Notre Dame football recruit Stephon Tuitt starting the big push
Everything seemingly in the soon-to-be Notre Dame freshman defensive end's life over the past three months, since signing with the Irish, has reeked with purpose.
Texting fellow defensive line prodigy Aaron Lynch about their dreams and aspirations, following ND director of football strength and conditioning Paul Longo's culture-shocking workout plan at home in Monroe, Ga., even taking up track and field for the first time ever this spring.
"The theory was to try something new, to push myself out of my comfort zone," Tuitt said of the track and field experience. "The guys in my (recruiting) class have big plans and big dreams, but none of it's going to happen if we don't start pushing ourselves hard and pushing now."
That's why a weekend trip to Alabama was so unfamiliarly sweet. Nothing was on the agenda but riding four-wheelers and dirt bikes.
"It was just my friends and me getting muddy and dirty and stuff," Tuitt said. "Just being a boy."
The expectations that will follow the 6-foot-5, 270-pounder from this point forward, though, are man-sized. Lynch, fellow early enrollee Ishaq Williams -- an outside linebacker from Brooklyn, N.Y. -- and Tuitt are the faces of an anticipated Irish defensive resurgence.
And they're not alone. Defensive recruits such as Chase Hounshell, Anthony Rabasa, Troy Niklas and Ben Councell would be headliners in most recruiting cycles. In this one, they're less-celebrated but important parts of the most impressive wave of defensive front-seven talent to cluster at ND in one class since the Lou Holtz Era.
Lynch's and Tuitt's arrival are punctuated by the fact that since Ross Browner and Willie Fry were bookend All-America defensive ends in 1976 and '77, the Irish have had just two players at that position reach that elite status in the 33 seasons that followed -- Scott Zettek in 1980 and Frank Stams in 1988. And many consider Stams to have been more of an outside linebacker than end.
"I get overwhelmed sometimes when I think about the talent in this class," Tuitt said. "I'm like all the fans -- I think we are going to turn a lot of heads and we are going to make people turn our way and jump on the bandwagon.
"My confidence is sky high, but not in a cocky way. I just have belief in what I do. I believe in the other guys, too. That's why we're out there recruiting too, trying to get other great players to join us. The thing is we know we have to work for it. My work starts from day one when I get up to Notre Dame in the middle of June. And Aaron has already told me to be ready to work harder than I ever have in my life."
It's not like hard work will be a new experience. Take Tuitt's test drive of track and field this spring at Monroe Area High School. Granted, Tuitt's stint as a 400-meter runner lasted all of one day, but he did stick with the shot put and the discus, even though the school didn't have someone to coach him in those events.
"There's a lot of technique, especially in the discus," Tuitt said. "At first, I was just kind of powering it."
To add finesse to his power, Tuitt went to his computer and essentially learned the proper form and steps by reading up on the subject online.
He ended up finishing sixth in the Class AAA state meet earlier this month with a throw of 148, six inches. He had a longer throw, estimated to be in the high 160s, that landed out of bounds but would have been enough to take the state title.
Tuitt just missed qualifying for the state in the shot as well.
And the 400?
"I realized I wasn't skinny enough to do that," he said. "I was a bad fit."
He doesn't question his fit at Notre Dame anymore, though he did flip to nearby Georgia Tech at the 11th hour in the recruiting cycle, only to end up at ND on signing day.