Insider Report: Irish attack recruiting trail

The Insider Report reveals Notre Dame’s position with a top linebacker and how the Irish are attacking the recruitment of their No. 1 wide out. Also, could a couple Big 12 powers shake up Notre Dame’s linebacker board?

Three-star inside linebacker Jonathan Jones is officially down to Duke, Michigan and Notre Dame. But it’s the last two programs that are the most realistic contenders.

Jones spoke with Irish Illustrated this week about how he’ll reach a National Signing Day decision between the Irish and Wolverines, a pair of traditional Midwest powerhouses.

“Honestly, (their seasons) won’t matter that much,” Jones said. “They both had pretty good ones, so that will cancel each other out. What it’s really going to be about is how I feel about the education and life after football. Also, with football out of the picture how I feel about the school.”

Both schools are recruiting Jones to play weak-side linebacker.

“Michigan’s depth chart is a little more open than Notre Dame’s,” Jones said. “Linebacker is their No. 1 priority. It’s still a priority for Notre Dame, but it’s not an immediate need.”

Jones said he doesn’t have Showtime and couldn’t watch A Season With, but he did hear about the season-long show chronicling Notre Dame from training camp through the Fiesta Bowl game. 

“I heard that I was on the show after I went up for my official visit,” Jones said. “Someone was telling me about that, so that was pretty cool.”

Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh will conduct his in-home with Jones on Jan. 24. Brian Kelly will also go in-home with Jones around the same time. Irish recruiting coordinator and linebackers coach Mike Elston is scheduled to visit Jones on Monday after seeing five-star linebacker Caleb Kelly and four-star linebacker Jeffrey McCulloch at the end of this week.

Irish Illustrated’s take: There’s chatter Michigan holds the edge because of its longtime perception as the favorite and more recent official visit. However, Irish Illustrated likes where Notre Dame stands with this linebacker target. Notre Dame should expect some good news on this front come National Signing Day.

Five-Star Ben Davis Ready To Visit
Photo by Jason Caldwell

Five-star linebacker Ben Davis will make the trek from Gordo, Ala., to South Bend this weekend for an official visit.

Notre Dame hopes to shake up his SEC field. Davis is an Alabama legacy while also considering Georgia, LSU and Auburn. Georgia and LSU have already received official visits. Auburn and Alabama will get them before signing day.

Autry Denson has been the point man on Davis, who will be making his first trip to campus. His parents are expected to join.

“Ben is in the final phase of the process and he's legitimately there,” said John Garcia Jr., recruiting analyst for PrepsAL.com on the Scout network. “What I mean by that is that he's not looking for ‘five free trips’ or for a winter vacation or anything like that. He’s digging his heels into these final official visits and potential mid-week trips and approaching everything from a business perspective.

“The Davises are a tight-knit group so his parents will likely accompany him all month long before they all sit down and come to a mutual decision ahead of his signing day announcement.”

All Notre Dame can ask for is an honest look. Davis appears ready to give it one.

McCulloch Mulling Multiple Options

Four-star linebacker Jeffrey McCulloch will take an official visit to Texas this weekend. He could be joined by as many as 12 more official visitors during a marquee recruiting weekend in Austin.

Don’t underestimate the importance of having so much talent on campus near signing day, especially when it’s the in-state program. Texas is quietly confident it will take the lead in McCulloch’s recruitment following this weekend. Alabama will receive McCulloch’s final official visit the following weekend and could emerge as a dark horse. Texas A&M is not the likely destination at this point, although the Aggies can’t be counted completely out.

McCulloch learned of his admission into Stanford on Tuesday, and while the Cardinal is also a legitimate contender, Texas still seems to be Notre Dame’s biggest competition. Brian Kelly already conducted his in-home visit with McCulloch before the December dead period, but Mike Elston returned to see McCulloch on Thursday to begin the contact period.

Boomer Sooner For Kelly?
Steve Hare / IrishIllustrated.com

Five-star linebacker Caleb Kelly is down to Notre Dame, Oklahoma and Oregon. The Irish and Sooners, however, are in a tight race for the top spot with the latter probably holding an edge.

Per a source at Oklahoma, the staff in Norman isn’t overly concerned with Notre Dame taking over the top spot. But Notre Dame is hopeful it has the potential to make Oklahoma sweat in the days leading up to signing day.

Kelly’s in-home visit, which he’ll conduct the week leading up to signing day, will be critical in determining if Notre Dame can overtake Oklahoma. Elston went in-home on Thursday.

Buckeyes, Irish Tangle For Two

Four-star linebacker Jonah Morris is tentatively scheduled to visit Ohio State this weekend, but Irish Illustrated has learned that visit is not likely to occur. Ohio State has yet to offer Morris and at this point doesn’t plan to do so.

Notre Dame is in line for an official visit the following weekend, which will be Morris’ first trip to campus. If Notre Dame has room in this class, and it’s looking like it will, the Irish will be the favorite to receive his signature. 

Four-star cornerback Jordan Fuller will take an official visit to Ohio State this weekend and Michigan the following. Fuller took his first official to Notre Dame in December. Ohio State appears to have the most momentum heading down the stretch.

Receiver Board Movement
Chad Simmons

Even with Javon McKinley on board, Notre Dame hopes to add one more receiver to the Class of 2016 once the dust settles, regardless of what happens with four-star athlete Jonah Morris.

Four-star prospects Demetris Robertson and Damian Alloway remain top targets. Offensive coordinator Mike Sanford visited Alloway on Thursday. Associate head coach Mike Denbrock stopped in Georgia to see Robertson.

It’s likely there will be many twists and turns with Robertson between now and signing day. Stanford, long listed as one of the favorites, is out according to sources. Alabama has about two spots left for receivers, however, and covets Robertson’s skill set. It’s believed his mother prefers the Crimson Tide for proximity reasons. Other family members have at least signed off on Notre Dame.

Brian Kelly still has an in-home visit to conduct with Robertson and it’s scheduled for Monday. Georgia head coach Kirby Smart and Alabama’s Nick Saban have in-home visits available as well. Also, Robertson has yet to take official visits to those programs.

Notre Dame and UCLA remain the contenders for Alloway with a signing day decision expected. UCLA has momentum and will get Alloway on campus the weekend of Jan. 22.

Kelly used his in-home visit before the holiday dead period, so it will be just assistant coach visits from here until the window closes around National Signing Day. Offensive coordinator Mike Sanford was in California on Thursday.

And with all that in play, it’s possible the receiver board expands. Notre Dame has considered a couple new names, including Michigan commitment Nate Johnson. He’s slated to visit Miami this weekend.

Underclassmen To Know

Nearly 700 underclassmen competed at the U.S. Army National Combine last week in San Antonio.  

Notre Dame is among the schools already recruiting some of the standout performers.
 
Four-star defensive tackle Eric Crosby was one of the most highly recruited underclassmen at the event. The 6-foot-3, 285-pound prospect from Ocean Lakes High School in Virginia Beach, Va., already holds offers from Alabama, Clemson, Florida, Florida State and Ohio State, among others.

He has heard from dozens of others, including Notre Dame. Crosby grew up in a family of Irish fans and hopes to hear more.
 
“They just said they were watching and keeping an eye out,” Crosby said. “I get plenty of mail from them inviting me to camps and visits.”
 
Crosby hasn’t identified any favorites and is considering all of the schools that have offered.
 
“I’m not sure at this point,” he said. “I have plenty of options. Ultimately it’s a decision on what they offer scholarship-wise, academically for my major, and their graduation success rate. My mom and I are still taking visits.”
 
Junior guard Johnny Jordan out of Gonzaga College High School in Washington D.C. holds offers from Kentucky and North Carolina. Notre Dame reached out and wants the 6-foot-3, 240-pounder will visit campus in the near future.
 
“They love me on tape and would like for me to come up for a visit,” Jordan said.
 
Boston College, Clemson, Duke, Iowa, Michigan State, Pittsburgh and Wake Forest also have shown interest in Jordan.
 
Highland Springs, Va., tackle Mekhi Becton (no relation to former Notre Dame running back Lee Becton) already landed offers from Eastern Kentucky, Virginia, Delaware State and Pittsburgh. Tennessee, Wake Forest, Purdue, Florida State, Michigan State, Vanderbilt, North Carolina and the Irish have shown interest. Becton attended Notre Dame’s game at Virginia and liked what he saw.
 
Tight end Myles Wright has been offered by Wake Forest and has heard from North Carolina, Clemson, Boston College, Purdue and several other smaller programs. He visited Boston College, North Carolina, Wake Forest, Purdue and Alabama and he hopes to see Notre Dame this summer.
 
“They gave me an invite to their games but I have never been able to get over there,” he said of Notre Dame. “I’m going to make my way there and to some other schools over the summer.”
 
Junior tight end Patrick Brown, a San Diego native, also has heard from Notre Dame as well as Arizona, Indiana, Nevada, San Diego State, Utah, Washington and Washington State.
 
Three-star safety K.J. Jarrell already holds offers from Arizona, Arizona State, Colorado, Oregon State, UCLA, Washington and Wisconsin and he has talked with Irish defensive backs coach Todd Lyght.
 
“He introduced himself and said he wants to build a relationship and that I’ll be hearing from him,” Jarrell said.
 
Maryland was the first to offer junior guard Ryan Solt of Coughlin High School in Wilkes-Barre, Pa. Boston College, Indiana, Duke, Toledo, Penn State, Virginia and Virginia Tech could be close behind.
 
Notre Dame sends almost daily mail and he plans to visit several schools this winter.
 
Virginia linebacker Marquis Hall holds an offer from the in-state Cavaliers and has drawn interest from Notre Dame, Wake Forest, Virginia Tech and several others.

Hall spoke with a Notre Dame coach on Twitter.
 
“It’s mainly letters but they liked my film and I was invited to a game but I couldn’t attend for family reasons,” Hall said. “I did see them against UVA.”
 
The Irish also have targeted a handful of 2018 prospects including Leonard Taylor, a 6-foot-4, 240-pound tight end from Springfield, Ohio. Taylor holds offers from Kentucky and Louisville and has drawn interest from Cincinnati, Iowa, Michigan State, Ohio State, Penn State and Notre Dame.
 
Taylor has had contact with Irish recruiting coordinator Mike Elston.
 
“They said that they are going to start recruiting me hard and so well as the others,” Taylor said.
 
Sophomore linebacker Dallas Gant holds offers from Kentucky and Toledo. He’s already visited Notre Dame, Ohio State and Michigan State. He also hears from Illinois, Iowa, Oregon, Pittsburg, Penn State, Northwestern and Purdue. Gant’s cousin, Allen Gant, plays at Michigan.

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