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Tuesday, June 18, 2024
The Observer

Class of 2021: Defense

DEVIN AUPIU (@aupiu44)

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6’5” • 225

Pacifica High School

Oxnard, Calif.

Aupiu committed to Notre Dame in December after receiving scholarships from 10 different schools, including UCLA, who he was committed to for eight months before switching to the Blue and Gold.

Aupiu fits the archetype of defensive end that Notre Dame has sought after in recent years, standing at 6-foot-5 and possessing serious speed that will allow him to catch up to the more mobile quarterbacks the Irish will face. He mixes this with a brilliant mind for the game of football, which his high school coaches have raved about even more than his athletic ability.

Rivals rates Aupiu as a three-star recruit and the 37th-best weakside defensive end in his class. Aupiu will not get to experience his senior year of high school football as California postponed it to the spring, but he will have the opportunity to immerse himself in college life as one of Notre Dame’s 14 spring semester early enrollees.



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6’2” • 195

Quince Orchard High School

Gaithersburg, Md.

Joining the Irish secondary next season is three-star recruit Ryan Barnes. From Gettysburg, Maryland, Barnes arrives as the 60th-ranked cornerback nationally according to Rivals, bringing his agility and explosiveness to the Notre Dame defense. Committing in early June of this past year, Barnes comes away from a junior season with over seven pass deflections and multiple defensive touchdowns for his high school, Quince Orchard.

At 6-foot-2, Barnes has the size and dexterity to utilize his length as a weapon, whether the ball is in the air or on the ground. His athleticism, size and instincts raise his ceiling immensely. As the life-long Irish fan becomes affiliated with Notre Dame’s defensive scheme, his talents may have an immediate impact for the Irish.


KHARI GEE (@KhariGee)

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6’3” • 190

Woodward Academy

College Park, Ga.

Gee, a four-star safety recruit (per Rivals) hailing from College Park, Georgia, committed to the Irish on Dec. 18 after being previously committed to LSU. As a rising star at Woodward Academy, Khari earned 35 offers as the 25th-ranked player in the state of Georgia. At 6-foot-3 and 185 pounds, Gee projects to be a physical and talented safety under Marcus Freeman’s new defense.

In his senior year, Gee tallied 37 tackles, with five of those being for a loss, along with two interceptions. His commitment to Notre Dame is a big win for the Irish, helping bring talent to the secondary so they can better keep pace with the athleticism and speed of college football’s juggernaut programs.


JOJO JOHNSON (@jojofootball1)

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5’11” • 170


Merrillville, Ind.

Notre Dame’s cornerback situation began last season as a question mark, but improved as the season progressed. The Irish will certainly miss graduate transfer corner Nick McCloud next year, a void Johnson could help fill someday.

The 5-foot-11 Johnson received offers from 18 programs before settling on the Irish. In addition to ballhawking in the secondary (17 tackles and seven pass breakups as a senior), Johnson was an all-purpose weapon in high school, tallying 49 receptions for 895 yards and 10 touchdowns in his final season.

Johnson is a local product from just over an hour’s drive from Notre Dame Stadium. He originally committed to Cincinnati, but flipped to the Irish in November. That means the three-star prospect went from preparing to play for Cincinnati defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman to preparing for… new Notre Dame defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman.


KAHANU KIA (@KahanuKia)

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6’2” • 205

Punahao School

Honolulu, Hi.

Notre Dame signed the three-star Kia in November. The Punahou High School standout turned down an offer from his father’s alma mater, Utah, as well as offers from UCLA, Stanford, Dartmouth and several other well-regarded schools.

Ranked the fifth-best player in the state of Hawaii per Rivals, Kia attends the same high school as that of current Notre Dame linebacker Marist Liufau and former Irish players Manti Te’o and Robby Toma. After receiving no commitments at the position in 2020, the Irish took two ’backers in this class: Kia and Jonesborough, Tennessee, product Prince Kollie.

However, Kia’s time with Notre Dame will likely be interrupted. As a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Kia intends to take a two-year mission trip after the 2021 season, returning as a college sophomore in 2024.


PRINCE KOLLIE (@p_kollie_21)

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6’2” • 205

David Crockett High School

Jonesborough, Tenn.

Kollie is arguably one of Notre Dame’s most prized recruits in the class of 2021. At 6-foot-2 and 205 lbs., Kollie looks like a near replica of Irish All-American linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah and is expected to eventually fill the former Irish rover’s shoes. The four-star Kollie ultimately chose the Irish over powerhouses such as Alabama, Georgia, LSU, Oklahoma and Texas and is rated as the 16th best linebacker in his class by Rivals.

In his senior year, Kollie recorded 109 tackles, 11 for loss and an interception. His size was also utilized at running back as he recorded 1,562 rushing yards and 26 touchdowns as a senior. Kollie was awarded the High School Butkus Award for his play, which is given to the best high school linebacker in the nation. Kollie and Owusu-Koramoah are the first pair of Irish linebackers to win the high school and collegiate Butkus awards in the same season since Manti Te’o and Jaylon Smith in 2012. 


JASON ONYE (@jason_onye)

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6’5” • 248

Bishop Hendricken High School

Warwick, R.I.

Onye is ranked the No. 1 overall player from Rhode Island per ESPN and the No. 44 strong-side defensive end nationally per The three-star standout from Bishop Hendricken High School committed to the Irish on May 7. 

Onye had 10.5 sacks, 68 tackles, 12.0 TFL’s and five forced fumbles as a junior. He received a First-Team All-State nod the same season and guided his team to back-to-back Rhode Island Interscholastic League championships in 2018 and 2019.

Outside of a stint playing football as a fourth grader, Onye picked up football full-time as a high school sophomore and missed his senior season because of COVID-19. He’ll likely redshirt as a freshman and be a developmental player under defensive line coach Mike Elston.


PHILIP RILEY (@Riley18Philip)

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6’0” • 190

Bloomingdale High School

Valrico, Fla.

A safety from Valrico, Florida, Riley was originally committed to Notre Dame before decommitting in favor of arch rival USC in September. Come November, though, Riley flipped his commitment back to Notre Dame.

Riley is rated as the No. 38 player in the state of Florida as well as the No. 24 cornerback in the nation per Rivals. A consensus four-star recruit, he is described as a very physical and aggressive cover corner, both in man and in zone. What he might lack in elite top speed, he makes up for in technique as well as his ability to read and diagnose plays with his instinct.

Riley is an early enrollee this spring, and he will look to make a push for an immediate starting job in the secondary this season as rising sophomore Clarence Lewis did last year.


GABRIEL RUBIO (@GabeRubio97)

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6’5” • 280

Lutheran High School of St. Charles County

St. Peters, Mo.

Landing Rubio was a major win for Brian Kelly and the Irish. The four-star recruit is the 10th-ranked defensive tackle in the country and the second-best player coming out of Missouri in 2021, according to Rivals. Rubio had 20 other Division I offers and turned down big name programs such as Ohio State, Georgia, LSU and Oklahoma to become a member of the Irish.

Despite a shortened senior season due to COVID-19, Rubio accumulated 40 tackles and two sacks in four games as a senior. He finished his career with 245 tackles and 22 sacks. With a new defensive coordinator and extensive losses on the defensive side of the ball to the draft or the transfer portal, Notre Dame will look to young players such as Rubio to come in and have an immediate impact.


WILL SCHWEITZER (@WillSchweitzer2)

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6’4” • 215

Los Gatos

Los Gatos, Calif.

After previously being verbally committed to the University of Nebraska for two months, Schweitzer committed to Notre Dame in August nearly a week after his first campus visit and formally signed with the Irish in December. The three-star recruit is ranked as the No. 30 weakside defensive end and 43rd-best player out of California. Schweitzer attracted 23 offers from the likes of Arizona, Michigan St and Cal-Berkley in addition to the Irish and Cornhuskers.

California postponed high school football to the spring, but during his junior season Schweitzer recorded 130 tackles, nine for loss, two sacks, 21 hurries and three interceptions. He also pushed Los Gatos High School to the CIF Regional 3-AA Championship game that year. In a recruiting class with three defensive ends, Schweitzer will get a jump start on his studies and weight training as a spring enrollee.


CHANCE TUCKER (@ChanceTucker7)

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6’1” • 170

Crespi Carmelite High School

Encino, Calif.

The Irish secured a commitment from the three-star Tucker despite interest from 20 other Division I schools, Arizona, Boise State, Northwestern, five Ivy League schools and several more suitors. California delayed the high school football season to the spring, but Tucker recorded 58 tackles, 10 passes defensed and three interceptions during his junior season in 2019. He also caught 13 passes as a wide receiver, scoring two touchdowns.

Tucker is ranked as the 39th-best corner in the country and the 29th-best player coming out of California according to Rivals. He will look to contribute alongside a deep class of defensive backs joining the team in 2021 as Notre Dame looks to replace the loss of corners Nick McCloud and Isaiah Rutherford, as well as converted safety Shaun Crawford.


JUSTIN WALTERS (@Justin_Walters2)

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6’2” • 185

Bolingbrook High School

Bolingbrook, Ill.

A three-star recruit out of Bolingbrook High School in Illinois, the Irish are adding a safety with the ability to make plays against the pass and the run in Justin Walters. Ranked as the No. 36 safety in the country and the No. 8 player in Illinois per Rivals, Walters received offers from 23 schools including Iowa, Michigan, Michigan State and Northwestern before committing to Notre Dame last February.

Walters helped Bolingbrook reach the Class 8A state quarterfinals in 2019, earning All-Area team honors from The Joliet Herald-News. The state of Illinois postponed the fall 2020 football season to spring 2021 due to COVID-19 concerns, and with Walters deciding to enroll early at Notre Dame, he will be unable to play his senior season for Bolingbrook.