Notre Dame Football: 5 Freshmen Who Will Make a Huge Impact in Fall Practice

Connor Killoren@@Connor_KillorenSenior Analyst IJuly 8, 2013

Apr 20, 2013; Notre Dame, IN, USA; Notre Dame Fighting Irish quarterback Malik Zaire (8) slides in the third quarter of the Blue-Gold Game at Notre Dame Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

After months of rampant discussion and speculation, Notre Dame's 2013 recruiting class will become firmly set within the program beginning with fall camp at the end of the month. 

The class, ranked as the nation's sixth-best haul by 247 Sports, is replete with a slew of blue-chip prospects intent upon challenging for spots among the two-deep roster during the throes of fall camp, the most crucial stretch of time in the formation of team identity. 

While the defensive front seven has been solidified, there's an opening at free safety, a position left vacant by the loss of Zeke Motta—currently a member of the NFL's Atlanta Falcons—to graduation. 

5. Max Redfield, FS

Having originally committed to USC, Redfield reneged on that pledge during the course of the Trojans' abysmal 7-5 regular season despite being ranked No. 1 in the preseason. 

Equipped with the knowledge that Notre Dame would have an open competition at the free safety position prior to the 2013 season, the Mission Viejo, California native pulled the trigger, offering his commitment to the Irish three days prior to the BCS National Championship Game.

Rated as a 4-star prospect by 247 Sports, the 6'3", 195-pound Redfield will battle both Nick Baratti and Elijah Shumate for starting duties at free safety. He would join strong safety Matthias Farley as the last line of defense.

4. Jaylon Smith, LB

Considered the prize of Notre Dame's 2013 recruiting class, Smith has long been pegged a natural fit at outside linebacker in the Irish's 3-4 defensive scheme.

It's no surprise Smith was rated as a 5-star prospect in 247 Sports' composite rankings. He has the body type of a safety, standing at 6'3" and weighing in at 218 pounds, though his blazing time of 4.44 seconds in the 40-yard dash is what's most impressive. 

While adding bulk to his frame is a necessity, Smith's supreme athleticism is reason enough for the coaching staff to put him on the field early and often this season. 

With the right outside linebacker position stocked with Prince Shembo, Ishaq Williams and Romeo Okwara, expect Smith to compete with Ben Councell for backup minutes at left outside linebacker, beneath Danny Spond on the depth chart. 

3. Greg Bryant, RB

While many have scoffed at the notion of Bryant and fellow freshman running back Tarean Folston competing for minutes this season, automatically assuming redshirt seasons are a guarantee for both is foolish. 

The Delray Beach, Florida native was rated as the nation's sixth-best running back in the 2013 class, earning a 4-star ranking from 247 Sports in the process. At 5'11" and 196 pounds while boasting a time of 4.48 in the 40, Bryant's breathtaking athleticism makes him a factor in the competition at running back. 

The only issue facing Bryant is depth at his position, with George Atkinson, William Mahone and Amir Carlisle each battling for reps. 

Yet it won't arrive as a surprise should Bryant break into the rotation. 

2. James Onwualu, WR

With the Irish starved for more playmakers in the passing game, Onwualu couldn't have arrived at a better time. 

Having enrolled for the spring semester, the St. Paul, Minnesota native boasts the experience of having participated in spring practices and the Blue-Gold Game. 

The 6'1", 215-pound receiver rapidly climbed the depth chart during the spring, landing beneath T.J. Jones at the Y receiver spot. While earning the starting job is unlikely, Onwualu will certainly be a consistent presence in the receiver rotation. 

1. Malik Zaire, QB

Zaire's position as the most influential freshman shouldn't be a surprise. 

After incumbent starting quarterback Everett Golson's suspension for the fall term at Notre Dame and Gunner Kiel's transfer to Cincinnati, Zaire's value to the program increased exponentially. 

And while head coach Brian Kelly has announced Tommy Rees as the Irish's starting quarterback for the 2013 season, Zaire is virtually guaranteed playing time. Golson's return to the program is anything but a certainty, even following his comments to reporters during the weekend, per ESPN.

Because Rees and fellow senior Andrew Hendrix will be gone following the current season, Zaire is the only current fixture on the depth chart at quarterback beyond the 2013 season. 


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