Kerry Cooks departing for Oklahoma after National Signing Day leaves a considerable recruiting void.
During his time on the Notre Dame staff, Cooks turned highways and back roads of Texas and later Louisiana into well worn paths. It’s something Bob Stoops no doubt valued at Oklahoma in bringing Cooks on to coach defensive backs, something he did in South Bend as well.
It’s also something Brian Kelly will have to consider in making a new hire. Who can slide into the competitive, fertile recruiting grounds of those states? There isn’t a readymade answer, even with former Notre Dame All-American Todd Lyght on track to replace Cooks on staff.
Cooks starred at Nimitz High School in Irving, Texas before playing college ball at Iowa and moving on to the NFL. His connections back home helped Notre Dame in recruiting, establishing a steady presence and starting a steady flow of talent from the Lone State.
Irish Illustrated looks back at the players Cooks helped sign from his recruiting territory, which doesn’t even include the defensive backs he cross-recruited.
Cam McDaniel - running back - Coppell, Texas
Retrospective: Cooks swooped after the 2010 season to recruit McDaniel and cornerback Bennett Okotcha at powerhouse Coppell High School. Okotcha would sign with Oklahoma but Cooks scored with McDaniel, who would go on to a productive career at Notre Dame while never being the top back. He finished with 255 carries for 1,117 yards and eight touchdowns over four years.
Jalen Brown - cornerback - Irving, Texas
Retrospective: Brown hails from the same hometown as Cooks and that connection led to a verbal commitment before a campus visit. The three-star prospect never found his footing in South Bend, was suspended for the Pinstripe Bowl at the end of his junior season and didn’t make a single appearance during his senior year.
Nicky Baratti - safety - Spring, Texas
Retrospective: Baratti represented the lone signee from Texas in the small but strong Class of 2012. Notre Dame coveted his versatility. Linebacker, tight end and safety were all options for the one-time high school quarterback. He settled at safety and appeared in 13 games with an interception as a freshman in 2012. Since then Baratti has battled multiple shoulder injuries. He played in just two games last season after another.
Torii Hunter Jr. - wide receiver - Prosper, Texas
Retrospective: Cooks took another step in recruiting Texas with the Class of 2013. Hunter burst onto the national recruiting scene the summer before his senior year, by which time Notre Dame had already been well involved. He was committed by fall. After redshirting as a freshman while recovering for a terrible leg injury at the Army Bowl, Hunter caught his first touchdown last season.
Corey Robinson - wide receiver - San Antonio, Texas
Retrospective: Cooks offered Robinson before most programs even realized he was a high end prospect. The receiver with the NBA Hall of Fame father ended up committed not long after and has turned into a budding star in South Bend on and off the field. Last season proved a breakout year as Robinson made 40 catches for 539 yards and five touchdowns.
Durham Smythe - tight end - Belton, Texas
Retrospective: Notre Dame got involved late with Smythe after he backed off a Texas pledge, scoring a commitment just before National Signing Day. Smythe has been behind upperclassmen tight ends the first couple years of his career but will have a chance to step into a starting role this spring.
Grant Blankenship - defensive end - The Colony, Texas
Retrospective: Blankenship visited Notre Dame then committed the summer before his senior year, giving Cooks a four-star defensive line prospect for the first time. As a freshman last season Blankenship saw the field in 11 games with 12 tackles and a sack. Cooks helped Notre Dame halt a push from Texas late in the process.
Kolin Hill - defensive end - Schertz, Texas
Retrospective: Hill appeared almost out of nowhere on the recruiting trail after his senior season. Cooks visited school and offered the pass rushing prospect shortly thereafter. Hill gave the Irish a December commitment. He made nine appearances as a freshman with seven tackles and two sacks. Notre Dame held off Texas late.
Nick Watkins - cornerback - Dallas, Texas
Retrospective: Perhaps the biggest score for Cooks as both primary recruiter and position coach, Watkins chose Notre Dame over offers from Alabama and several other elite programs. The consensus four-star prospect and Under Armour All-American played special teams last fall, stuck behind more veteran corners. He’s poised to make a move up the depth chart this spring.
Jalen Guyton - wide receiver - Allen, Texas
Retrospective: Guyton hails from one of the most well known and powerful programs in Texas at Allen High School. He was one of the most productive wide receivers anywhere last season with over 1,700 yards and 20 touchdowns as Allen won another state championship. Texas A&M tried to get back involved late in the process but didn’t get much traction.
Jerry Tillery - offensive tackle - Shreveport, La.
Retrospective: Harry Hiestand does most of the offensive line recruiting but Cooks played no small part in making headway with Tillery, the first Louisiana target to come on board after Cooks took over the territory. Tillery enrolled for the current semester. Kelly plans to start him on defensive line.
Bo Wallace - defensive end - River Ridge, La.
Retrospective: Cooks helped the Irish make inroads at John Curtis Christian, one of the top programs in Louisiana, in scoring Wallace. He’s a natural pass rusher and something the Notre Dame staff coveted in the extreme for the Class of 2015.