With the season over and Notre Dame’s bowl fate secure, the focus of the staff has shifted from on the field to off of it. With something of a dead period between Notre Dame’s season finale at Stanford and the start of bowl season practices, the staff have been hitting the recruiting trail hard to finish the 2018 recruiting class strong. The class is currently ranked 7th in 247Sports’ Composite Rankings and is constantly in flux, but with a good bounce-back season, have the ability to finish even higher.
Despite having talent on both sides of the ball, the identity of this recruiting class has been built around defense. Former recruiting coordinator and current defensive line coach Mike Elston did a great job of keeping a core group of defensive prospects committed from 2016 through coaching turmoil and shakeup. First year defensive coordinator Mike Elko then did a great job breathing new life into the defense and creating a buzz around it. Of Notre Dame’s current commits, 5 of their 8 top 300 prospects are on the defensive side of the ball and more could be on their way.
The progress made in defensive recruiting could continue well into December with the Irish well positioned with several of their elite recruits. What has been a concern for many fans over the offseason had been the defensive secondary. With a lack of elite talent and play at safety and having whiffed at cornerback in the 2016 class with not a single corner signed, Notre Dame needs to bring in a strong class in the secondary. They have already started to assemble a good group with four-star top 100 safety Derrik Allen and a pair of developmental players in three-star safety Paul Moala and cornerback Joe Wilkins Jr.
What will make this secondary class elite is how the Notre Dame staff do in the month of December. The Irish are well positioned and could be considered favorites with their top of the board targets. Currently, that board is headed up with four-star top 100 cornerbacks Houston Griffith and Kyler Gordon. Griffith, who had been impressed with the defensive turnaround performed by Mike Elko, decommitted from Florida State several weeks ago and is a heavy favorite to commit to the Irish pending final settlement of his academic admissions paperwork.
Gordon on the other hand has been a more hotly contested recruiting battle down the stretch with in-state University of Washington not giving up. With some calling this a 50-50 battle, I would consider Notre Dame to be slight favorites in his recruitment. Gordon has been enamored with the Irish following his September 9th visit to South Bend, and the coaching staff not letting up. Cornerbacks coach Todd Lyght attended one of Gordon’s games in the fall despite Gordon being out injured while Brian Kelly and Brian Polian visited him last week following the Stanford game. This week, Polian visited again with Elko and people from his camp confirmed that Gordon will be in South Bend all weekend for the Echoes Banquet. The momentum is currently with the Irish as Gordon will look to make a decision on the 17th which is his birthday. There have also been rumors coming out of Gordon’s camp that his family have been pushing him toward Notre Dame and that they have been turned off by a large amount of negative recruiting done by the Washington staff. Just like Griffith, Gordon could be all Irish in the coming weeks.
Should Notre Dame land their top two prospects, this would be one of their best secondary recruiting classes in recent history. Despite that, they may still be tempted to add another defensive back in order to bring in additional depth. Their ideal sixth back would be four-star cornerback Julius Irvin who also projects well at safety. Irvin is currently projected to go to USC, but the staff aren’t letting up with Polian and Lyght scheduled to visit Irvin the following week. If the Irish miss on Irvin, the staff will look to flip current four-star Maryland commit Noah Boykin who is the next prospect on their Christmas list. After Boykin, the staff are looking at Tariq Bracy and current Virginia commit D.J. Brown. Bracy may become tougher to get should the staff decide to get serious with San Diego State recently offering a scholarship to both him and his twin brother which changes the dynamic.
Depending on how many are taken in the secondary, the staff are looking at the prospect of adding another linebacker to the class with the potential of losing three starters and captains in Nyles Morgan, Greer Martini, and Drue Tranquil should he forego his final season of eligibility. Notre Dame is in good position with four-star linebacker Payton Wilson who visited a couple of weeks ago for the Navy game. Wilson had an eye-opening experience and decommitted from UNC following that weekend. He told reporters that Notre Dame was more than he expected and alleviated his concerns about distance and leaving home. NC State is still perceived to be Wilson favorite, but Notre Dame is right on the trail and it would surprise no one should Wilson declare for the Irish.
Other than Wilson, the staff are also hot on the trail of four-star inside linebacker Solomon Tuliaupupu. Tuliaupupu and his father were blown away by the experience they had on their official visit on October 21st for the USC game, and to date has left a lasting impression. They also really like linebacker coach Clark Lea who has been hot on his trail and is looking to give perceived favorites USC a hotly contested battle to the end.
Notre Dame’s defensive line prospects have been slim to date, but they have identified a potential addition late in the process with three-star Alabama native Malik Langham. Langham is long, big, and strong and has exploded onto the scene in his senior year. Langham is considered by many scouts to be very underrated being a late bloomer and is someone who could jump dramatically in the final rankings. Up to now, it looked as though Notre Dame would be the heavy favorites for Langham, but a wrench was thrown into the equation this week by in-state Alabama which would make getting Langham a tall task. Despite Alabama’s offer, there are a couple of factors working in Notre Dame’s favor. The first is Langham’s timeline. Langham intends to make his decision as close to signing day as possible. With that said, Alabama tends to fill up its classes rather quickly and there may not be a scholarship left by the time Langham makes his decision. The position group may also be filled as Alabama is usually in no shortage recruiting the defensive line. The other factor that can play in Notre Dame’s favor is that Langham himself is an Auburn fan and comes from an Auburn family. Sometimes these allegiances play a big role, especially in the South where signing for a rival team can feel like complete betrayal.
On the offensive side of the ball, Notre Dame has a solid core group of commitments, but not necessarily the star power to propel them to an elite class. The class is led by four-star quarterback Phil Jurkovec who has put up video game-like numbers in his senior season. The next elite player is four-star wide receiver Kevin Austin who also had a breakout senior season. After that, the class lacks for elite game-breaking talent, but is filled with solid prospects who can develop into major contributors over time.
Aside from Austin, the wide receivers include the big and powerful three-star Micah Jones and Geordon Porter who brings with him the speed to take the top off the defense. Despite having three receivers already committed, the Irish are looking to add a fourth in order to build depth. As everyone is already familiar, the staff’s crown jewel in this class would be five-star California receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown, the younger brother of current Irish receiver Equanimeous St. Brown. Amon-Ra was thought to have been a Notre Dame lean leading up to the USC game on October 21st, and the Irish were the perceived favorites coming out of the game with the offense looking improved and the Irish back in the top 10 in the rankings. With the collapse in form of the last three weeks of the season, Notre Dame looked to have lost their momentum with the younger St. Brown and the staff made it a priority to visit in-home immediately following the Stanford game as not to fall far behind.
Aside from St. Brown, Notre Dame is in play for several other elite receivers. Louisiana four-star receiver Lawrence Keys III may be the best bet to join the class. While not quite as developed as St. Brown, Keys is a 5′ 10” slot receiver who compliments the skills of the receivers already committed. Keys currently has Notre Dame and Houston as his top two with LSU, Auburn, and Ole Miss also in play. Sources have said that Keys has told current Irish commit Austin that Notre Dame was his clear favorite as late as November, without having taken an official visit yet. Keys is due to visit on January 19th, and could end up making a decision shortly after.
Another pair of wide receivers gaining interest are four-star Oregon prospects Chase Cota and Braden Lenzy. Both were either committed to Oregon or favored to Oregon up until recently when the Ducks head coach Willie Taggert left his position after one year to take the same post at Florida State. Immediately after, the once-Irish commit Lenzy decommitted from Oregon and opened up his recruitment to “ALL” schools, indicating that Notre Dame is likely back in the hunt. In an interview from late October, it Lenzy indicated that the major thing that caused him to flip from the Irish previously was that he felt as though the staff weren’t being honest with him and that his track career wouldn’t be taken seriously at Notre Dame. With the Oregon staff bolting for greener pastures, I’m sure that Lenzy is probably reconsidering his position with the Irish as nothing more than negative recruiting by a staff that was desperate to get him. Cota on the other hand may decide to wait it out, and may eventually stay on the west coast with UCLA picking up momentum of late. The Notre Dame is also in play for 6′ 5” Texas top 200 four-star receiver Tommy Bush who gave the Irish an endorsement last week, but we’ll have to wait and see if he schedules a trip to South Bend before we could put the Irish as one of the favorites.
Another very athletic pass-catcher that the staff have been looking to add for a long time is three-star Georgia tight end Tommy Tremble. The Irish have been the long-time favorites for Tremble and for a couple of months has been the recruit that has been hotly tipped to be the next commit in the 2018 class. Tremble has all the tools to be a versatile hybrid receiver-tight end as he more resembles a large receiver than the latter and would be the perfect compliment to 6′ 7” four-star commit George Takacs. Having already taken three visits to South Bend and Notre Dame being the preferred school for his parents (despite both having been student-athletes at Georgia), it would be difficult to project him elsewhere. The word from within his camp was that his official visit to Ann Arbor in late November blew him away and may have put Michigan in the running, but being that his parents weren’t with him, that trip may have been more for leisure.
Up front, the Irish are looking to add to their two-man lineman class of Cole Mabry and John Dirksen. Dirksen will likely be converted to offensive guard at the next level as he is powerful and bruising and lacks the ideal lateral quickness to be an elite tackle in college. With Mabry being more of a developmental prospect, the offensive line class hinges on the commitment of potential five-star offensive tackle Nicholas Petit-Frere. Everything in Petit-Frere’s profile and character says that he would likely end up Irish, but with Alabama and Florida in the race and Petit-Frere’s quiet and reserved personality, it is difficult to project where he is with his recruitment. Should Notre Dame miss out on Petit-Frere, they are in great position to flip current Arkansas three-star commit Luke Jones who would likely change allegiances following turnover with the Razorbacks should Notre Dame turn up the pressure. Jones, like Dirksen has great strength, but also the speed and quickness to defend speedy pass rushers. For now, the Irish will look to prioritize other elite prospects before getting serious about Jones.
With Notre Dame’s big board still loaded with elite prospects, they are in position to close on many of their desired targets. Should the Irish staff be able to close on Griffith, Gordon, Petit-Frere, Keys, and Tremble whom they are currently favorites to land, they will likely solidify a top 10 recruiting class with the potential of being top 5 with any additional blue-chip recruits.