Irish tracking Opening stars

COLUMBUS — Tommy Kraemer wasn’t the only top performance at The Opening Regional at Ohio State last weekend. A handful of other Irish targets also impressed. Here’s a rundown of the standouts on Notre Dame’s radar.

COLUMBUS — Tommy Kraemer got open on Sunday.

The Irish commitment also earned plenty of respect during The Opening Regional here, landing an invitation to The Opening Finals at Nike next month. He’ll be joined in Oregon by current and former Irish targets cornerback Damar Hamlin, defensive end Jonathon Cooper, tight end Jake Hausmann and wide receiver Austin Mack. Cooper and Hausmann are Ohio State commitments, with Mack trending to the Buckeyes.

Kentucky commitment Drake Jackson edged out Kraemer for the offensive line MVP but the future Wildcat wasn’t charged with stopping Cooper, who took home the defensive line MVP. Kraemer was the only offensive lineman to stop the four-star speed rusher. Cooper won two reps to Kraemer’s one in that featured match-up.

Kraemer was flawless against every other opponent he faced in the one-on-ones and shut down four-star Prince Sammons in the process.

“He stoned Prince Sammons, who was one of the more highly recruited defensive linemen here, twice,” said Midwest analyst Allen Trieu. “He plays with that kind of demeanor you like to see in an offensive lineman. Coming from Elder, a school that’s known for maybe more smash mouth football, it’s good to see him in this setting and to see what he does in pass pro and he did really well. He’s our highest ranked guy in the Midwest and in Ohio and I saw nothing today to diminish that.”

Hamlin raised eyebrows when he showed up wearing an Ohio State visor and gloves. He is expected to release his Top 10 this week with the Buckeyes a strong contender. Notre Dame remains in the hunt, but it appears the Irish have ground to make up.

At camp, Hamlin demonstrated exceptional quickness and change of direction. He was a tough draw for receivers in the one-on-ones.

“He was as advertised,” Trieu said. “He’s a very good athlete. He’s another defensive back with some length but excellent ball skills and really good feet. I liked everything I saw out of him.”

Mack didn’t have a great day as he dropped several balls in his first football action since suffering a shoulder injury during his junior season, but he showed enough to punch his ticket to Oregon. It seemed the Fort Wayne product followed every drop with an impressive catch. Once the consistency returns to his game Mack could develop into a real offensive weapon at the next level.

Mack will announce his decision on Saturday with Ohio State the favorite over Notre Dame and Michigan. Mack visited South Bend for a final time last week.

Junior quarterback Hunter Johnson is Notre Dame’s top target in the Class of 2017 and it’s easy to see why. The 6-foot-3, 197-pound quarterback has the size and demeanor of a young Brady Quinn to go along with a strong, accurate arm.

Johnson considers himself more of a pro-style quarterback but he has the mobility to make plays with his feet when necessary.

“Every time I see him he throws ropes out there,” Trieu said. “He’s very steady and consistent and has the arm to make all the throws. Early in the camp I don’t think it was his best day but I thought he heated up as things went along.”

Johnson is considering the Irish, Tennessee, Penn State and Michigan, among others.

Junior lineman Matt Bockhorst also had a solid day in preparing for the Irish Invasion later this month. Bockhorst hopes to earn a Notre Dame offer during that visit, following up on a spring practice stop in South Bend. On Sunday, he showed he has the potential to do just that. Boston College, Louisville and Cincinnati have already moved on the 6-foot-4, 290-pound guard from St. Xavier in Cincinnati.

“I liked him,” Trieu said. “I thought he was tough and he battled really hard. He struck me as a guy who will probably be an interior guy, maybe even a center, but that’s definitely not a knock. I thought for a young guy he’s pretty technically sound. He went against some of the better defensive linemen at the camp and came out on top. I liked what I saw out of him.”

Among the most impressive underclassmen were defensive back Paris Ford and wide receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones.

Ford, who expressed an interest in Notre Dame, Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State and Pittsburgh, among others, is comparable to Hamlin when it comes to foot speed and athleticism. He’s also long and lean. He made several big plays and was very consistent in his coverage.

The 6-foot-2, 175-pound Ford is the younger brother of former Irish cornerback Darrin Walls.

“He’s a very long, athletic kid,” Trieu said. “I’ve seen some of his film more at receiver but I can see why schools are recruiting him as a defensive back. Guys with his length and athleticism and ball skills are more rare at the defensive back position than wide receiver. I definitely think he’s a high-level guy.”

Peoples-Jones first showcased his athleticism in the morning combine, where he took home the highest SPARQ score after running the 40-yard dash in 4.45 seconds, the shuttle in 4.18 seconds and posting a 38-inch vertical jump.

Then the 6-foot-2, 175-pound athlete turned in a strong performance in the football portion of the camp. He didn’t dominate the way he did during his sophomore season at Cass Tech in Michigan, but the potential is there.

“He’s a freak athlete,” Trieu said. “His testing numbers speak for themselves. If you had seen Cass Tech play last year you’d have expected him to put up monster numbers. I thought in the one-on-one session he was good.

“He didn’t blow it up like he did the testing numbers but I think he’s one of those kids where if you watch him in Cass Tech’s offense a lot of the times he’s catching a lot of short balls and using his speed to make things happen after the catch. Maybe this isn’t the best setting to see some of his greater assets but an absolute freak athlete. He’s already a four-star but he’s going to be a very highly ranked kid, maybe the No. 1 kid in the Midwest next year.”

Sophomore defensive lineman Jerron Cage, the younger brother of Irish defensive tackle Daniel Cage, had a solid day against a very strong group of offensive linemen. The Ohio product is a bit undersized, despite being listed at 6-foot-3, 250 pounds, but he is consistently quick off the ball and deceptively powerful. Notre Dame has shown interest in Cage but it appears he’d prefer to blaze his own trail.

Sophomore running back Jaelen Gill of Westerville, Ohio also impressed. Gill holds early offers from Penn State, Pittsburgh and Tennessee. The Irish have shown some early interest.

If the Opening Regional performance was an indication of Gill’s potential, expect to see his recruitment to blow up. His ability to stop and accelerate through his change of direction is rare in any prospect, let alone one months away from obtaining his driver’s license. Top Stories