Storylines abound at The Opening Finals
What are the most interesting matchups? Who are the most intriguing players to watch? Irish Illustrated takes a roundtable approach to set the tone for the biggest recruiting week of the summer. Here’s how to follow The Opening from an Irish Illustrated point of view as our staff arrives on the West Coast, along with some of the nation’s best high school talent.
Can’t Wait To Watch: The Player
Jake Brown: Chase Claypool
Probably the player I’m most intrigued to see is Claypool, the four-star wide receiver from Canada. It’s always interesting to see how prospects from north of the border stack up against stateside competition because they don’t get that level of player back home. Claypool was fantastic at Sound Mind, Sound Body and again at the Irish Invasion. But The Opening provides a deeper pool of defensive backs. Can he run well enough to stay at receiver? Might he grow into a hybrid tight end? Either way, it could be a big week for Claypool.
Steve Hare: Parker Boudreaux
The newest Irish commitment set himself up for plenty of criticism following his commitment video, which included the three-star prospect pulling a 16,000-pound bus to reveal the Notre Dame logo. Boudreaux has a lot to live up to and that starts this week in Beaverton where he’ll go head-to-head against the nation’s top defensive linemen.
Anna Hickey: Chase Claypool
Claypool is on the cusp of throwing his name in the ring with the elite wide out corps of the 2016 class, which is loaded. He performed well at camps in the spring, including at the Irish Invasion, and there’s reason to believe he’ll rise to the occasion at The Opening. He’s got the size, speed and athleticism to turns some heads this week against big time defensive back competition. Claypool will also announce a commitment this week, and signs point to Notre Dame edging Oregon to land him.
Pete Sampson: Tony Jones Jr.
Notre Dame didn’t offer Jones until the coaching change from Tony Alford to Autry Denson. Both had ties in Florida, including at IMG Academy, so it’s not like Alford didn’t get a chance to evaluate Jones. He just didn’t like what he saw enough to offer. Denson had a different take. Which had the better evaluation? This week should shed some light on that, particularly with five-star Buckeyes commit Kareem Walker also working out. These combines aren’t made for power backs to look good. But if Jones can buck that trend, the Irish might have something special. If Jones blends into the pack could that be a sign Notre Dame’s running back commit is more of a situational player?
Can’t Wait To Watch: The Matchup
Brown: Oluwole Betiku vs. any offensive tackle
Betiku against any willing offensive lineman will be among the best matchups during the week. Betiku blends speed and power together and is just the type of pass rushing defensive end Notre Dame would love to land in this (or any) recruiting cycle. It would be great if Tommy Kraemer took a few reps just to see where he stands against the type of edge player that could end up on an NFL roster someday.
Hare: Tommy Kraemer vs. Jonathon Cooper
Cooper got the best of Kraemer at the Columbus regional camp and Kraemer has been looking forward to the rematch. Both were good enough in Columbus to earn invites to the finals this week. It will be interesting to see if Kraemer can adjust to Cooper’s speed.
Hickey: Tony Jones Jr. vs. elite linebackers
Jones Jr. has yet to be mentioned as one the top dogs in the running back camp that’s attending The Opening. He committed early in the process without any drama, and it’s fair to ask if he's one of the more under-the-radar backs in this class. Can his initial burst separate Jones Jr. from linebackers? Can he move well in open spaces? Observing how his size, quickness and catching ability as a power back stacks up against the elusive running back prototype during drills is also worth noting.
Sampson: Parker Boudreaux vs. anybody
Boudreaux put a bull’s eye on his flexed chest with his commitment video pulling a bus. It ensured that every defensive linemen at The Opening, including the seven five-stars, will want a shot at the Irish commit. How does Boudreaux hold up? He’s a power player, which should help in tight spaces. But the offensive linemen who thrive in national combines also own elite foot speed and agility. What Boudreaux has in those departments will be revealed quickly. I want to see Boudreaux wrestle with No. 1 overall player Rashan Gary and Alabama commitment Kendall Jones.
Can’t Wait To Watch: The Storyline
Brown: National Irish recruiting buzz
Whether it’s The Opening or other national events, it’s a great gauge of how Notre Dame is registering with recruits across a national scope. Talking with prospects squarely on the radar is one thing. Catching up with some that haven’t been heard from in awhile or plan on playing out their recruitment over a longer period of time is more telling. What is the buzz and momentum for Notre Dame on the trail? We’ll have a better idea after a few days in Oregon.
Hare: Notre Dame commitments on display
Can Jones, Kraemer and Boudreaux influence some of the nation’s top prospects to follow them to South Bend? All three have indicated they’ll do their best to recruit on Notre Dame’s behalf and that could help the Irish close out the 2016 recruiting class.
Hickey: Who lives up to their rankings at receiver?
Specifically, I’ll be watching how Javon McKinley performs when he knows he’s being compared to other top guys on the West and across the country. There’s been some questions as to if he goes full speed every snap. How good are Tyler Vaughns, Binjimin Victor, Nate Craig and Kyle Davis? I want to see if an alpha dog at wide receiver emerges this week.
Sampson: USC vs. Notre Dame
Lost in the hyper-focus on Notre Dame’s recruiting last cycle was the fact USC finished No. 1 on Scout.com with four five-star prospects and another 15 four-star gets (identical to Notre Dame in the four-star group). Can the Irish keep pace? Notre Dame expects to land Claypool this week, but USC is in line to get four-star safety C.J. Pollard. Trading blows with the Trojans might not get the Irish on top in terms of talent, but it will keep Notre Dame close. With 18 California prospects ticketed for The Opening Finals, including four-star receiver Javon McKinley and five-star linebacker Caleb Kelly, how the Notre Dame-USC dynamics play out will impact the rivalry through this decade.