St. Joseph football defeats Immaculata
Greg Tufaro, @GregTufaro
John Olmstead, who will become only the second student-athlete in St. Joseph High School history to graduate early, may be as firm a commitment as a college coach will ever find in a future player.
The senior, who is regarded among the country’s best offensive lineman, will sign his National Letter of Intent with the University of Notre Dame next month, just three weeks before he officially will enroll at the school for the spring semester.
Still, head coach Brian Kelly, whose Fighting Irish put the finishing touches on an undefeated regular season, beating USC over the weekend to remain third in the latest college football playoff rankings, visited Olmstead during the fourth day of the NCAA’s official contact period.
“It means a lot,” Olmstead said of Kelly, who spent time with the two-way tackle on Tuesday at the Metuchen-based parochial school, along with Notre Dame offensive line coach Jeff Quinn and Fighting Irish defensive line coach Mike Elston.
“It shows their commitment to me as a football player and as a student-athlete, and how much they are really excited about me to get up there on Jan. 10 and start playing and work on my goal of going to the NFL.”
Kelly is one of nearly two dozen college head coaches, including Ohio State’s Urban Meyer and Oklahoma’s Lincoln Riley, who have visited Olmstead at St. Joseph throughout the recruiting process.
“It was unbelievable,” St. Joseph head coach Rich Hilliard said of Kelly’s visit. “He was taking pictures with anybody that wanted to take a picture. He’s just a great man. I’m very impressed on how he dealt with things and how he was looking forward to getting John at the school.”
Olmstead, whose last day as a high school student-athlete will be Dec. 21, is following the lead of Karl-Anthony Towns.
A 2014 St. Joseph graduate and the first overall pick of the 2016 NBA Draft who is now an all-star with the Minnesota Timberwolves, Towns finished high school in just three years.
“I appreciate St. Joe’s doing that for me,” Olmstead said about the high school positioning him to graduate in time to enroll at Notre Dame in January. “It was a lot more work — summer school, extra classes, online classes — but I’ve been getting through it.”
Olmstead, who owns a 3.8 cumulative grade-point average, credited the faculty and administration, including St. Joseph President Justin Fleetwood, Principal Anne Rivera and Director of Guidance Mark Southern, with positioning him to take 12 credits at the university next semester.
“It’s very bittersweet,” Olmstead said of leaving St. Joseph early. “It all started off with coach (Casey) Ransone (now at Hunterdon Central) my freshman and sophomore year, and coach Hilliard my junior and senior year. I love coach Hilliard. He’s like a second father to me. I can’t say enough about him and how much he’s helped me through this process.
“I loved St. Joe’s and all their support. Leaving my friends early was a tough decision, but it’s the best one for me to achieve my goal. Getting those extra months (including spring practice) can only benefit me in my college career and the next years after college.”
Olmstead and Howard Cross III, a senior tight end at St. Joseph of Montvale and the son of Howard Cross Jr., who won a Super Bowl ring with the New York Giants, are the lone New Jerseyans in an incoming Notre Dame recruiting class of 21 players from 16 states that is ranked among the 10 best nationally. Junior Kevin Bauman of Red Bank Catholic, another tight end, is also a Fighting Irish commit.
“I’m excited to go with Howard Cross and be with Kevin the following year,” Olmstead said. “The caliber of that team and the athletes on that team are phenomenal. They always have one of the best schedules and play the best competition in the country. Hopefully they win a national championship. That would be huge.”
Notre Dame (12-0) currently features five players from New Jersey including backup quarterback Brandon Wimbush of St. Peter’s Prep, a dual threat who has amassed more than 1,000 yards from scrimmage with four touchdowns passing and one rushing.
“They are having a phenomenal season, which just makes me real excited,” Olmstead said of Notre Dame, whose 36-3 dismantling of No. 12 Syracuse he saw in person at Yankee Stadium during the Shamrock Series showdown earlier this month.
The latest in a long line of Division I linemen that St. Joseph, a fledgling program which just completed its eighth varsity season, has produced, Olmstead has only been playing football for four years (he was always too big to participate in Pop Warner).
Former St. Joseph linemen Nick Krimin (Rutgers), Jethro Pepe (Delaware), Sean Mills (Illinois/Toledo) and P.J. Barr (Bucknell) are all currently scholarship players. Hilliard said current St. Joseph sophomore linemen Tommy Romond and Jake Allen have generated interest from Division I coaches.
“I want to be the first player from St. Joseph to play professional football,” said Olmstead, noting the Falcons have produced their share of first-round NBA Draft picks and NBA stars including Jay Williams, Andrew Bynum, Wade Baldwin III, Garry Witts and Towns.
Olmstead said he plans to return to St. Joseph on Jan. 7 after winter break to say farewell to his teachers and classmates before heading out to South Bend, Indiana. Hilliard said his former star will leave behind more than just memories.
“John’s legacy will last at St. Joe’s forever, as far as I’m concerned,” Hilliard said. “He became the face of that whole school-community. What makes John so special is he’s so humble and such a nice kid. With so much fame going for him, the way he handles it is just unbelievable.”