Photo by Rick Kimball/ISD

Elston Excited With 2019 D-Line Foursome

December 24, 2018
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While Notre Dame offensive line coach Jeff Quinn was fired up after signing four of his top targets last Wednesday, defensive line coach Mike Elston was arguably even more so after adding a quartet of prospects to his meeting room.

“I’m the most excited guy in the building today because we signed four defensive linemen and several state champions out of the group,” Elston told UND.com’s Signing Day Show last week. “It’s just an exciting time to add to our culture at the defensive line with great talent and skill players, but also guys who will represent Notre Dame in the right way off the field and in the classroom.”

Howard Cross III‍ is the kind of player Elston sees having the potential to help at multiple positions.

“He comes from a great football family,” the coach said of Cross, whose father played tight end at Alabama and with the New York Giants. “He goes to St. Joe Regional High School out in New Jersey that just won the state championship there.

“Howard is a very versatile player with an elite skillset for an interior player, but also a unique skillset that he can move outside and play on the edge, very similar to what we’ve done with Jerry Tillery this season. I’m excited for that with Howard because he gives us great flexibility to move him around.”

Cross with his father

Cross visited South Bend in April, just weeks after landing his offer from the Irish and things moved even quicker during that trip.

“He wasn’t going to make any decisions anytime soon,” Elston said. “My wife and I went to pick him up to take him to dinner. He said, ‘Hey Coach, what if I was to commit right now?’ I said, ‘Well, if you were to commit right now, I’d stop the car. I’d drag you out of the big seat and give you a big hug.’ He goes, ‘Well, that’s what I want to do.’ So we slammed on the brakes, pulled it over and had the celebration right there. It was fun.

“He just fell in love with the place when he got here. He’s a great kid to hang out with. He doesn’t say much, but when he does talk, there’s meaning behind it. He gives it some thought…His coach Augie Hoffman has been great in this process.”

Kentucky defensive tackle Jacob Lacey‍ was the first of the foursome to commit.

“He also just won the state championship, which is exciting,” Elston explained. “He’s a two-sport athlete. I went and watched him play baseball in the spring and in his first at-bat, he stroked a home run. He’s a phenomenal athlete, big guy. He led the team in stolen bases even at 275, 285 pounds.

“What he brings to the football field is just an aggressive nature of play. He’s a very intelligent young man, a great student and obviously, his experience of winning will be great to add to our defensive line.”

Elston said the Irish “love guys” with the ability to succeed in sports beyond football.

“You want guys who compete at everything they do,” he said. “Whether it’s track and field or basketball. A lot of times for us at d-line, the d-tackles don’t do many other things, so to see a guy like him who is that big and that athletic is rare. But we love that.”

Texas’ Hunter Spears‍ was the second defensive tackle to commit, following Lacey.

“He had a really good season this year and unfortunately ended it with an injury in the playoffs, but his team went far and he was a great reason for that,” Elston said of Spears. “Another great student, great ambassador for that school is going to be great here.”

Another Texan, NaNa Osafo-Mensah‍, rounds out the group.

“More of a defensive end, what we call our Drop position,” Elston said of Osfao-Mensah. “Great athlete, adds a great skillset of pass rush that we so need in every class.”

Elston added that he’s “very excited” for each of them.

“They’re well-rounded,” he continued. “They all come from great families that are very supportive. Their spirituality is in the forefront. Their education is also in the forefront. They’re all 3.8 to 4.0 students and they all come from really challenging high schools so when they come here, it won’t be a shock to their system to go to a classroom and be demanded at a high level.”

And three of them – all except Lacey – will be enrolling early, arriving on campus next month along with all four of Quinn’s offensive line signees.

“They get that benefit of the winter conditioning and lifting along with the 15 practices for spring ball. They’re all going to play as freshmen along the defensive line, it’s just a matter of how much…Them coming here is going to allow them to maybe play a little bit more and fill some holes that we have.”

 
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