Down the stretch they come

Notre Dame begins its sprint to the recruiting finish line this weekend with the first of two big visit dates. Is the Irish program built for this mad dash? Irish Illustrated recaps how Notre Dame did last January as National Signing Day creeps closer.

Notre Dame’s sprint to the recruiting finish line will be built around the next two visit weekends.

Filling out positions of need will be top priority for the Irish staff as they look to add talent at running back and safety. Wide receivers and tight ends, while still worthwhile pursuits, become a luxury down the stretch.

Notre Dame will also look to improve on its recruiting over the final month compared to last cycle, when the Irish missed several top targets leading up to National Signing Day. Brian Kelly’s program lost one commitment during the final month while also adding three in the front seven.

Irish Illustrated takes a look back to how the Class of 2014 finished and compares it to what could be coming in this cycle’s final weeks.

Nurturing need areas

Running back and safety have emerged as critical positions of need and Notre Dame has options at both positions.

Greg Bryant and Tarean Folston return from last season with a commitment in hand from three-star prospect Josh Adams. Three total running backs on the roster, however, isn’t near enough to alleviate depth concerns.

Notre Dame remains in the running for five-star prospect Soso Jamabo, four-star Dexter Williams, Ke’Shawn Vaughn and Jordan Cronkrite. Ronald Jones II chose USC during the Under Armour All-American Game.

Jamabo visited during the season and Cronkrite for the postseason banquet. Vaughn and Williams plan to get their first looks at campus this weekend.

Scoring a commitment from one of those four remaining targets is a must to rebuild the depth chart without moving someone on the current roster from another position.

Safety is the other position where the Irish still have several targets.

Elijah Shumate, Max Redfield and Drue Tranquill return with playing experience in hand. But Tranquill is recovering from a torn ACL suffered in late November. Nicco Fertitta, Prentice McKinney and Mykelti Williams are current verbal commitments.

Current targets include four-star Frank Buncom IV, Virginia athlete Gary Jennings (a potential wide receiver as well), California product Nathan Meadors and Justin Reid. Buncom and Jennings have already completed visits. Meadors is expected in this weekend and Reid on Jan. 23. Five-star cornerback Iman Marshall also remains a target more in theory than practice.

Hitting on at least one safety down the stretch would represent a move in the right direction, especially after some misses in the defensive backfield around this time last year.

Class of 2014: Hits down the stretch

Over the final month of recruiting last year, Notre Dame gained three commitments from prospects in the front seven, an area of need.

Former five-star prospect Nyles Morgan gave his pledge at the beginning of January during the U.S. Army All-American Bowl telecast. Turns out it was a key recruiting win for Notre Dame as Morgan was pressed into action at middle linebacker after Joe Schmidt suffered a season-ending injury.

Morgan appeared in 12 games, making four starts, and made 47 total tackles.

Defensive linemen Pete Mokwuah and Daniel Cage also committed over the final month. Mokwuah did so in late January as an under-the-radar find for the Irish coaching staff. Connecticut and Rutgers were a couple other offers on the table.

Cage chose Notre Dame over Michigan State on National Signing Day. While Mokwuah took a redshirt this season, Cage appeared in 11 games along the interior of the defensive line and recorded four tackles.

Class of 2014: Misses in the end

Notre Dame pursued several high profile targets deep into last winter. Most ended up elsewhere.

Four-star linebacker/defensive end Richard Yeargin III de-committed in January then surprised few in announcing a commitment to Clemson on National Signing Day. He redshirted this season.

Defensive tackle Michael Sawyers chose Tennessee on signing day after considering Notre Dame and a few others. He played in four games and made two tackles as a freshman.

Notre Dame recruited five-star Juju Smith (USC), four-star Michiah Quick and three-star Terrence Alexander (Stanford) as possible defensive backs.

Smith played receiver for the Trojans this year and was second on the team with 54 receptions for 724 yards and five touchdowns. Quick also ended up at receiver and made 25 catches for 237 yards and one touchdown in 13 games for the Sooners. Alexander stayed on defense and appeared in all 13 games for Stanford, making 13 tackles and recording one interception.

Former four-star tight end Dalton Schultz took a December visit to Notre Dame but also ended up at Stanford, where he took a redshirt this season.

Notre Dame recruited former three-star running back Charles Nelson as a potential slot receiver and special teams ace, receiving a December visit. Nelson eventually chose Oregon in late January over the Irish and USC.

Nelson played a key role for the Ducks in their run to the national championship game as a receiver and return man. He made 23 catches for 327 yards and five touchdowns in 15 games.

Luxury targets remain

Even with some needs to fill, Notre Dame looks in good position to add in some other spots.

Four-star wide receiver Equanimeous St. Brown remains high on the Irish with an announcement scheduled for National Signing Day. Same goes for five-star tight end Alize Jones despite a longstanding UCLA commitment.

Jones is expected to visit UCLA this weekend and host Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly for an in-home visit this month before making a final decision.

Adding St. Brown and Jones would give the current recruiting haul a boost even though it wouldn’t address major needs. But history indicates when the Irish staff presses the issue late it gets things done even if some other targets slip away.

What remains is seeing who ends up sending signatures the first week of February.


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