BEAVERTON, Ore. – Caleb Kelly plans to see Notre Dame for the first time later this month. When the five-star linebacker from Fresno, Calif., steps foot on campus with his trainer Tony Perry, the 6-foot-3, 220-pound athlete will follow the advice of two friends with unique Irish connections.
While training with Perry for the past two-plus years, Kelly linked with former Notre Dame signee Tee Shepard and one-time target Michiah Quick, who landed at Oklahoma. Both told Kelly that he needs to see South Bend for himself.
“Tee said that he likes Notre Dame a lot and he knows that he kind of messed up over there, but he said to go check it out,” Kelly said. “Quick told me that it was between Notre Dame and Oklahoma for him and that I should go check out Notre Dame too.”
After arriving at The Opening on Tuesday, Kelly named a top seven of Notre Dame, USC, Oklahoma, Oregon, Michigan, Stanford and Ohio State. Notre Dame and Oregon are scheduled to get visits later this month (July 23 or July 27), although Kelly said he’s yet to book those flights.
Kelly almost visited Notre Dame for the Irish Invasion but said the school needed to approve Perry’s travel to the camp as a coach, which came too late for the trip to happen. Perry spoke at Notre Dame’s Coaches Clinic last year, which got Quick to campus for an unofficial visit.
While Perry is known as a defensive backs guru, Kelly said working with the long-time Fresno coach has helped him at linebacker, including in 7-on-7 tournaments. Notre Dame agrees considering associate head coach Mike Denbrock has compared Kelly to Jaylon Smith. After watching the Irish last season, that’s the kind of recruiting pitch Kelly likes.
“They told me to watch their games last year and then asked who stood out,” Kelly said. “Obviously Jaylon Smith, he made all the tackles. He was doing everything. That’s a guy I’d like to play like.
“They said, ‘You can be versatile, go all around, make all those plays. We’ve done it with him, we can do it with you too. You guys are the same body type, around the same weight.’”
In terms of official visits, Kelly said Oklahoma will definitely get one, with the remaining four spread among the other six programs in contention. Kelly believes once he sees South Bend he’ll quickly know whether it’s a fit or a false start in his recruitment.
“I think it will be 100 percent like it or negative 50,” Kelly said. “It’s just academics is big for me, four years for 40. Talking to other recruits, they said they love it there and they have Notre Dame up on their hats on the table when they commit. Perry told me that I need to go check it out and he’s going to see it with me.”
Kelly watched enough of Notre Dame last fall to track Smith and the Irish season, which started with College Football Playoff promise and crashed in November. While the five-star, ranked No. 8 overall on Scout.com, noticed the collapse, he said it shouldn’t affect his decision.
“To me, it’s going to be better whenever I go because I want to go in , be a leader, I want to help out,” Kelly said. “They have so much tradition. Playing USC, you hear about those games growing up. This year, it wasn’t their worst year, but it wasn’t their best year either. They have a lot of room to improve. I feel like they can get there if they can get some recruits.”