Recruiting rivalry burns with Michigan

On the field, Notre Dame’s rivalry with Michigan is dead. In recruiting, however, it continues to burn.

On Tuesday, Brian Kelly and Jim Harbaugh were named to the Paul ‘Bear’ Bryant Award Watch List, which recognizes college football’s top coach.

One remains in the College Football Playoff hunt despite a half-dozen season-ending injuries to his roster. The other has breathed life back into a historical program and landed a blow for college football at large.

And both are working to land Top 10 recruiting classes.

Head-To-Head Battles

Orlando (Fla.) Oak Ridge linebacker Jonathan Jones considers Notre Dame and Michigan his top two schools, even with offers on the table from Georgia, LSU, Miami, Oklahoma and Stanford.

“The only difference is that Notre Dame is more prestigious,” Jones said. “It’s one of the top colleges in the entire country. Other than that, there’s not much that’s different.”

Notre Dame is recruiting Jones at weak-side linebacker. Michigan likes him as a true run-stopper between the tackles.

“Coach (Jim) Harbaugh is a bit more out there than coach (Brian) Kelly,” Jones said. “Coach Harbaugh is more hands-on and involved with everything. He’s got a lot of energy. Brian Kelly seems like a great guy but more mellow. He’s probably more of a regular guy than coach Harbaugh, who’s pretty out of the box. But I’m OK with that.”

Jones took his official visit to Notre Dame earlier this month. He takes his official to Michigan in early December.

A decision could come at any time for Boulder (Colo.) Fairview four-star defensive end Carlo Kemp, who will decide between Michigan and Notre Dame by November.

“Notre Dame has the religion aspect,” Kemp said. “At Michigan you can grow as a football player and academically, and at Notre Dame you also can grow spiritually. You get all three aspects. That is the main difference for me as a religious person. I can play football the highest level at both schools, but only Notre Dame makes it convenient to grow in my religion.

“I would also say the degree at Notre Dame probably carries more weight. That would be another difference.”

Michigan is recruiting the 6-foot-2 ½, 258-pound athlete to play the BUCK, a hybrid linebacker/defensive end depending on the front. Notre Dame sees the potential to move Kemp inside to play the three-technique. 

“Coach Harbaugh is the definition of a competitor,” Kemp said. “He’s a special coach, and he makes it feel like family there. He’s not going to change for anyone. The main thing I took away from being around him during my two visits is he wants to win no matter what. I kid you not, it doesn’t matter what it is, but he wants to win. He’s also the ultimate teacher.

“Coach Kelly is a respectful man. I didn’t get to know him as well as coach Harbaugh, but you feel honored in his presence. The way he carries himself, you feel special being around him.”

Stanford four-star cornerback commitment David Long has taken back-to-back visits to Notre Dame and Michigan in the last couple of weeks. The Los Angeles (Calif.) Loyola standout is giving a hard look at both.

“Notre Dame is a great place with lots of tradition,” Long said. “It’s kind of like my high school in a nutshell. It’s religion-based and easy to buy into. It’s a winning program, and the academics are top-notch.

“Michigan is great as well. I have a lot of family in Detroit, and coach Harbaugh’s legacy speaks for itself. He’s really down-to-earth. I love what he’s been able to accomplish this year, and I think I would fit into that scheme great.”

Long broke down what he sees as the points of comparison between Notre Dame and Michigan. 

“I would say the coaches at Notre Dame are more traditional,” Long said. “They have been building something there for a while. Coach Harbaugh is all about new energy.

“Notre Dame plays a wide variety of schemes. What they do changes week-to-week based on the offenses they are facing. With Michigan, I would say are more aggressive and they put more guys in the box. They get their hands dirty.”

Long also sees a difference between Notre Dame and Michigan’s surrounding areas.  

“The communities are a little different, I would say,” Long said. “At Notre Dame, you aren’t really interacting with anyone outside of the school. It’s more closed off. At Michigan you are with different people.”   

Long is also considering Duke, Nebraska, Ohio State and Washington. A decision isn’t expected in the near future, but Michigan could be the team to beat.

“My comfort level is the main thing,” Long said. “The schools that I’m look at are all great academically, so it really comes down to the atmosphere and my communication with the coaches.

“I don’t have any favorites, but right now, Michigan is definitely up there.”

Irish Invade Wolverines’ Backyard

Notre Dame is expected to be the beneficiary of a couple of high-profile de-commitments in Michigan that occurred this month. Four-star linebacker Daelin Hayes of Ann Arbor and four-star defensive end Khalid Kareem of Farmington Hills de-committed from USC and Alabama, respectively. Notre Dame hosted them on official visits last weekend. The Irish occupy their top spots, though they’re both expected to take more visits.

Michigan recruited Kareem prior to his commitment to the Tide in June, but Harbaugh and Co. never got involved with Hayes. Both are on track for early enrollment.

“The new staff has never really seen Hayes,” said Scout national analyst Allen Trieu. “Hayes didn’t camp with them this year, and he got hurt before they could get to a game. He’s also a BUCK for them, and they had other targets by the time he became available again. He just never really got started with this staff.

“Kareem was an option for Michigan but when he committed to Alabama, the staff moved forward with other guys and received a commitment from Ron Johnson. By the time Kareem de-committed from Alabama, they already had other defensive end targets, like Levi Onwuzurike, visiting. The spots weren’t available for him to be in the picture.”

Notre Dame is recruiting Kareem to play “Big End” in its 4-3 defense, where Isaac Rochell plays now. The Irish project Hayes as an outside linebacker or weak-side defensive end.  

Michigan has three prospects from Indiana in its 2016 class, athletes Chris Evans and Kiante Enis and quarterback Brandon Peters. None have Notre Dame offers.

Linebacker Battlegrounds

In addition to Jones, Notre Dame and Michigan are in the hunt for a trio of top five linebackers.

Dontavious Jackson (Houston, Texas)  – More Michigan than he is Notre Dame,  Jackson has taken official visits to UCLA and Florida State, and takes one to Michigan on Nov. 28. Notre Dame hopes to secure a date for an official visit in the near future. In-state programs are also providing competition for the nation’s No. 3 inside linebacker.

Caleb Kelly (Fresno, Calif.) – Kelly took his first official visit to Michigan, and he’ll take his last one to Notre Dame (Dec. 11). Oklahoma is the team to beat for this five-star, who rates as the No. 3 outside linebacker in the country.

Jeffrey McCulloch (Houston, Texas) – More Notre Dame than he is Michigan, McCulloch took his first official visit to Notre Dame last weekend and called it the “perfect fit.” Florida, Stanford and Michigan (Nov. 28) will also receive official visits. Similar to Jackson, Texas and Texas A&M are heavyweight contenders in his recruitment. McCulloch is the nation’s No. 5 outside linebacker.

Michigan linebacker commits Dele’ Harding and David Reese have been committed to the Wolverines since last year, but both have been in contact with Notre Dame this fall. 

Harding is not expected to sign with the Wolverines, and Reese plans to take visits after enrolling early is not option for him at Michigan.

Notre Dame could host both on visits at some point this season – and almost hosted Harding for the Georgia Tech game - but won’t move on offering either unless it loses traction with current linebacker prospects higher on the board.


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