Insider Report: Irish recruiting starts fast

Could Notre Dame’s next commitment be coming next week? What’s the takeaway from the hot start this cycle for the Irish? The Insider Report tackles those topics, rounds up new offers and sounds out the head coach of new commit Drew White.

Notre Dame’s Next Commit?

Four-star offensive tackle Robert Hainsey could make a commitment next week after an overnight visit to Notre Dame that earned him an Irish offer.

Hainsey, a Pittsburgh native, transferred to Florida-based IMG Academy last summer. IMG head coach Kevin Wright sees a match between Notre Dame and Hainsey, if that’s how the recruitment plays out.
 
“He’s a tremendous fit at Notre Dame because he’s a guy that really fits in with what they’re all about both academically and athletically,” Wright said. “We always have guys here that are Notre Dame-type guys. Robert fits that mold and I think we have a few others here right now that do too.”

In addition to Notre Dame, Hainsey’s spring break tour includes stops at Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State and Penn State. Notre Dame and Penn State were first to receive trips. Next up is a trip to Ohio State, followed by visits to each of the Michigan programs.

“He has a great perspective because he’s seen a lot of different places,” Wright said. “He’s visited some SEC schools and a few schools up north, so he knows what he’s looking for. I see him going back north, whether it’s to South Bend, Penn State, or a school in Michigan. I think that’s what he’s really focused on. Traditionally our guys that are from the north go back to the north, and the ones from the South stay down here. I don’t know if that’s going to be the trend for everyone, but that’s how it’s been for the most part so far. It sounds awful great to leave home, but then when you do, some things about it are a little tougher than you thought.

"They really do get great exposure when they leave home and come to IMG. It kind of allows them to see the world — and I what I mean by that is it puts into perspective what really is important to you. I think that’s where Robert is right now.”

Wright coached Carmel High School to a 54-11 record in Indiana’s largest class division before taking the job at IMG last year. He will to South Bend next month as a guest speaker at Notre Dame’s Coaches Clinic.

Of the four Midwest schools under consideration, Notre Dame is the newest to Hainsey’s recruitment by a wide margin. Michigan, Michigan Sate and Penn State all offered

Notre Dame is the newest school, by a wide margin, to enter the picture for Hainsey out of the quartet (Michigan, Michigan State, Penn State) under consideration.

The Spartans, Nittany Lions and Wolverines all offered in 2014, while Notre Dame offered last week. The trio of Big Ten programs have combined to host him more than 10 times.

A decision could come down to Michigan State and Notre Dame, according to multiple sources. If Notre Dame wins out, it would be perhaps the most impressive Irish recruiting victory this cycle.

Ahead Of (And Winning) The Game?

Most recruiting cycles Notre Dame doesn’t lead the way in early commitments.

That’s not the case this year.

The Irish are in an ideal spot with nine commitments, trailing only Miami (14) and Ohio State (13). Clemson and Oklahoma also have nine. Alabama and Florida State come next with seven apiece.

Notre Dame owns seven four-stars commitments. Only Ohio State (11), Clemson (eight) and Oklahoma (eight) have more.

That’s outstanding company in quantity and quality.

Here is the number of commitments Notre Dame has held on this date in the preceding full classes of the Kelly era.

2016: 4
2015: 2
2014: 5
2013: 8
2012: 1
2011: 1

In other words, Notre Dame is ahead of the game compared to past Kelly classes. On top of that, the ’13 haul ranked as the best of the Kelly regime and finished No. 5 on National Signing Day.

Is there a right way or wrong way to pace the flow of commitments? If you’re Notre Dame it can be smart to wait due to academic requirements. Sometimes summer camp evaluations make sense before offering. But has Notre Dame not attacked the spring evaluation period more aggressively and used its academics as an excuse more than a reason?

In past years, does Notre Dame wrap up all five of this week’s commitments so early? That’s up for debate. It’s impossible to argue those commitments were the result of frontloading just to keep pace with other powers. All five were national prospects.

Yes, Notre Dame has always appealed to prospects from Catholic schools. Players focused on academics first usually look hard at the Irish. Some fans see that as a negative. It shouldn’t be. Those players usually stick out the hard work required to make it here more than those who need a two-year recruitment or make National Signing Day decisions.

But to sign a top five class in 2017, Notre Dame will need to be the hat that’s chosen, so to speak, by a fair share of those blue-chip players who do require the extra attention. With nine commitments already on board, the Irish can now afford to give them that extra focus.

Notre Dame strength and conditioning coach Paul Longo has a motto for his players in the weight room: Start fast. Finish strong.

Adapting that mantra on the recruiting trail, the Irish are halfway home. 

Five Questions With Roger Harriott

Few know South Florida talent like Roger Harriott, the head coach at St. Thomas Aquinas.

Harriott played at Aquinas before going on to star at Boston University and Villanova in college. He rose to prominence as a coach back in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., by turning University School into a power, compiling a 78-15 record while winning a state title in 2012.

After one season as Florida Atlantic’s running backs coach, Harriott took over as the head coach at Aquinas last spring. That move led him to linebacker Drew White.

White committed to Notre Dame earlier this week after visiting for Junior Day. Irish Illustrated caught up with Harriott for some perspective on the three-star linebacker, whose offer list outsizes his ranking.

Irish Illustrated: In terms of skill set, what have college coaches seen in Drew that led to some really elite offers?

Roger Harriott: Drew’s football intelligence, game instincts, size, strength, athleticism, academic profile, leadership and character traits have made him an appealing prospect to the most prominent college football programs.

II: What would you say are his biggest areas for growth over the next year?

RH: As a predestined leader, Drew will be faced with various challenges and opportunities conducive to leadership growth this season. Leading a team of this caliber isn’t an easy task, but Drew has the work ethic, spiritual aptitude and admiration of his teammates to meet expectations.

II: How has he fit into what you guys do on defense and played against the elite competition you face?

RH: His character, intellectual nature, family-oriented attitude and physical attributes have enabled him to play a productive role within our defensive attack. As a result of his high football IQ, skill set and tenacity, he has proven to be a formidable adversary against our opponents.

II: What would you say are his greatest leadership assets?

RH: Drew possesses innate leadership qualities, which positions him as an exemplary role model on and off the field. His 5.0 GPA and willingness to serve our community are direct reflections of his character, attitude and performance.

II: From you perspective, what makes him a perfect fit at Notre Dame?

RH: Notre Dame is very selective with their recruiting process. They do a great job finding elite scholar-athletes. In my humble opinion, Drew is the epitome of this description with a strong faith base to serve God, which ultimately makes him an ideal fit for the Fighting Irish.

New Offer Roundup

Weeks don’t get much bigger with offers than adding Notre Dame and Ohio State. The sophomore put both those Midwest powers on the board in a matter of days. He’s the latest in a long line of prospects at Bishop Gorman, which draws a natural line to Notre Dame. Gaoteote is also on record saying he grew up a big Manti Te’o fan.

Griffith is no stranger to Notre Dame after visiting last summer for Irish Invasion. Returning Wednesday for spring practice netted a surprise scholarship offer. Griffith is already one of the elite Midwest prospects in the Class of 2018 with several major offers. The sophomore is an Illinois legacy but right now the field appears wide open.

Harry Hiestand has been selective in offering offensive linemen this spring with two commitments — Josh Lugg and Dillan Gibbons — already in hand. Hainsey made the cut after driving over from his native Pittsburgh to watch Wednesday’s practice. There’s already been buzz Hainsey could commit within a week. But that’s not necessarily a slam dunk for the Irish as Michigan State has received several visits during the process and has reason to feel optimistic.

Just another in the long line of elite prospects at IMG Academy. Hightower’s offers — Alabama, Florida State, Miami, Michigan, Ohio State, Oklahoma, UCLA and Tennessee, to name just a few — don’t reveal that’s he’s in the Class of 2018.

Cornerback or running back? Johnson could end up on either side of the ball at this stage. His athleticism isn’t in question and he hails from an Augustus Hawkins program boasting plenty of talent. Five Pac 12 programs are already in with offers.

Lenoir has all the makings of an elite cornerback with size at 6-foot and the offer list to back it up. LSU, Michigan, Oklahoma, Oregon, Tennessee and Texas A&M are all in the mix. UCLA could keep Lenoir close to home.

More programs are lining up for Reagor since a recent de-commitment from Texas Tech. Baylor, Texas, Oklahoma and Texas A&M could all receive visits this spring. Ohio State has also been circling with interest. Reopening the process has certainly widened the field.

Todd Lyght made a move on Smith this week after plenty of time building a relationship. LSU has also offered the Louisiana prospect, which makes things difficult for any other program. But Smith claims to be wide open and is considering Alabama and Florida State, among others. History says it will be a chore to pull him out of the South, let alone the state.

Taylor could be a defensive end or tight end depending on whom you ask. Either way, it’s clear he’s one of the most talented prospects regionally in the Class of 2018. Michigan, Nebraska, Ohio State, Penn State and Tennessee are among the other scholarship offers in hand.

Notre Dame continues to look for targets at defensive tackle and that search led to Tufele, one of the top prospects out West. Pac 12 powers Oregon, UCLA and USC have already lined up. In-state programs BYU and Utah are in the mix. Michigan, Ohio State and several others have offered as well.

News and notes

  • Three-star defensive tackle Phil Paea listed Notre Dame, Michigan State, Michigan, Oregon, Arizona and USC as the programs most in focus. He’ll visit USC next month during spring break and plans to see Oregon next month. He’ll also make return visits to Michigan, Michigan State and Notre Dame this spring. Paea has family on the West Coast, so it’s not out of the question he could end up at one of those programs.
  • Four-star defensive end Donovan Jeter announced Thursday a top 10 that includes Notre Dame. Other programs listed: Pitt, Michigan, Ole Miss, Penn State, South Carolina, Ohio State, Tennessee, UCLA and Stanford.
  • Some prospects from Carol City High School in Miami stopped at Notre Dame on Thursday as part of spring break tour of Midwest programs. They included four-star linebacker Deandre Wilder, Miami wide receiver commitment Kevaughn Dingle, three-star safety Naytron Culpepper and 2018 safety Randy Russell, among others.

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