Insider Report: Recruiting springs forward

What’s Notre Dame’s biggest priority during the spring evaluation period? Where are the coaches headed first? Can the Irish really land Josh Kaindoh and what’s Notre Dame’s next best move at defensive end? The Insider Report tackles all that.

The end of spring practice didn’t give the Irish coaching staff any rest.

During the coming weeks assistants will travel the country during the spring evaluation period. Coaches can check on a prospect twice, per NCAA rules — once to assess his academic standing and another for the athletic component.

Officially, the evaluation period started April 15 and will close May 31. Some Notre Dame coaches hit the road late this week while the full force will be out come Monday.

“For college coaches, its their first chance to see most of the guys they’re recruiting in person,” said Brandon Huffman, National Director of Recruiting. “Some of them, they’ve seen since they started recruiting them, but for most, a film evaluation has been their lone source of visual on them — so now they can see if the size matches up to what the recruit is saying, they can see if the athleticism matches what they see on film and if the recruit is a fit for what they’re looking for.”

Notre Dame, along with other programs, will spend its time doing three things: Keeping up with current commitments, checking on targets with offers and evaluating even more prospects to potentially offer either now or down the road.

Joey McGuire, head coach at Cedar Hill High School in Texas, expects a little bit of everything.

Irish quarterbacks coach Mike Sanford is expected to check on four-star commitment Avery Davis today. Other major coaches will drop in on their commitments: wide receivers Charleston Rambo (Oklahoma) and Jaylon Jackson (Colorado) have already made pledges.

Still more are uncommitted: four-star receiver Camron Buckley and four-star running back Kaegun Williams, three-star linebacker Dimitri Moore and three-star defensive end Deven Lamp.

And that doesn’t even get into a potential Division I prospects in the sophomore and freshman classes.

“I think it's a little bit of a mix,” McGuire said. “When you’re talking about your top end guys that are gonna be seniors and have multiple offers, you’re just checking on them and making sure you’re seeing them. I think the real evaluation this time of year for a lot of programs is the to-be juniors and maybe a couple of those special to-be sophomores. We have a number of those that are ready.”

Cedar Hill begins spring practice May 2 and will go four times a week leading up to its spring game later in the month.

Practices help coaches with their evaluations, but not every state allows them. Many in the Midwest don’t while Texas, Florida, California and several other major talent producers do.

Either way, prospects have a chance to expand their options during this time either with full practices, more limited workouts or perhaps even a simple eyeball test at a track meet.

Former Notre Dame wide receiver Will Fuller worked out for the Irish staff during this stretch of his recruitment. Ultimately, it resulted in a scholarship offer and a commitment. Now Fuller is on the verge of becoming a first round pick.

“Sometimes what you get is maybe a late bloomer or a smaller kid that their recruiting is slow,” McGuire said. “I’ve got a little running back, Marquise Forman. He’s a little scat back. I think he’s as good as anybody around. But he’s 5-7 or 5-8. Those guys are slower evals unless they went out and ran like a 4.3 and then they’re still slower because they’re just not very big.

“I think those guys and then some guys that maybe flipped positions, there’s definitely places where they’re going to evaluate.”

Evaluations during the spring are one thing. Just having a presence is another.

Many top prospects at this point already have a long list of scholarship offers — if they haven’t cut down the list in some way — and are likely going to end up committed to a program already on their board. Coaches have to follow up on those targets, even if they can’t speak by NCAA rule.

Four-star athlete Salvon Ahmed added a Notre Dame offer Tuesday and expects defensive backs coach Todd Lyght, his area recruiter, to visit school in the next couple weeks. Others have already made it a point to stop by Juanita High School in Kirkland, Wash.

Ahmed plans to use the spring as a chance to lay more groundwork toward making a top five during the summer.

“I kinda see it just as an opportunity to meet the coach early on before you’ve gotta make the trip down there,” Ahmed said. “I think you kinda get the feeling for how interested they are in you. Like Stanford, they came the very first day they could do their spring stuff. They came to my track meet, which was awesome. That just shows you how interested a team is in you.”

Given the amount of prospects on his roster, McGuire expects a lot of traffic through his offices and practice field this spring. One of the Cedar Hill assistants acts as recruiting coordinator to help streamline the process.

Whether one of his guys is going to be uncovered as a legitimate target by some program or it’s just a coach stopping to see a commitment, bustling hallways are a sign of spring.

“When you’re a college coach and you come on campus,” McGuire said, “whether it be during the day or after school at practice, the first thing you’re gonna get is a prospect sheet with all the kids’ information and their jersey number so you know what you’re looking at. I love college coaches on campus from the standpoint that everything we’ve been telling these kids that’s important, they just re-emphasize when they’re out there.

“It makes your practice better. I think the kids are excited and want to perform. The more out there the better for us. If we can get 20 or 30 a day, I wish I could get it every day.”

Where Will The Irish Be?

Mike Elston was in Cincinnati on Thursday to check on sophomore linebacker Malik Vann. NCAA rules prohibited Elston from speaking to Vann but the 6-foot-2, 240-pounder had plans to call Elston later in the day on Thursday to catch up.  Vann attended Notre Dame’s Blue-Gold game last Saturday and left campus with an offer. 

Scott Booker is expected to be very busy next week as he is tentatively scheduled to visit junior four-star guard Darnell Ewell in Norfolk, Va, on Monday and junior four-star defensive tackle Fred Hansard in Princeton, N.J., on Tuesday. Booker will then make his way to Hendersonville, Tenn., on Wednesday to see three-star junior linebacker Jacob Phillips.

Ewell landed an offer from the Irish earlier this month and is being recruited to play along the defensive line. Hansard hopes Booker’s visit could lead to a scholarship offer.

Phillips, who landed an Irish offer in February, visited Notre Dame in March and liked what he saw.

Notre Dame’s staff also is scheduled to see four-star junior offensive tackle JJedrick Wills on Tuesday.

Three-star wide receiver Jamire Calvin expects Irish assistant coach Mike Denbrock to visit Cathedral High School in Los Angeles during the spring evaluation period. That trip could lead to good news for Calvin.

“He pretty much told me they'll offer when they see me,” Calvin said. “That's what he told my coach and he already said he wants to, he just had to see me in person first.”

Calvin already holds scholarship offers from Cal, Louisville, Missouri, Nebraska, Tennessee and Washington, among others.

Lyght made a stop Thursday at Cass Tech in Detroit. His targets were four-star safety Jaylen Kelly-Powell, four-star wide receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones and sophomore cornerback Kalon Gervin, among others. All three visited for the Blue-Gold Game.

If Not Kaindoh … Who?

It’s been difficult for Notre Dame to gain traction with top defensive ends this cycle, again.

Four-star Robert Beal originally gave the Irish a commitment before backing off that pledge in mid-February. He’s since zeroed in on Alabama, Florida State, Georgia, Miami, Tennessee and other programs closer to his native Norcross, Ga.

Since then the Irish have continued their pursuit of four-star Joshua Kaindoh, who visited last weekend for the Blue-Gold Game. It’s unclear how that trip went in terms of boosting Notre Dame up a few notches, although Wednesday brought reasons for cautious optimism.

After much speculation Maryland could be close to landing Kaindoh, he released a top four without the Terrapins. Michigan, Notre Dame, Ohio State and Penn State remain standing.

“Despite not securing a spot in Joshua Kaindoh's top four, I remain hesitant to officially count out Maryland after speaking with a source on Thursday,” said Corey Bender, Florida analyst. “As of right now, I have to be feeling pretty good if I’m rooting for the Fighting Irish.

Kaindoh visited Notre Dame for the Blue-Gold Game. And if today was National Signing Day the Irish look like the pick. But Kaindoh is reserved and doesn’t let on much about his recruitment.

But if the Irish can’t get Kaindoh where do they turn?

Irish Illustrated looks at some names.

Young recently cut his list down from 42 scholarship offers to a top 15: Notre Dame, Florida State, Michigan, Miami, Tennessee, Michigan State, Florida, Arizona State, Alabama, USC, LSU, Clemson, Maryland, Ohio State and Texas A&M.

Sure, that’s still a long and fairly elite group of programs in play. But it’s better to be in at this stage than already out of the picture.

There are some positives for Notre Dame here: Young attends DeMatha Catholic in Hyattsville, Md., which usually translates well even if the Irish football program has struggled to recruit there. He’s also cut out of the same elite mold as Beal and Kaindoh. Young turned in a dominant performance at The Opening Regional in Washington D.C.

Could the local defensive end be any more important?

Malone-Hatcher lives in St. Joseph, Mich., which is about a 40-minute drive from South Bend. He’s been on campus several times, including for Junior Day in March. In terms of proximity and interest, they don’t come much more talented.

Notre Dame remains in a tight race with Michigan. Michigan State, Ohio State and Wisconsin are on the edges.

“It is definitely, in my mind, a Michigan-Notre Dame battle,” said Allen Trieu, Midwest Regional Manager. “I think he’s visiting some other programs to make sure, but push come to shove, those are the two. I also think, at this point, Michigan has the upper hand and it would be a huge surprise to me if he chose anyone but Michigan at this point.

“But if any school were to be able to come in and pull the upset, it would be Notre Dame.”

Another local defensive lineman, three-star tackle Phil Paea, came off the board to Michigan recently. That’s one the Notre Dame staff could live with. Losing out on Malone-Hatcher would be a more difficult pill to swallow given he’s more a position of need and has been recruited longer.

He’s not a five-star prospect, but Malone-Hatcher would be a quality safety net at pass rusher in this class.

Let’s start this one with a disclaimer: Johnson is from Mobile, Ala., and has offers from Alabama and Auburn. That alone makes it a difficult proposition. He might also be more of a strong side defensive end eventually than a true pass rusher.

We’re going to keep Johnson on the list anyway. Quality defensive ends of any sort are hard to find.

Johnson has been open to programs outside the South and already visited Stanford. He’s recently talked about summer trips to USC and Notre Dame before making any kind of decision.

“Johnson is an incredibly smart kid,” said John Garcia, a recruiting analyst who covers the state of Alabama. “He has seen countless former teammates at his state championship program go through the process and land at big time schools. The tight ship ran at the school has resulted in very few early commitments but also very few de-commitments. Johnson, though SEC schools have pushed, will explore his top academic and athletic options before making a decision almost no matter how he feels on a given visit.

“That is massive news for the two summer destinations he has already carved out: USC and Notre Dame. I expect Johnson to give each program a true look.”

Getting the 6-foot-4, 255-pound prospect on campus would be a win in itself. Getting talent out of Alabama is difficult, but there’s a shot with Johnson considering his summer plans.

This is probably a reach. Carter has been focused on Clemson, Florida, Auburn, LSU and Miami.

On the flip side, Carter has said he’s in no hurry to shut things down so that gives Notre Dame or any other program with something to sell an opportunity to work their way into the mix. Hillsborough High School in Tampa, Fla., will be busy with college coaches this spring.

Now here’s an interesting case.

Curtis attends the same high school that produced former Notre Dame running back Greg Bryant and has talked about making a trip to campus this spring, although it’s yet to happen. Either way, there’s certainly some interest from the player’s end.

In terms of skill set, Curtis might be a little more unrefined than some of his higher ranked peers, but there’s plenty to like. He’s long, rangy and racked up about 13 sacks as a junior.

Notre Dame has yet to offer. Curtis recently listed a top five of North Carolina, Pittsburgh, N.C. State, Kentucky and Florida Atlantic. There’s probably room for that to change as Curtis doesn’t plan to make a commitment soon and will likely see several college coaches during the spring evaluation period.

Speaking of which, expect the Notre Dame board to grow during the next month as assistants hit the road to evaluate talent. There’s no better time for the Irish staff to find a few more targets.

The Irish Invasion in June will also give Notre Dame a chance to evaluate potential targets. And that leads to one more name.

Probably the most lightly recruited name on this list, Perkins visited campus earlier this month.

Illinois is the only Power 5 scholarship offer to Perkins. Some MAC programs are also involved. But he’s worth remembering because the plan is for Perkins to return and work out for the staff at Irish Invasion in hopes of scoring that scholarship offer.

Perkins is close with Notre Dame tight end commitment Cole Kmet, which could bode well down the line.

New Offer Roundup

There’s a longstanding relationship between Notre Dame and Ahmed, who’s been talking to defensive backs coach and area recruiter Todd Lyght since last fall. Ahmed hopes to work out a summer visit with an offer now in hand. Stanford could be the leader, although Ahmed says his recruitment is wide open and will be whittled down to a top five during summer.

Southern California-based B2GSports brought a busload of prospects and parents to Notre Dame on Monday following the IMG 7-on-7 Midwest Regional. Crosswell, a safety in the Class of 2018, was one of three to get offered during the trip. He teams with five-star receiver Joseph Lewis, four-star receiver Jalen Hall (2018) and several other top prospects at Augustus Hawkins High School in Los Angeles.

Notre Dame dipped back into Georgia for Holloman, a four-star prospect. There’s no shortage of elite suitors with Alabama, Auburn, Georgia, Michigan, Ole Miss, Mississippi State, South Carolina and Tennessee among the many already on board. In-state Georgia could be hard to top.

McCoy, another B2G prospect, also scored an offer during the visit. Listed at receiver, McCoy could grow into any number of positions over the next few years. He’s one of just three players Notre Dame has offered in the Class of 2019 and joins Mater Dei teammate J.T. Daniels, a quarterback, on that list. Mater Dei is the same powerhouse California program that produced linebacker Joe Schmidt.

Notre Dame hosted Salyer earlier this offseason for a Junior Day, where he was joined by some Pace Academy teammates. Four-star receiver Trey Blount also attends Pace and made the trip. Salyer has risen this spring into one of the top offensive linemen in the Class of 2018. Alabama, Arkansas, Auburn, Clemson, Florida State, Georgia, Miami, South Carolina and Tennessee are among his other scholarship offers.

Williams, like McCoy, is a prospect in the Class of 2019. He attends Serra High School in Gardena, Calif., which has set up traditionally as a pipe line to USC. Either way, Williams is already one of the top cover cornerbacks on the West Coast and also scored an offer from Michigan during B2G’s swing through the Midwest.

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