Eyes for the Irish: Clarkston four-star guard Rocco Spindler commits to Notre Dame

David Goricki
The Detroit News

Clarkston —  Four-star guard Rocco Spindler announced he was going to play his college ball at Notre Dame Saturday evening during a  news conference at Clarkston High School’s football field.

Spindler, rated as the No. 3 guard nationally by Rivals.com and 247 Sports Composite, picked the Irish over defending national champion LSU, Michigan, Ohio State and Penn State while sitting between his father, former Lions defensive end Marc Spindler and mother Rochelle with two of his older sisters, Dominique and Isabella, also alongside them. His other sister, Gabriella, a captain in the U.S. Army, couldn’t attend due to her service duties.

Rocco Spindler gets emotional while talking about his grandfather during his college decision choice at Clarkston High School in Clarkston on Aug. 8, 2020.

 Coincidentally, it was Marc Spindler who picked Pittsburgh over Notre Dame back in the late 1980s before playing for the Lions, helping them earn their lone playoff win in 62 years when they defeated Dallas in 1991.

Rocco actually knew he was headed for Notre Dame a year ago when he told his paternal grandfather, and a big Irish fan, that he would play there just days before his death.

More:Michigan? Notre Dame? Rocco Spindler isn't tipping his hand as announcement approaches

“I told my grandfather maybe a year ago, he only had three days left and he was a huge Notre Dame fan,” Rocco said. “I didn’t come with that decision yet, I told him just so he could know before he passed away. He was so happy. I was like, ‘Hey, you can’t tell anybody,’ and he didn’t. I didn’t come with that (decision) until later, actually two weeks ago knew I really wanted to go to Notre Dame so I fulfilled that promise.”

So aside from fulfilling that promise to his grandfather, what other reasons did Spindler pick the Irish?

“The pros at Notre Dame, you’re going to win a national championship on the field and you’re going to win one in the classroom,” Spindler said. “The business school I believe is one of the best and they can develop amazing talent and can get them to the league (NFL). I believe they are O-Line U. I believe they are the NFL factory of offensive linemen. The relationships I had with those coaches will go with me for the rest of my life.”

Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly has the Irish on their best three-year run (33-6) since Lou Holtz guided them to the national championship in 1988, the start of a 33-4 run. Kelly led the Irish to the BCS national title game in 2012, a loss to Alabama, and to the College Football Playoff two years ago, a semifinal loss to Clemson.

Kelly has won with players from the state of Michigan too, including defensive end Khalid Kareem (Farmington Hills Harrison), a fifth-round pick of the Bengals this past April.

This season, the Irish’s defensive ends will be made up of Adetokunbo Ogundeji (Walled Lake Central) and Daelin Hayes (Ann Arbor Skyline) with Ovie Oghoufo (Farmington Hills Harrison) backing them up.

Rocco Spindler hovers his hand over hats before declaring his commitment to Notre Dame during his college decision choice at Clarkston High School in Clarkston on Aug. 8, 2020.

So, how difficult was it for Spindler to tell Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh he would not be playing for the Wolverines?

“It was very tough, heartbreaking, everything I said, and they said was sincere, it was a very close decision, splitting hairs, it was not easy and that’s why it took so long to this point,” said Spindler, who spoke with the Michigan coach Saturday afternoon. 

Marc Spindler said he is a Harbaugh fan, and a Michigan fan, unless the Wolverines are playing the Irish.

“I’m proud of Rocco, it was the best opportunity to develop him,” said Marc Spindler of his son picking the Irish. “This is kind of funny, I can tell it now, this guy asked me if it comes down to the better developer of talent or the better relationship which would you pick, and I told him well there’s no doubt I’d pick the better developer of talent. You don’t have to have a great relationship. But, where they failed to ask the question, the fundamental question, I want to have both. Who would I have the best relationship with and the best developer of talent?

“These five schools sincerely and genuinely recruited my son and my son 100 percent sincerely reciprocated every single call, every single email, every single text for every single day the last three or four years. I know there’s going to be some hard feelings because you lost, there is hard feelings but at the end of the day I hope they have a respect for my son and the decision he made because I surely will not only respect everyone of those head coaches and position coaches, I’m instant fans of every one of those schools, just not when they play Notre Dame.”

Rocco Spindler addresses his father during his college decision choice at Clarkston High School in Clarkston on Aug. 8, 2020.

Spindler and teammate Garrett Dellinger — also a two-way lineman — helped Clarkston win the Division 1 state championship their freshman year with a 3-2 win over OAA Red rival West Bloomfield in 2017. They helped Clarkston reach the state title game again as sophomores in 2018, losing to Chippewa Valley 31-30 at Ford Field.

While Spindler is headed to Notre Dame, Dellinger committed to LSU earlier this summer.

Spindler earned a spot on The News Dream Team his junior year while he did an outstanding job as an offensive lineman while getting in on 52 tackles, including six for lost yardage.

Clarkston coach Kurt Richardson had high praise for Spindler, saying: “He has such a great work ethic. Obviously, he’s got physical talent, but he puts in the time too. He trains with us and has his own personal trainer, so he goes above and beyond and doesn’t cut corners on anything. Notre Dame’s a great fit for him. I’m happy for him.”

And, Richardson credits Rocco’s parents for being an excellent student-athlete.

“I think that’s been a very positive thing for him, having his dad accomplish what he has, and Marc has obviously been there and guided Rocco all along, but he’s let Rocco be Rocco too and the other thing about Rocco is he’s pretty mature,” Richardson said. “When he started for us as a 15-year-old freshman, he’s a very mature kid, he can handle things very well.

“I don’t think anything has been handed to Rocco. Marc and Rochelle are very active parents and they’ve laid down the law and he’s followed things well.”

Practice starts Monday for Clarkston and for other schools. Richardson was asked what his greatest fear was with the COVID-19 pandemic in play.

“We’re doing everything we can, hoping we’ll have a season,” Richardson said. “I think the fear is that we’re going to get started and then they (MHSAA) are going to call it. We could play some games or just get to the point where we’re ready to open and they say, ‘Hey, we’re shutting it down.’

“I just felt absolutely terrible for all the spring athletes and the basketball kids that missed (the end of) their senior year and I didn’t have a direct connection with them. I would feel absolutely terrible for our seniors who have worked so hard to lose their senior season.”