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Notre Dame Football Recruiting

Four Intriguing Freshmen

May 28, 2018

Notre Dame’s freshmen class will finally arrive on campus in about two weeks, and a few will end up being the missing pieces to what is shaping up to be a big season for the Irish. 

Four names continue to stick out to me as intriguing names as the freshmen arrive on campus. 

* I did exclude Houston Griffith from this list as Brian Kelly has made it very clear he’s going to play in 2018. 

Safety - Derrik Allen 

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Safety Derrik Allen 

Heading into the spring, I felt Derrik Allen would be a lock to get playing time in 2018, but after the completion of spring, I’m on the edge. The safety play was much better, and it starts with the development of Jalen Elliott. 

Elliott was far from perfect this spring, but as the Virginia native heads into year three, he looked much more comfortable at the position and started to make plays. 

Allen is definitely going to push to get into the rotation, but if he doesn’t play immediately, it might not be the worst thing in the world. 

The competition for Allen will be Devin Studstill and Nicco Fertitta to get into the two-deep. Studstill did some nice things during spring practice but didn’t show the burst or playmaking skills in the Blue-Gold Game. 

Now, if Alohi Gilman moves over to strong safety, it could change things a bit, but if Notre Dame were playing a game right now, Gilman would be the likely starter at free safety.”  

Uyeyama’s Thoughts: At the time he committed, Allen was one of the highest-rated commits in the class. It’s remained that way and for obvious reasons: Allen can ball.

That was simply reaffirmed by his senior film, and he remains an elite safety prospect in my opinion. He showed exciting potential way back in his sophomore season, and he’s progressed nicely since then. His exceptional ball skills continue to be a significant part of why he’s a great prospect, but it’s the way he has played versus the run that I’ve always liked the most about his game.

He is a downhill player that can work through traffic and finish. So much of playing the safety position is being able to be consistent when it comes to shutting down the perimeter run game.

Allen is capable of being that type of safety.

Running Back – Jahmir Smith 

Rick Kimball/ISD
RB Jahmir Smith

When Smith announced he was an early enrollee, most didn’t give it much thought but fast forward a few months, and it was a significant move by the Sanford (N.C.) native. 

It’s not a secret Notre Dame’s running back room has many question marks heading into the summer, and it’s likely Smith is going to get his number called at some point this fall. 

Tony Jones Jr. and Dexter Williams battled injuries last fall, but if healthy, Notre Dame will have a solid 1-2 punch between the two. There are questions on whether or not Williams will play at the start of the season, so it’s not going to be a bad thing Smith will have an entire spring under his belt heading into fall camp. 

As Christian McCollum reported last week, running back Deon McIntosh will head elsewhere, and the future of CJ Holmes is still in the air, so Smith could very well find himself in position to be the third back on the roster. 

I saw Smith in person last fall, and it was his vision combined with patience that blew me away. He’s not the biggest guy or the fast guy, but he’s able to do everything a running back needs to do to have success. 

Smith ran for 2,130 yards and 40 touchdowns as a junior and followed it up with 1,728 yards and 27 touchdowns as a senior. If he can pick up the nuances of pass protection, I believe Smith will see the field early in his Notre Dame career. 

Lee County assistant coach Foster Cates believes Smith will be more than ready for an early load. 

“He’s going to produce,” said Cates. “The cool thing that gets overlooked so many times when you’re scouting a guy is seeing what kid does when the lights get bright. What are they going to do against the best competition? Every kid that is a Division-I player can pad stats against teams that aren’t so great.

“The brighter the lights and the bigger the stage, the better Jahmir played.”

Uyeyama’s Thoughts: Smith is not the biggest back, but he runs with authority and is constantly falling forward or running through contact. Downhill is a great way to describe his game, although I was a bit worried that he may have been a bit one-dimensional in that sense. He reinforced with his senior film that he is a tackle-breaker and runs with power, but I would have liked to see more of him as a receiver and what he is capable of in that part of his game.

What I thought he improved on the most as a senior was his lateral agility. I can’t say enough how quick lateral movement is critical to being an effective runner at the college level. When the blocking isn’t perfect, backs need to be able to get something out of nothing. The backs with exceptional lateral agility can turn routine runs into big chunk plays. 

Linebacker Shayne Simon 

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LB Shayne Simon

Notre Dame has wanted to get more athletic at linebacker and Simon will do just that as he’s a guy that can play inside or outside. I feel he’ll end up at Buck in time, but it’s likely he’ll start off at Rover. 

I was speaking with someone around the St. Peter’s Prep program the other day and they said Simon was a cross between Notre Dame quarterback Brandon Wimbush and former Alabama safety Minkah Fitzpatrick, who are both St. Peter’s Prep alums. 
Simon has the maturity and personality of Wimbush, but also has a killer instinct and plays with reckless abandon like Fitzpatrick. 

I’m not sure where he fits in at Rover depth chart because Asmar Bilal and Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah did positive things this spring and Isaiah Robertson has proved he can play, but it wouldn’t be a shock to see Simon find a way on the field. 

Special teams will get an immediate boost with Simon on the field, and if that’s his role as a freshman, it won’t be a bad thing as the upperclassmen did precisely what was asked of them. 

Uyeyama’s Thoughts: Simon was never going to be a safety at the next level. That has been pretty clear for awhile and was emphasized again after seeing him lined up deep early in the season at St. Peter’s Prep). He makes a much bigger impact playing near the line of scrimmage.

That’s not a surprise to anyone who has followed him as a recruit, but I think it’s worth mentioning again because I know at least one service still has him ranked as a safety. He is going to come in at Rover for Notre Dame, and it is an excellent fit because of what his high school program already asks him to do. 

It’s very similar to what he will be doing for the Irish in Lea’s defense. I saw a lot of plays from him as a senior that reinforce that he can be a great perimeter defender run and pass defender. He diagnoses things quickly when lined up outside and does a great job of slipping blocks. 

Receiver – Kevin Austin Jr

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WR Kevin Austin Jr. 

This spot was tough as I limited the list to just four names as I wanted to put several names here. The Ademilola twins have a chance to play early, and I believe any of the receivers could see the field early. 

Austin’s name kept coming to the top as his senior highlight tape had monster plays on it. It was like he was toying with the defense at times, but the speed and athleticism just pop out for a player his size. 

The maturity of Austin will also help him get on the field early, and he’s already grasping the playbook. Austin knows there is playing time and he’s ready to take it when he gets to South Bend.

I do believe Notre Dame’s receiving corps will surprise people this fall, but I also think Austin will be part of it. Chip Long wants to take more shots downfield and at a minimum Austin will be able to provide that along with Miles Boykin and Chase Claypool. If Austin and classmate Braden Lenzy can add to the downfield out. 

North Broward Prep (Fla.) strength coach had a great quote about Austin I keep coming back to as well. 

“You can’t really quantify his ability on the field, that’s challenging enough, but you can’t quantify his ability as a teammate or a leader and, in our instance, as a senior captain. You just can’t measure that…It’s not something you can measure in stars. You can’t measure a kid’s heart or his leadership capability or sportsmanship or all-around character.

“There really isn’t a ceiling we see in the near future. Every day he gets better, every week he gets better. Again, that’s not a cliché. That’s what we expect because in seeing him over the course of the past three years, it’s been that trajectory.”

Uyeyama's Thoughts: Austin is the best player the Irish have signed at the position during the Brian Kelly era.

It’s ironic that he is going to be the best they have signed since Michael Floyd at the position because his game is very similar to Floyd’s. Floyd may have had a bit more top end speed, but Austin’s size and ability to make contested catches is very comparable to the former Irish star. 

A lot of receivers show the ability to go up and high point the football. The difference between the good and the great ones is that the great ones won’t just go over the top of defenders. They will hang on to the football and display outstanding body control even if they are hit while in the air.

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