National Signing Day roundtable

Most likely to be Notre Dame captain? Best prospect to interview? The Irish Illustrated recruiting staff tackles those questions and more in a National Signing Day roundtable discussion.

When we look back on this class in four years,
what will be our biggest takeaway?

Jake Brown: My guess here is people will be thankful Notre Dame made a run at Brandon Wimbush and eventually flipped him from Penn State. Wimbush has future leader and star quarterback written all over him with not only the raw talent but a kind of diligence and dedication to work that will help him succeed. I think he’ll end up being perhaps the biggest gem of this haul.

Steve Hare: The obvious answer is the recruiting coup of Alize Jones. The five-star tight end has the potential to become one of the all-time great pass catchers at Notre Dame and beyond. It has to be considered a home run anytime you can land the nation’s No. 1 prospect at his position. Jones comes in with a high ceiling and unlimited potential. If he lives up to the hype the Irish are going to have a good one. Hopefully the only question we have in four years is, “What if Jones had stayed for his senior season instead of being drafted first in the 2018 NFL Draft?”

Anna Hickey: Did this year’s class help establish the tone for the “standard” of Notre Dame defensive line recruiting? Notre Dame missed on top defensive end target Jashon Cornell, and it never seriously got in the mix to land another elite player at the position, though blue-chips Mekhi Brown and Byron Cowart entertained the idea. While Notre Dame’s linebacker haul this year eases the pain of missing out on a true defensive end, there are more questions surrounding the future of this year’s interior defensive line class.

Pete Sampson: My hunch is that we’ll learn Notre Dame caught a break when Blake Barnett de-committed last summer. At the time, the program was in a panic mode at the position, throwing out offers to whomever would listen. To get Brandon Wimbush, who I think is the most talented quarterback Brian Kelly has recruited here, is an absolute coup. The guy is a perfect fit for the school and has star potential.

Which prospects will Notre Dame fans really enjoy
once they get to know them?

Brown: Nicco Fertitta is a guy that comes to mind. First of all, Notre Dame fans always appreciate a guy that will run through a wall on the football field. Fertitta has that kind of personality. There’s no doubt he’s serious about Notre Dame football and will do whatever it takes to help it succeed. Plus, he’s bound to make some big hits somewhere along the way. People will be rooting for the kid to succeed in no time.

Hare: C.J. Sanders. Football talent aside, Sanders has a great backstory. His mother played basketball at Michigan and his father played football at Ohio State and in the NFL. His stepfather won a Super Bowl ring with the Baltimore Ravens. If that isn’t enough, Sanders already made a name for himself as a child actor in “Ray.” On top of that, Sanders is an outstanding student and human being. He’ll be an easy one to root for.

Hickey: Josh Barajas. Off the field, there’s hardly a time when this kid isn’t laughing, but on it, he’s as serious and locked in as anyone. Extremely hard on himself, he expects nothing but perfection. He shows the athleticism to drop into coverage, but he really excels in securing the edges, which is something that’s been missing at linebacker. Was the ringleader for a very tight group of Notre Dame guys in San Antonio at the Army Bowl. Exudes an abundance of energy. Loves Notre Dame and it all stands for. High quality character and will represent Notre Dame very well.

Sampson: To me, Jerry Tillery is the most interesting guy in this class in terms of personality. He’s sort of like Corey Robinson, but a lineman version. I don’t know anybody who’s taken official visits to LSU and Dartmouth during one season. And I don’t know many recruits who meet with Father Hesburgh either. Or ran triathlons at more than 300 pounds. This kid has a ton going for him outside of football.

Who was your favorite interview either in the
Notre Dame class or elsewhere?

Brown: There’s been some good ones in this class. Jerry Tillery is one of the more interesting high school kids I’ve ever come across on the job. His outlook and perspective on things is that of a much older person. But I would say the most interesting interview was Iman “Biggie” Marshall, the five-star cornerback. Biggie has this intensity about him that’s hard to describe unless you witness it in person. Not to mention he’s really freaking talented. He’ll probably go down as one of my favorite recruits ever.

Hare: Brandon Wimbush. I began talking to Wimbush long before Notre Dame was serious about its recruitment with him and was a bit disappointed when it appeared he’d be playing college football elsewhere. Wimbush could always be counted on to return a phone call or text message and was a pleasure to speak with on the phone. According to his coach, that’s consistent with Wimbush’s personality. He’s a likable guy and his teammates won’t have a problem following his lead.

Hickey: For me, my favorite interview in the Notre Dame class was Mykelti Williams. I first got to know Mykelti when he was a sophomore as I cover recruiting in the state of Indiana. It sounds like media-speak, but his humility, respect for Notre Dame and commitment to hard work is second to none. Hearing him tell his own account of how he went from relatively unknown to Irish fans to a Notre Dame commitment in such a short time span is the type of story you love hearing about. He was a class act throughout the entire recruiting process and never sought unwarranted attention. Breath of fresh air. Outside of Notre Dame, my favorite interview was Ryan Newsome, who committed to UCLA over Texas late in the process. Such a polite and genuine kid, he’ll go far as a Bruin. Newsome and Notre Dame parted ways following C.J. Sanders’ commitment to the Irish.

Sampson: Iman Marshall and it’s not close. I felt like I was interviewing Krazee Eyez Killa from “Curb Your Enthusiasm” Kid is just out there and maybe the most self-confident kid in the class. I don’t know how he couldn’t grow into a star at the college level. Legit five-star prospect and personality.

What prospect that ended up signing with another program
impressed you the most either live or on film?

Brown: Kyler Murray, hands down. I’m not sure what kind of college quarterback he’ll be but Murray is probably the best high school player I’ve ever seen in person. Jalen Guyton is fortunate to have played with Murray for all four years. Seeing Murray live was a sight to behold. Tons of speed and an arm to go with it, plus a system that utilized his talents to perfection. It’ll be interesting to see how he develops at Texas A&M.

Hare: Christian Kirk. The five-star Texas A&M signee turned in an unbelievable performance at a camp I attended the summer before his junior season. I followed his junior and senior seasons and he never let up. He’s a dynamic pass catcher with lightning fast quickness and an, “I’m going to beat you,” attitude.

Hickey: Though nothing developed seriously between five-star defensive tackle Kahlil McKenzie and Notre Dame, he was so impressive live during Army Bowl week, he’s worth the selection for this category. He dominated every rep so much that he created a new grading scale for the offensive linemen who faced him. His point of attack, motor and pure strength are unmatched. The Tennessee commit is Scout’s No. 1 ranked player overall for good reason.

Sampson: I don’t have a “Bo Scarborough” in this class, who I basically had a man crush on last cycle, professionally speaking of course. But Iman Marshall was fun to watch on the combine circuit last summer. Derwin James is a flat out stud too.

What’s your biggest early recruiting
storyline in the Class of 2016?

Brown: Probably won’t be the first to mention this, but Notre Dame needs to figure out a way to get some pass rushers. It’s an absolute must at this point. Big picture, I think it’ll be really interesting to see how Jim Harbaugh at Michigan changes the dynamics not only in Ohio/Midwest recruiting but on a national scale. You’d have to think things will get a little trickier for Notre Dame out there with Harbaugh and Urban Meyer lurking around every corner.

Hare: I’d like to see the Irish go all in on recruiting some of the nation’s top defensive linemen. Don’t get me wrong, I’m high on Elijah Taylor and believe Brandon Tiassum and Micah Dew-Treadway can become solid contributors, but it would be nice to see more Aaron Lynchs and Stephon Tuitts in the 2016 recruiting class to beef up the Irish’s front four.

Hickey: The biggest storyline for me in 2016 is quarterback. Notre Dame was forced to scramble in 2014 and 2015 after missing its top guys, but the staff got commitments both years. We’ll see if Notre Dame can escape those issues and snag an elite quarterback early in the cycle, even with Malik Henry out and Shea Patterson a long-shot. As a side theme, I’d like to see how Notre Dame holds up against the defending national champions in competing for many of its top prospects. The Irish are pitted against the Buckeyes in numerous recruiting battles that are really starting to heat up.

Sampson: Where have all the defensive ends gone? Notre Dame’s recruiting at that position fell short last cycle and the program can’t afford another big miss at the position. It’s a tough spot to recruit and the Irish need help. Not sure if that means a change in approach or a change in staff, but Notre Dame can’t keep doing the same thing and hope for different results.

Quick hitters

Recruiter of the Year

Brown: Tony Alford

Hare: Mike Elston

Hickey: Tony Alford

Sampson: Tony Alford

Future Captain

Brown: Brandon Wimbush

Hare: Shaun Crawford

Hickey: Tristen Hoge 

Sampson: Brandon Wimbush

Biggest Sleeper

Brown: Jalen Guyton 

Hare: Ashton White

Hickey: Jalen Guyton

Sampson: Nick Coleman

One That Got Away

Brown: Porter Gustin 

Hare: Soso Jamabo

Hickey: Jashon Cornell

Sampson: Porter Gustin

Best Position Group

Brown: Linebacker

Hare: Tight end

Hickey: Receiver

Sampson: Linebacker Top Stories