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Notre Dame Football Recruiting

Friday Gold Rush

January 15, 2021
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We’re going to add a weekly feature here as I know ISD readers miss the ISD Intel dump on Friday. My goal is to provide a few in-depth recruiting thoughts here each Friday during the offseason moving forward. 

WHAT’S NEXT FOR FREEMAN?

Notre Dame got its defensive coordinator in Marcus Freeman, but what's next? It's time to hit the recruiting trail.

Notre Dame has one defensive commit in the 2022 recruiting class in Catholic Central (Mich.) linebacker Nolan Ziegler‍. Freeman is familiar with the four-star prospect as Ziegler was offered by Cincinnati. In fact, Ziegler had been committed about a week and Freeman still reached out just past midnight to the Michigan native on September 1st, the first day coaches could initiate contact with 2022 recruits.

The Irish have a good core coming back in 2021, but the next step for Freeman will be to build for the future and it starts in the secondary. Notre Dame brought in an intriguing and talented 2021 defensive backfield and will need to follow it up this cycle. 

Freeman, who has known Notre Dame cornerbacks coach Mike Mickens for years, quickly got on the phone as ISD confirmed he spoke with top 2022 safety Xavier Nwankpa‍ on Tuesday night. 

On Tuesday, Notre Dame offered three cornerbacks with extremely similar builds, which is something to watch as Freeman builds his defense in South Bend. 

Earl Little Jr.‍ - 6’0, 165
Ryland Gandy‍ - 6’0, 160
Davison Igbinosun‍ - 6’2, 170

All three might be a little light, but have long arms and can run. Little is the gem of this trio as he could very end up as a five-star prospect, but Notre Dame will have its work cut out there as his father played at The U. Gandy and Igbinosun have the classic Notre Dame profile and while they carry the “three-star” tag, I wouldn’t read too much into that as the camp circuit and chances to evaluate kids has been a mess. 

I spoke about what Freeman and Mickens did with Ahmad Gardner at Cincinnati earlier this week and all three fall into a similar mold. 

Safety will be fascinating to see the players Freeman offers as it’s an area Notre Dame has failed to recruit at a high level over the last few cycles. The Irish have recruited many talented prospects with the safety tag, but the projection to rover fits most of them. I spoke with West Coast personnel guy this week and he felt moving high school cornerbacks to safety was a good move in most cases, where trying to fit a tweener like Isaiah Pryor into safety isn’t going to have great success. 

College football at its highest level is about explosive athletes in space. To compete, Notre Dame will need more players who can cover and play in space. You can bulk up cornerbacks and adds cover skills to the position. 

It’s interesting to see how a player like a Drue Tranquill, Isaiah Pryor or Paul Molala is critiqued as all were safeties coming out of high school. You always hear about them playing in the box, good tackling and not being able to cover in space well enough. It’s not the other way around. 

Sure, Kyle Hamilton and 2021 signee Khari Gee‍ might be the exception, but if Freeman can get away from recruiting safety to play linebacker and find true safeties or guys like Philip Riley‍ or Ryan Barnes‍ to move to safety, Notre Dame would see an immediate uptick in secondary play. 

IMPROVE DEFENSIVE LINE RECRUITING (a touch)

Defensive line recruiting will also be interesting to see what happens under Freeman. Will Mike Elston continue to have the freedom to offer and recruit who he wants or is Freeman more active there? Clark Lea wasn’t overly active in defensive line recruiting and Elston has earned that trust as he’s been able to build depth with talented players. 

The Rose Bowl and National Championship were all about offense and rightfully so, but the defensive line also played key factors in those games. One can argue Notre Dame’s defensive line is playing at a National Championship level as it’s a physical bunch that stops the run. The pass rush can be improved, but at the same time, it was interesting to see Alabama more concerned with Notre Dame’s pass rush compared to almost ignoring Ohio State’s. 

Notre Dame can improve its pass rush by landing a few more explosive edge players and winning some recruitments against the big boys. Academics and distance are always going to work against Notre Dame, but there’s an NFL product to sell now. Romeo Okwara (10.0) and Stephon Tuitt (11.0) finished in the top 10 in the NFL in sacks. Jerry Tillery went in the first round. Khalid Kareem, Julian Okwara and Isaac Rochell have roles early in their careers. 

Elston has done a great job since he took over the defensive line room and has recruited at a high level, but Notre Dame should be taking a few more seasoned players over projects at this point coming off two College Football Playoff appearances in the last three years. It’s going to take work and that’s where I think Freeman’s energy and ability to build relationships could come into play. 

2022 WIDE RECEIVERS IMPRESS

At receiver, 2022 four-star receiver Kevin Coleman‍ eliminated Notre Dame on Thursday evening as the Irish didn’t make his top seven. It was expected and it’s not going to be a backbreaker at the end of the day. 

Illinois stars Kaleb Brown‍‍ and Tyler Morris‍ have been talked about to death and would be welcome in South Bend. 2022 Penn State commit Kaden Saunders‍ is a prospect I expect Notre Dame to remain in contact with, especially after the disastrous season in Happy Valley. 

It’s not likely California receivers Tetairoa McMillan‍ and CJ Williams‍ choose Notre Dame. It’d be smart for Notre Dame to recruit Williams hard, but with USC running the air raid, it’s just a favorable destination for LA kids. 

Saraland (Ala.) receiver Jarel Williams‍ jumped out to me when I got to dive into his film this week. He’s currently ranked as a three-star prospect, but I don’t see it at all. Williams has great size at 6-foot-3, 175 pounds and he can get loose. In 2020, Williams caught 44 balls for 800 yards and 12 touchdowns. 

I’m a fan of 2021 signee Deion Colzie‍, but I do wonder about some of his athleticism as he’s pretty stiff and not quite as explosive as a Chase Claypool. Colzie is more in the mold of Miles Boykin where he’s got speed, but it’s going to take a minute for it to show on the field. 

Williams has explosion and an extra gear to his game that guys his size don’t have. Another intriguing part of his Hudl highlight is he not only plays on the outside as you’d expect, but his coach lines him up in the slot quite a bit. It’s a serious mismatch and something that translates well to the next level. 

Notre Dame offered early, so we’ll see if it pays off. 

Offers: Florida State, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kansas State, Kentucky, Notre Dame, Tennessee and West Virginia 

Junior Highlights

One prospect who caught my eye this week is 2022 Rockwall-Heath (Texas) receiver Jay Fair‍. It’s almost criminal he’s currently an 84 (three-star) on 247 sports right now and I’d be very interested to see the grade Jamie Uyeyama gives him. 

The 5-foot-11, 175-pounder racked up 73 receptions for 1,310 yards and 14 touchdowns this fall against some of the best competition in Texas and has started to get some national attention for it. Fair got his first offer early this fall after he torched Southlake Carroll for 202 yards and two scores. (Southlake Carroll will play for a State Title on Saturday in the biggest division in Texas)

In fact, I’ll say it right now, I like Fair more than I like Kevin Coleman. Fair has serious speed to his game and while both players aren’t the biggest, the Texas native is extremely explosive. There are kids who beat angles every single time and Fair is one of those players. Fair’s ability to get off press man was also impressive as at times he was so quick he barely even got touched. 

Georgia and Texas A&M have offered this month, but Fair hasn’t quite blown up yet and an early offer from Notre Dame might get them in the door. If his grades check out, it’d make sense to offer and see where it goes as I think you’re looking at a kid who is going to get a significant bump in the next batch of rankings as he dominated on the field, which is the most important trait at the end of the day. 

Offers: Arkansas, Arkansas State, Colorado, Georgia, Houston, Kansas, South Carolina, TCU, Texas A&M, Texas Tech and Utah

Junior Highlights

 
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