Insider Report: Staff Roundtable

With Junior Day a week away, the Irish Illustrated recruiting staff answers the biggest questions facing Notre Dame’s recruiting machine. Toughest competition? Most important target? Next commitment? We answer all that and more.

Spring recruiting will pick up next week with a second Junior Day, this one much bigger than the first back in January.

How important is this period to the Class of 2017 cycle? Who might be the next commitment? What’s one big name prospect that could fall Notre Dame’s way eventually? The Irish Illustrated recruiting staff tackles some of those questions and a couple more in this week’s Insider Report.

1. What do you think is the most important part of spring recruiting?

Jake Brown: Banking visits. When it comes to Notre Dame (and just about every other program), visit volume is an important indicator. Get a priority target on campus during the spring, when he and his family have to pay for the trip themselves, and it’s a pretty good sign they’re legitimately interested. That sets the stage for another visit in the summer and then an official visit. Last cycle’s recruitment of Javon McKinley is a perfect example. Spring, summer and official visits all led to a California prospect being more than comfortable enough to make a commitment.

Steve Hare: Notre Dame is a bit different than other schools. The Irish don’t use the “shotgun” approach to offering scholarships, so it’s important they get out to see as many prospects as possible to target the right guys. It’s also a great time to get some of their top prospects on campus and they have done a good of that in the past and need to continue to do so.

Anna Hickey: Building relationships. The trust and familiarity that kids develop with coaches in the spring and summer sets the stage for official visits in the fall. Not only that but so often kids choose a school based on which assistant coaches they’re most comfortable with. Setting the tone early is absolutely key.

2. What prospect out there that doesn't have a Notre Dame offer currently would you pull the trigger on and why?

Jake Brown: LaBryan Ray. He’s been on the Notre Dame radar a little bit and, while a tough pull out of the South, might be worth a little more effort. Big, physical defensive end with some serious credentials in terms of the other programs giving chase. He already has offers from Alabama, Ole Miss, Michigan and Tennessee, among others. Notre Dame is always in need of defensive ends, might as well throw your hat in the ring on as many as possible.

Steve Hare:  Grant Calcaterra. This kid could be the second coming of Jeff Samardzija. He has size, speed and a knack for making big catches.

Anna Hickey: Luiji Vilain. The four-star defensive end visited Notre Dame last summer and told Irish Illustrated he was “blown away” by his experience on campus. He’s fast off the line and was one of the hardest workers I saw in-person last summer at R.A.S. camp in Fort Wayne. He’s got a high upside. A native of Ontario, Vilain attends boarding school at Episcopal in Virginia. Alabama, Florida, Michigan, Michigan State, North Carolina, Penn State, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas A&M and UCLA highlight his offer list.

3. Who do you think will be the next commitment?

Jake Brown: All signs point toward four-star quarterback Hendon Hooker coming on board next. Not only does the family already understand what Notre Dame is about, they’ve made it a point to visit before making a decision. Mike Sanford might just get his guy here in short order.

Steve Hare: Hendon Hooker. Quarterbacks are some of the first to commit and Hooker hopes to do that in the very near future. He has developed a solid relationship with Irish offensive coordinator Mike Sanford and his upcoming visit could be the deal maker.

Anna Hickey: Hendon Hooker. The four-star quarterback has one visit on his schedule, which is to Notre Dame this Sunday. He’s looking to make a decision this month. His father is highly involved in his son’s recruiting process, and the combination of academics and Mike Sanford could be what gives Notre Dame its next commitment.

4. Which program do you think Notre Dame will battle against the most this cycle?

Jake Brown: My first instinct here was Stanford for obvious reasons. But Michigan, as Anna describes in depth down below, makes much more sense. Notre Dame is after a bunch of top kids in the state of Michigan for the Class of 2017, which means butting heads with the in-state programs. Plus there are out-of-state prospects, like Josh Kaindoh, that are giving Michigan a hard look under Jim Harbaugh. They might not meet on the field but it seems certain they’ll be doing battle on the recruiting trail.

Steve Hare: Michigan. Jim Harbaugh is working hard to elevate his recruiting tactics and he is recruiting on a national level. His Midwest base already infringes on Notre Dame territory.

Anna Hickey: Michigan. It seems like every five-star and four-star already holds a Wolverines offer, so that’s part of the large quantity of early recruiting competition. But Notre Dame will go up against the Wolverines for the top two targets in Michigan in skill players Donovan Peoples-Jones and Ambry Thomas. Corey Malone-Hatcher, Phil Paea, Jaylen Kelly-Powell and Josh Ross are also Michigan natives that consider Notre Dame and Michigan among their top group. Then you look at Florida, California and the northeast, and the overlap continues. David Adams, Josh Kaindoh, Thomas Graham are among numerous marquee prospects that are giving Notre Dame and Michigan a hard look.

5. Which big name recruit could you see falling ND's way eventually?

Jake Brown: I’ll get on the Joshua Kaindoh bandwagon. It’s been made pretty clear he’s already predisposed to Notre Dame, which is a start. It’ll be especially easy to make this call if he gets on campus during the spring and/or summer. Kaindoh seems like the kind of kid that understands what Notre Dame brings to the table on and off the field. And it’s just a matter of time before truly elite defensive end sees the potential for playing time in South Bend, right? RIGHT?

Steve Hare: Haskell Garrett, who expressed a major interest in Notre Dame prior to committing to Ohio State. He still plans to visit South Bend and if there’s some wiggle room the Irish coaches will capitalize on it.

Anna Hickey: Trey Blount, the four-star wide receiver of Atlanta (Ga.) Pace Academy is visiting for the first time for Junior Day next week. If you asked Blount, he would say he doesn’t have any favorites despite offers from most schools in the SEC, but he’d name Notre Dame as one of the primary schools he’s having the most contact with. Scott Booker visited Blount last October during the Irish bye week, and that registered strongly with Blount. He’s open to going outside of the state and outside of the South. Finally, his teammate, Mick Assaf is headed to Notre Dame as a walk-on athlete in the 2016 class. He grew up a Georgia fan, so it’s going to be tough to outlast the Bulldogs, but Notre Dame has traction to do so.

6. Bonus question for fun - If you were a recruit and had five official visits (regardless of position and assuming any school is in play), what would they be?

Jake Brown: Texas, Washington, Georgia, Stanford, Miami

Steve Hare: Notre Dame, Miami, USC, Ohio State, Hawaii

Anna Hickey: Texas, Notre Dame, USC, Stanford, LSU

Look ahead: March 19 Junior Day

Stars will come out to South Bend on March 19 as Notre Dame hosts its second Junior Day.

Four-star linebacker David Adams headlines a long list of prospects expected on campus. Adams will be joined by three-star defensive tackle Kurt Hinish, a teammate at Central Catholic High School in Pittsburgh. Both have scholarship offers.

Here’s an early look at some of the other prospects expected to visit:

News and notes

- Sophomore cornerback Kalon Gervin touched base Wednesday with defensive line coach Keith Gilmore, area recruiter for Cass Tech High School in Detroit. Gilmore and Gervin are working out a visit for spring practice, likely in two weeks.

- Four-star wide receiver Isaiah Robertson plans to visit Notre Dame again on April 2. Robertson doesn’t yet hold an offer but is hopeful one will arrive this spring. Robertson is also looking into a visit to Michigan State this spring.

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