Irish visit three top Cali underclassmen

Notre Dame spent time recruiting three elite California underclassmen this week when Mike Denbrock visited Augustus Hawkins High School in Los Angeles.

A 31-31 tie wasn’t exactly the way Mil’Von James hoped to finish his first full season as head coach at Augustus Hawkins, but he’ll take it.

James was the JV coach in 2013 when the second-year school kicked off its inaugural football season. He took over as the varsity coach after the third game of the 2014 season and already has the Hawks competing at a high level.

He also has developed a core group coveted by major college programs across the country, including Notre Dame.

On Monday, Irish assistant Mike Denbrock made his third trip to the school to check on several prospects, notably receiver Joseph Lewis, athlete Greg Johnson and receiver Jalen Hall. All three hold scholarship offers from Notre Dame.

Lewis, a five-star junior, was the first of the Hawkins bunch to receive an Irish offer.

“He is a kid that didn’t start playing football until the ninth grade so he has so much room to improve, but he’s just an outright one of the most gifted athletes that I ever came across,” James said. “I sat and watched him at basketball the other day and he put on a show just dunking the ball, two hands, one hand, behind the back. He’s just a freak athlete.”

Despite his inexperience on the football field, Lewis has developed into one of the top receivers in the country and has earned a five-star ranking from Scout.com.

“With Joseph, we love to see Joseph in one-on-one matchups because we know the likelihood of us winning it is high,” James said. “He can play anything on the field. We’ve played him at linebacker, free safety, strong (safety). He has played corner for us and receiver and he even took a few carries at running back this year. He’s just a phenomenal athlete. I truly think he is the best receiver in his class and if not his class for sure on the West Coast.”

As a junior, Lewis caught 51 passes for 852 yards and eight touchdowns. On defense he recorded 48 tackles and picked off two passes.

“What a lot of people don’t know about Joseph is he’s really supposed to be a kid in the Class of 2018 because he just turned 16-years old like three weeks ago,” James said. “He’s a very young kid. He’s really, really young but he’s smart and gets football. He gets concepts and he gets routes.”

Arizona, Arizona State, Baylor, Boston College, Miami, Michigan, Oklahoma, Tennessee, UCLA, USC and Washington, among others, have also offered Lewis.

He’s very interested in the Irish, especially after visiting last summer and learning he was the first West Coast receiver to land an offer.

“That stood out to him,” James said. “For them to come and make the call at Augustus Hawkins, a third-year program in South Central LA, not a Mater Dei and not a St. John Bosco, that meant a lot to him and he’s very appreciative. He speaks highly of Notre Dame and he enjoyed the visit. He’s very good friends with Javon McKinley, who is looking at Notre Dame and he knows they spread the ball out. He knows for a fact they had a 1,000-yard receiver and four or five other guys. Of course there’s an Alpha Wolf in every receiving corps but the fact they can get four or five 500-yard receivers is pretty awesome.”

Johnson, a four-star athlete, holds offers from many of the same schools as Lewis and is even more versatile.

He played quarterback, wide receiver, running back and all over on the defensive side of the ball.

“I think Greg Johnson is the best athlete in the country,” James said. “If you watch Greg’s sophomore highlights and you compare them to his junior highlights they’re completely different. His sophomore highlights, he’s playing a little bit of quarterback for us but he’s doing everything running. He’s breaking 80, 70, 60 yards and breaking tackles. This year he opened up his role and he wanted to be considered an athlete and play that role. We moved him to receiver and moved his younger brother to running back. He’s running routes. He took playing receiver as serious as playing corner and running back. He wasn’t a guy that was a running back playing receiver.”

Johnson accounted for a team-high 1,732 all-purpose yards and scored 20 touchdowns. He recorded 42 tackles, picked off four passes and broke up six others. He returned all four interceptions for touchdowns.

“Greg can do anything Greg wants to do,” James said. “If he wants to play safety he can play safety. If he wants to put on an extra 15 pounds and play linebacker he can do that. He’s just a phenomenal athlete and we’re just fortunate to have him on our team.”

Like Lewis, Hall is short on experience but he makes up for it in pure athleticism.

The 6-foot-4, 185-pound sophomore led the team with 60 catches for 1,010 yards and nine touchdowns.

“He’s just a beast,” James said. “He’s just like Joseph, but Joseph didn’t play any Pop Warner. Jalen played a year of Pop Warner. He played five games and broke his leg and he’s just growing as a receiver. There’s a lot that he doesn’t know just yet. He’s still a little clumsy with running. He’s still growing. I think that’s stopping his true ability right now. Once he stops growing and he can finally get his footing right I think Jalen will be one of those Megatron type guys.”

In comparing Hall to the Detroit Lions’ Calvin Johnson, James is setting the bar high for his sophomore receiver. But, he believes Hall has the ability to follow a similar path.

He definitely has the measurables.

“He doesn’t display true speed on film but I guarantee you wouldn’t want to be in a foot race with him because he runs about 10 yards in two-and-a-half steps,” James said. “He’s a very gifted kid but the best thing about Jalen is the fact that he stands about 6-4 but he runs routes like a 6-foot receiver. He’s an awesome route runner. He’s a very humble kid and he doesn’t let any of this football stuff get to his head. He’s the ultimate team player. He just wants to be in situations where he can learn from somebody.”

Hall made history by receiving an offer from the Irish over the summer.

“With Jalen, he was happy because he was told he was the first ninth grader in the history of Notre Dame to ever receive a scholarship offer,” James said. “They said it’s never been done before; no ninth grader has ever received a scholarship offer from Notre Dame. He was blown away by that stat.”

That’s not the only reason Hall is interested in the Irish.

“Academics is big for him,” James said. “The fact that Notre Dame has one of the premier academic programs in the country and NBC is going to show every game for them he won’t have to have the family fly out to see him every weekend. They can just catch it and the world can catch it. He aspires to play NFL ball and he knows the writers and NFL scouts can watch him as well. It’s just a great opportunity for him.”


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