Around dusk tonight the biggest Notre Dame recruiting weekend of the summer will take center stage.
The Irish Invasion has arrived. Along with it comes a groundswell of recruiting buzz as more than 50 prospects spread across three classes will hit campus. And there’s star power too, with talent coming to the Midwest from both coasts and plenty of regions in between.
History says a few future Notre Dame standouts will be part of tonight’s recruiting showcase. Here’s what you need to know and who you need to track this weekend, including a few late scratches for the event.
Best Of The Best
There’s no shortage of elite targets on the Class of 2016 guest list, with most coming from the skill positions. Here are five names to know on offense and defense.
Marquez Callaway - athlete - Warner Robbins, Ga.
Callaway maintains he’s “wide open” heading into this visit, although he’s consistently linked with Georgia. The versatile athlete took recent visits to Mississippi State and Georgia. Callaway plays receiver, safety and cornerback at the prep level.
Chase Claypool - wide receiver - Abbotsford, B.C.
Claypool will cap a busy week at the Irish Invasion. He was in Detroit last Friday for Sound Mind, Sound Body. Then he hit Eugene, Ore., on Sunday for the final Opening Regional. Oregon is involved with the jumbo receiver. He plans to visit Rutgers later this month. Arizona, Michigan, Nebraska and Washington have also offered.
Donnie Corley - wide receiver - Detroit, Mich.
Corley locked in the trip for another look at Notre Dame just last week. Michigan State feels like the favorite for the in-state target. Notre Dame and Tennessee appear to be in the next group giving chase, with Michigan lingering a bit more on the outside.
Javon McKinley - wide receiver - Corona, Calif.
Notre Dame will host McKinley for the second time this offseason, following a spring visit with the West Coast-based B2GSports contingent. He’ll be joined by high school teammate and Irish safety target Chacho Ulloa. Both are scheduled to take official visits for the USC game.
Ahmir Mitchell - Egg Harbor City, N.J.
Mitchell had to scratch a spring unofficial visit but will finally make it to campus for the Irish Invasion. He’s had Notre Dame in a top group that includes Michigan, Ole Miss, Ohio State, Rutgers and Virginia Tech since March. There’s a chance Mitchell arrives Friday night, but it’s more likely he shows up later in the weekend along with high school teammates.
Eric Cuffee - cornerback - Waco, Texas
There’s no doubt Cuffee has emerged as one of Notre Dame’s top defensive back targets, making this weekend crucial moving forward. Regional players Baylor, TCU and Texas are firmly entrenched. Alabama, Auburn, Michigan and some other SEC programs have also been in heavy pursuit. He arrived in South Bend on Thursday.
Tomon Fox - defensive end - Suwanee, Ga.
Fox heads to the Irish Invasion as one of the few pass rushers at the camp, with defensive end a need position this cycle. North Carolina and N.C. State are the frontrunners. Auburn, Georgia Tech, Kentucky, Penn State, Tennessee and UCLA are some other offers on the table.
Spencer Perry - safety - Bradenton, Fla.
Perry has been verbally committed to Florida since March, but Notre Dame turned up its pursuit during the spring evaluation period. He’s been intrigued enough to visit this weekend along with his family. Perry teams with Irish commitment Tony Jones Jr. at IMG Academy. Jones won’t be in attendance, instead competing with his 7-on-7 team in a national tournament.
Devin Studstill - safety - Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.
Notre Dame gets another crack at a Palm Beach Gardens product, following freshman linebacker Tevon Coney. Studstill teamed with Coney in high school. Now he has the Irish as one of his top choices. Other contenders include Miami and West Virginia.
JoeJuan Williams - safety - Nashville, Tenn.
Williams plans to cut his list toward the end of the summer after a string of visits. He’s been targeting a trip to Notre Dame for months. Alabama, Auburn, Florida, LSU, Michigan State, Ohio State, Ole Miss, South Carolina Tennessee and Texas A&M are among the other heavy hitters to offer.
Ikenna Okeke - safety - Smyrna, Tenn.
Okeke landed an early offer from Notre Dame and has had South Bend pinned on Trip Advisor the past several months. Now that he’ll finally step foot on campus he could leave as one of the newest members of the Irish class. Cincinnati, Georgia Tech, Louisville, Missouri, North Carolina, Northwestern, Penn State, Stanford, Tennessee and Vanderbilt have also offered.
Kevin Stepherson - wide receiver - Jacksonville, Fla.
Stepherson called his Notre Dame offer a “dream come true” when the Irish made their move in April. Tonight, he’ll get his first look at campus. Florida offered this spring, but Stepherson has an open mind about leaving his home state. The Gators appear to be the most serious threat, although LSU has offered as well.
Alexander Gagnon - linebacker - Charlotte, N.C.
Recruiting coordinator and linebackers coach Mike Elston will have a close eye on Gagnon. He holds offers from Illinois, Missouri, Northwestern, N.C. State, North Carolina, Vanderbilt, Virginia, Wake Forest and West Virginia. The 6-foot-4, 218-pound linebacker finished last season with 132 tackles, eight tackles-for-loss, three interceptions, one sack and one forced fumble. He plans to release a top five this summer.
Rontavius Groves - wide receiver - Nashville, Tenn.
Notre Dame will get a closer look at Groves as a potential option at receiver. Some strong scholarship offers are already on the table — Kentucky, Louisville, Ole Miss, North Carolina, Penn State, Pitt, Tennessee and West Virginia, among others. Vanderbilt has also offered, which suggests an off-the-field profile that trends well.
Cole Kmet - tight end - Arlington Heights, Ill. (2017)
Kmet is fresh off camp at Ohio State, where the Buckeyes offered after witnessing a strong performance. It’s possible Notre Dame moves in the same direction. Baylor, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisville, North Carolina and Northwestern have already done the same.
David Reese - linebacker - Farmington, Mich.
Reese committed to Michigan in April and has called it his dream school. But he’s had recent communication with Notre Dame. The staff will get an up-close look tonight at his ability to play inside linebacker.
Tyquan Statham - athlete - Oakwood, Ga.
Academics are of utmost importance to Statham, who is strongly considering Duke, Wake Forest and Vanderbilt. He has an official visit scheduled to Stanford. Schools are recruiting Statham for running back, linebacker and safety. He’ll visit because of a connection with Brian VanGorder and Notre Dame’s degree prestige.
Underclassmen To Know
Robert Beal - defensive end - Norcross, Ga.
Beal visited Notre Dame during spring practice and has family in the area, which could work in Notre Dame’s favor in trying to pull the pass rusher out of SEC country. Alabama, Auburn, Florida, Florida State, Georgia, Miami, Ohio State and South Carolina have also offered.
VanDarius Cowan - linebacker - Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.
Notre Dame had been in the top five for Cowan, another Palm Beach Gardens product, before he made a verbal commitment to Florida State on June 11. Cowan will make a trip to South Bend alongside Studstill despite the commitment.
Hunter Johnson - quarterback - Brownsburg, Ind.
Johnson is one of Notre Dame’s top targets regardless of class, which is probably why there hasn’t been another quarterback heavily pursued in the Class of 2016. Penn State has consistently been tabbed as a real threat. Tennessee is another contender. Stanford could be one too if the Cardinal offers. Johnson could decide before his junior season.
Corey Malone-Hatcher - defensive end - St. Joseph, Mich.
Irish Invasion caps a busy week for Malone-Hatcher, who also camped at Michigan and Michigan State. Defensive line coach Keith Gilmore has been working hard on the local pass rusher as both potential position coach and area recruiter. Michigan and Michigan State are other programs percolating to the top of the list.
Brock Wright - tight end - Cypress, Texas
Wright attended Junior Day in March and scored an offer, which made the Irish an instant contender. Since then the offer list has expanded with Alabama, Baylor, Georgia, LSU, Michigan, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Texas A&M and Texas Tech all now involved. Texas A&M is considered another top contender. Wright attended Junior Day with his father, who played at Texas Tech. Both parents will attend the Irish Invasion.
We Can’t Wait To Watch …
Jake Brown: Hopefully Claypool works out despite his busy week. He’s one of the most intriguing prospects in the Class of 2016 at 6-foot-5 with legitimate pass catching skills. Could he be a big wide receiver? Or is he more a hybrid tight end? Heck, could he maintain athleticism and bulk up to a pass rusher? All that could be on the table. There will be plenty of defensive backs for Claypool to test himself against at the Invasion.
Steve Hare: Defensive tackle Jeremy Darvin doesn’t have the five-star explosiveness Irish fans want to see in South Bend but he does have many similar attributes as current front four defensive linemen. He’s got the potential to turn into a solid contributor at the next level. He has to show more consistency than he did at The Opening Regionals in Columbus last month if he hopes to leave South Bend with an offer.
Anna Hickey: Linebacker Tomon Fox of Suwanee (Ga.) Collins Hill became a hot commodity during the spring evaluation period. The Tar Heels may have the edge now, but Notre Dame likes how things are trending here. Fox is explosive, plays physical and is a Notre Dame type of kid.
The best talent on hand will be the wide receivers and defensive backs, so it's a sure bet we’ll see thrilling one-on-ones under the lights. I’m eager to see which guys come to bring it against head-to-head top competition. My bet is Ulloa backs down from no one.
Hunter Johnson has mentioned how his personality is very similar to Mike Sanford. It will be intriguing to watch the new Irish quarterbacks coach work alongside his top prospect in a pretty ideal setting.
Five-star linebacker Caleb Kelly was a late scratch to the visitors list. Kelly is already looking to reschedule the trip for sometime during the next couple weeks. The Fresno, Calif., prospect has the Irish in his Top 10.
Four-star quarterback Xavier Gaines won’t be working out tonight and won’t even be on campus. The Florida prospect has the Irish among his top schools and pushed back his visit to next week. The Irish sit near the top of his list.