Even with National Signing Day less than two weeks away, Notre Dame is ready to start looking toward the Class of 2017 in more detail. Nearly a dozen prospects will head to campus Saturday for the first Junior Day of the next cycle. Coaches and support staff will lead the group around the football facilities and campus, plus make an academic presentation.
Players will also sit down in position meetings with individual coaches before the event concludes with dinner.
Three current commitments — tight end Cole Kmet, offensive guard Dillan Gibbons and offensive tackle Josh Lugg — are expected to attend. They’re approaching it as the first opportunity to do some serious in-person recruiting of their peers.
Kmet has already fielded questions from some of them about his commitment.
“You can tell that they’re asking a lot of questions about my decision making,” Kmet said. “The coaches can’t really relate to the players as much as we can, so whenever we can talk it’s a big deal. We can give a lot of insight on everything.”
Notre Dame expects to host a handful of uncommitted prospects, most of which already hold scholarship offers. Irish Illustrated takes a closer look at those planning to attend.
Jaylen Kelly-Powell - safety - Detroit, Mich.
Previous visit: Yes
Recruiting update: Kelly-Powell is the latest in a long line of prospects to come out of Cass Tech High. Regional heavyweights like Michigan and Ohio State are already involved. Notre Dame hasn’t had a ton of luck at Cass Tech lately – early enrollee Daelin Hayes attended there briefly – but getting Kelly-Powell on campus again helps the cause.
Corey Malone-Hatcher - defensive end - St. Joseph, Mich.
Previous visit: Yes
Recruiting update: Malone-Hatcher is about as local as it gets for Notre Dame as he’ll make a 40-minute drive down for Junior Day. He’s already visited many times. Alabama, Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State are among the other offers. Malone-Hatcher figures to stay local, so the in-state schools are likely the biggest threat.
Donovan Peoples-Jones - wide receiver - Detroit, Mich.
Previous visit: No
Recruiting update: Peoples-Jones recently released a top 10 that includes Alabama, Florida, Michigan, Michigan State, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Stanford, Tennessee, Texas A&M and USC. Notre Dame has always been a fringe player but Keith Gilmore has a strong relationship here, so this visit could be an important one.
Isaiah Robertson - wide receiver - Naperville, Ill.
Previous visit: Yes
Recruiting update: Robertson last visited for the USC game and returns in hopes of scoring a scholarship offer. His list has recently expanded with Penn State and Syracuse joining the mix. Robertson counts senior Irish cornerback commitment Julian Love among his friends.
Ambry Thomas - cornerback - Detroit, Mich.
Previous visit: Yes
Recruiting update: Thomas picked up an offer in November a couple months after visiting for the Texas game alongside Kelly-Powell and prep teammate Donnie Corley, a one-time Irish target. He’s already one of the most wanted cornerbacks in the Midwest with offers from Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Tennessee, LSU and several others.
Jamyest Williams - athlete - Lawrenceville, Ga.
Previous visit: No
Recruiting update: Williams considers Clemson his leader with Georgia, Florida State, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Oklahoma and USC running behind the Tigers. He’s a top-of-the-board target for Notre Dame.
LeAnthony Williams - cornerback - Roswell, Ga.
Previous visit: No
Recruiting update: Auburn, Clemson, Georgia, Florida and LSU are the programs that have been linked the most so far with Williams. He’s close friends with Jamyest Williams.
Top Georgia athlete a first-time visitor
Four-star athlete Jamyest Williams, an elite prospect out of the South that stars on both sides of the ball at Archer High, will see Notre Dame for the first time this weekend. His father is also making the trip.
“I just want to see what life is like in South Bend, and check out the education program since I know it’s a great school,” Williams said. "Just see how the school and environment fits me.”
Notre Dame offered Williams last October. He’s had contact with four Irish coaches, including Brian Kelly.
“I talk with coach (Brian) VanGorder, coach (Todd) Lyght, coach (Scott) Booker and coach Kelly,” Williams said. “Their interest in me is what has me wanting to visit the school.”
The newly-minted Scout 2017 All-American considers Clemson his leader.
“Clemson is No. 1 and then there are bunch of schools in second place,” Williams said. “Florida State, Georgia, Ohio State, USC, Notre Dame and Oklahoma. I’m really just looking for a school that has family feel and that’s what Clemson is giving me right now. I want to see if I find that anywhere else.”
Williams played cornerback, safety and running back for Archer last season.
“I like that I’m being recruited as an athlete,” Williams said. “I’m aggressive and versatile.”
Simmons leaves off Michigan
Earlier this week, junior athlete Antjuan Simmons released that group of 11 standouts with one unexpected omission.
Hometown Michigan didn’t make the list. Simmons holds an offer from the Wolverines and attends Pioneer High School in Ann Arbor, which is right across the street from Michigan Stadium.
But right now he doesn’t rank them among the programs with which he as a great relationship. He wants to treat Michigan like every other program despite its proximity to home.
“It was just one of those things,” Simmons said. “Me being an Ann Arbor kid or whatever, a lot of people feel like I’m obligated to go there. Like it’s just set in stone that I’m gonna go there or whatever. But in reality it’s not like that. I’m a normal recruit just like all the other kids. They’re gonna have to work just as hard to get me as they would to get the other recruits they have.”
Here are the programs that did make the list: Notre Dame, Michigan State, Tennessee, LSU, UCLA, Syracuse, Texas A&M, Ohio State, Penn State, Miami and Miami (Ohio).
Simmons had been scheduled to visit Notre Dame this weekend for Junior Day but has to attend a three-hour tutoring session Saturday morning. He’ll reschedule for a later date.
“I’m gonna try in the spring or so,” Simmons said. “Me and coach (Brian) Kelly spoke about it.”
Irish Target Two Seniors On Saturday
Three-star Michigan receiver commitment Nathan Johnson will take an official visit to Notre Dame this weekend.
The product of Thompson’s Station, Tenn., is the only planned official visitor on the docket from now until National Signing Day. Notre Dame offered last week, three days after assistant Autry Denson visited Johnson in Tennessee. He committed to Michigan in mid-December.
Johnson announced plans this week to make a signing day decision, choosing among Miami, Michigan and Notre Dame. Miami received an official visit last weekend.
Three-star offensive tackle Matthew Gutwald, a preferred walk-on candidate from Dublin, Calif., also plans to visit over the next couple days. Kelly and offensive coordinator Mike Sanford visited the 6-foot-5, 275-pound athlete at Dublin High School days after Notre Dame’s regular season finale at Stanford.
Gutwald collected some scholarship offers during the process — Air Force, Arizona, Oregon, Oregon State, San Jose State and Washington State, among others — but has chosen to pursue the best education possible. He’s considering preferred walk-on spots at Notre Dame and Stanford.
Five-Stars Trending Irish
Current odds appear to be in Notre Dame’s favor to make a gigantic splash on National Signing Day. Notre Dame has gained unmistakable momentum in the past week for five-star linebacker Caleb Kelly and five-star athlete Demetris Robertson.
Kelly has long been considered an Oklahoma lean, but sources told Irish Illustrated that Notre Dame has closed the gap and even surpassed the Sooners in recent weeks. Mike Elston went in-home last week while Brian VanGorder and Mike Denbrock went in-home Tuesday.
Brian Kelly is scheduled to have an in-home visit this coming Tuesday. Kelly is done with official visits and will announce his commitment at 8:30 p.m. ET on National Signing Day.
Notre Dame is the favorite.
Robertson, who is also being recruited heavily by Alabama, Georgia and Notre Dame, received an in-home visit from Kelly, Sanford, Booker and Denson on Monday.
Alabama assistant Billy Napier went in-home Wednesday, two days before Robertson travels to Tuscaloosa for his official visit with the Tide. Nick Saban has already used his in-home with Robertson, but Georgia head coach Kirby Smart has not. Smart could go in-home with Robertson early next week. Georgia sent two assistants to meet with Robertson on Thursday in hopes of securing the final official visit the weekend before signing day.
Georgia Tech is also in the picture for the final official visit because Robertson’s mom lives in Atlanta. Even so, the Yellow Jackets are not perceived as a serious threat.
Alabama and Georgia aren’t going to let Notre Dame land Robertson without a fight. But right now, he’s Notre Dame’s to lose.
Irish Fading With McCulloch
Four-star linebacker Jeffrey McCulloch will announce on signing day among Notre Dame, Stanford, Texas and Texas A&M. Texas is the heavy favorite. Look for Notre Dame to potentially even back off its pursuit of McCulloch as signing day draws closer.
Irish Won’t Give Up On Tide Legacy
Five-star linebacker Ben Davis told Irish Illustrated on Thursday he’ll host Brian Kelly for an in-home visit next week. Kelly plans to be in Gordo, Ala., on Thursday.
Davis visited Notre Dame last weekend. Elston and Denson followed up with a stop in Gordo this week before Davis heads to Tuscaloosa – barely a 30-minute drive – for his official visit.
Alabama and Georgia, which led earlier this week, round out the top three for Davis with Notre Dame.