocker and his pad level is better than it is on defense because his goals as an offensive lineman are different than they are as a defensive lineman. A pulling Ewell with a head of steam at guard is a scary sight.
Again, he’s likely too strong, too physical and too aggressive to move him to the offensive side of the football at Notre Dame. But if it ever comes down to it, he probably has more “play-making ability” (as it applies to offensive line play) than he does on defense.
Tons of credit to defensive line coach Keith Gilmore for making this verbal commitment happen. He zeroed in on Ewell, knew what Ewell would respond to, and what Gilmore was selling landed right in Ewell’s wheelhouse.
This is one of the most important recruits in the Class of 2017 as it relates to the future improvement of the Irish defense and the overall toughness of the program.