The junior class has taken center stage for Notre Dame.
Four-star quarterback Hunter Johnson, a top target for the Irish, came out of another visit to Tennessee with glowing things to say about the Vols, giving off the vibe he might be headed to Knoxville. That’s after an Irish Invasion trip to South Bend had the looks of a finishing touch.
But midweek Johnson told Irish Illustrated he wants to see Notre Dame again before the season and he doesn’t have intentions to visit anywhere else.
Could a decision come after that potential trip? Sure. Or his recruitment could stretch into the season, which begins Monday with the first full practice of fall camp. Either way, the field for Johnson seems more muddled than it did a month ago.
Something similar happened with four-star safety Isaiah Pryor a few months ago.
Notre Dame seemed to be leading handily before Ohio State surged, eventually grabbing a commitment last week. There’s no shame in losing out to the defending nation champions, although the Urban Meyer connection hits a nerve around Notre Dame.
But is it all bad news in the Class of 2017? Far from it.
Tight end Brock Wright and offensive guard Dillan Gibbons, both four-star prospects, are already in the fold. Several others have the Irish firmly in the mix as they begin preparations for their junior seasons. Irish Illustrated takes a look at 10 players not named Hunter Johnson at or near the top of Notre Dame’s wish list.
David Adams - linebacker - Pittsburgh, Pa.
Adams teams with four-star cornerback Damar Hamlin, a target in the Class of 2016. Both are visiting campus this weekend. Notre Dame has yet to formally offer Adams, but he’s a name worth remembering as that could very well change in the near future.
Robert Beal - defensive end - Norcross, Ga.
Beal has family connections to South Bend and, even better, has been on campus a couple times already. Alabama, Auburn, Florida State and Georgia are some other offers on the table for the elite pass rusher. The Irish are quietly confident here.
A.J. Epenesa - defensive end - Edwardsville, Ill.
Notre Dame has been working hard on Epenesa, who visited back in the spring. He’s an Iowa legacy and close to five-star status in the Scout.com rankings. Michigan State, Missouri and Oklahoma are others heavily involved.
Paris Ford - safety - Pittsburgh, Pa.
Ford is getting on campus this weekend along with some other prospects from the Pittsburgh area. His half brother, Darrin Walls, played for Kelly at Notre Dame before going on to the NFL. Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State and Penn State are also among the offers.
Cole Kmet - tight end - Arlington Heights, Ill.
Kmet visited in the spring and returned for Irish Invasion, after which he landed a scholarship offer. He made another trip to campus this week. Notre Dame would like to pair the four-star prospect with Wright as a tight end duo in the Class of 2017.
Josh Lugg - offensive tackle - Wexford, Pa.
Lugg visited Notre Dame earlier this month, following up on a trip to camp in June, and listed the Irish as one of those programs with which he communicates the most. Harry Hiestand has impressed. Lugg plans to return for the Texas game.
Corey Malone-Hatcher - defensive end - St. Joseph, Mich.
Michigan and Michigan State are the other contenders for Malone-Hatcher, who lives about 40 minutes away from South Bend. Malone-Hatcher has visited several times, most recently for the Irish Invasion.
R.J. Potts - safety - Indianapolis, Ind.
It’s not often Notre Dame is the first offer to a prospect, but this is one of those cases. Indiana has since joined the mix. Potts joins Johnson as the only in-state prospects the Irish are pursuing in the Class of 2017 right now.
Osiris St. Brown - wide receiver - Anaheim, Calif.
Equanimeous St. Brown’s younger brother is no stranger to Notre Dame. He visited last summer and again this spring with the B2GSports crew. Brian Kelly and Mike Denbrock watched Osiris and another brother, 2018 receiver Amon-Ra, at Sound Mind, Sound Body camp back in June.
Jedrick Wills - offensive tackle - Lexington, Ky.
Wills is one of the top offensive lineman targets in the Class of 2017. He visited for Irish Invasion with his mother and afterward raved about working with Hiestand. Alabama and Florida State have also offered while local programs Kentucky and Louisville are making pushes.
Notre Dame should go the distance with four-star defensive back Jordan Fuller after Thursday’s visit. Fuller and his father spent close to 12 hours on campus touring the facilities and meeting with the coaching staff. Notre Dame’s elite mix of athletics and academics stands out immediately to Fuller, which is what led the way in getting Jordan on campus for an unofficial visit. Todd Lyght’s “been there, done that” pedigree in the college ranks and NFL speaks volumes, and his conversation with Fuller was a top highlight of the visit. Brian VanGorder’s NFL background further enhances Notre Dame as an option.
Per a source, the “process will be long” for Fuller. That’s obvious when you consider his intentions to release a top 10 in the next month and take all five official visits. Notre Dame will need a strong showing on the field this season to continue to climb the ranks with the Fuller family, but the Irish expect to land an official visit and will continue to recruit him hard into the fall.
Thursday kicked off an important weekend for Notre Dame with Fuller if it wants to continue adding elite talent to its secondary. But it didn’t stop there.
Three-star cornerback Julian Love and three-star safeties Jalen Elliott and Spencer Perry are already committed. But the Irish are expected to add at least one more cornerback and one or two more safeties in the Class of 2016.
Four-star cornerback Damar Hamlin, another of the Irish’s top prospects visits today. Hamlin previously visited Notre Dame in the spring and the Irish have another shot to gain ground on Ohio State, which is considered the current leader.
Hamlin also has considerable interest in Penn State and Pittsburgh, as well as UCLA.
Four-star cornerbacks Donte Vaughn (Memphis, Tenn.) and Chase Lucas (Chandler, Ariz.) are the best bets for Notre Dame if Fuller and Hamlin commit elsewhere. Four-star prospects Eric Cuffee (Waco, Texas) and David Long (Los Angeles, Calif.) are likely headed elsewhere.
Long hoped to visit before the season but that’s yet to materialize. Stanford is considered the favorite. Cuffee made it to South Bend for the Irish Invasion and plans to return for an official visit, although no date has been set. He’s likely to remain closer to home for college but Notre Dame remains in the mix.
Notre Dame is in good shape at safety with three-star prospects D.J. Morgan (Bellflower, Calif.), Ikenna Okeke (Smyrna, Tenn.), Devin Studstill (Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.) and Chacho Ulloa (Corona, Calif.).
Morgan had previously committed to Arizona State but opened things up earlier this month. The cousin of former Irish women’s basketball standout Skylar Diggins, Morgan will make an official visit to South Bend on Sept. 5.
Okeke nearly committed to Notre Dame during his Irish Invasion visit but held off to see Stanford. Studstill also visited South Bend for the Irish Invasion and considers the Irish among his favorites.
Ulloa lists Notre Dame, Stanford and Arizona State as his favorites. He visited twice over the summer and will return in October for the USC game.
Notre Dame also will get a good look at 2017 safety Paris Ford, a four-star prospect from Pittsburgh. Ford, the half brother of former Irish defensive back Darrin Walls, will visit today as well. He landed an offer from the Irish earlier this summer and is considered the top player in Pennsylvania’s junior class.
Three-star safety Chanse Sylvie announced Thursday via Twitter a commitment to Oklahoma. Former Notre Dame defensive backs coach Kerry Cooks scored the pledge as lead recruiter (covering the same territory in Louisiana he worked for the Irish) and future position coach.
Sylvie had plans to visit Notre Dame for the Texas game and it appears those are still in place, at least for now.
“I think so,” Sylvie said when asked in a text message if he would still make the trip to South Bend.
Kmet, the four-star junior tight end, visited Notre Dame on Thursday for the third time this offseason. He reported everything went well and the Irish staff feels bullish about its position moving forward.
Despite that, Kmet hasn’t revealed his feelings in terms of a timetable for making a commitment. All parties remain in wait-and-see mode headed into the season.