The Western Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic League has produced some of college football’s top players and plenty of NFL talent too. Rob Gronkowski and Darrelle Revis are among the biggest names that began their careers in the WPIAL.
Notre Dame has recruited the league in the past, landing cornerback Darrin Walls out of Woodland Hills High School in 2006, but the Irish have intensified their recruiting efforts in the 10-county area and already have reaped the rewards with commitments from juniors Josh Lugg, David Adams and Kurt Hinish and most recently from sophomore quarterback Phil Jurkovec
“It's a great thing for ND to come into the WPIAL and pick up a lot of great guys,” Lugg said. “I strongly feel that the WPIAL has enough talent to be considered a football hotspot like Texas, California and Florida high school football teams.”
Notre Dame’s recent success has caught the attention of some of the top prospects in the area.
“The number of WPIAL (players) to ND commits has definitely caused a lot of conversations,” Lugg said. “It's a big deal for Notre Dame to come into a city five hours away and take the top talent out of it.”
Jurkovec’s commitment was an eye-opener considering he held scholarship offers from Alabama, Clemson and Ohio State, among others.
That should help the Irish strengthen their pipeline to the WPIAL.
“It's awesome to see Notre Dame come into the WPIAL and recruit well,” Jurkovec said. “There's a good tradition of Western Pennsylvania players who have gone on to play for Notre Dame, but four players from the same area in two years is rare.”
Donovan Jeter, another WPIAL prospect, holds an offer from Notre Dame and the Irish have taken an interest in several other area prospects.
The buzz Adams, Hinish, Jurkovec and Lugg create this fall could help Notre Dame’s recruiting efforts moving forward.
Miami commit plans Irish Invasion visit
Notre Dame impressed Miami (Fla.) Gulliver Prep running back Robert Burns during his Junior Day visit in March. He told Irish Illustrated at the time the visit “surpassed all expectations.”
Burns plans to return to Notre Dame in the fall on an official visit, but a trip next month for Irish Invasion is also in the works.
“That’s the plan,” Burns said. “My mom didn’t see Notre Dame the first time I visited, so that’s the main thing. Hopefully she can come with me to Irish Invasion because I want her to see it.”
Burns committed to Miami in February of 2015. Hurricanes’ assistant director of player personnel and recruiting operations, Jorge Baez, was the offensive coordinator at Gulliver Prep during Burns’ freshman year. Baez took a shot at Notre Dame on Twitter a couple years ago by comparing the weather in Coral Gables to South Bend.
Duke and Florida are also recruiting the 5-foot-11, 215-pound running back, but Notre Dame is a notch above the Blue Devils and Gators. The Irish only trail the Hurricanes.
“There’s a comfort factor that I have with Miami,” Burns said. “I know a lot of guys already on the team, but Notre Dame has opened my eyes to what else there is. I’m really looking forward to building that relationship more with them.”
Burns listed Notre Dame as an offer he coveted back in January of 2014, so his interest in the Irish program is not new. The Irish offered last December.
“It’s just a prestigious place and it offers a different experience,” Burns said. “There are a lot of pros to a program like that.”
Burns is on track to enroll in college next January.
ND remains ‘best visit’ for Baylor receiver commit
Hezekiah Jones continues to have Notre Dame on his mind.
Associate head coach Mike Denbrock ensured it stays that way by making the trek to Stafford, Texas, this week to check on the four-star wide receiver. Jones, who’s been committed to Baylor since last summer, visited Notre Dame earlier this spring for the Blue-Gold Game.
Denbrock is teaming with offensive coordinator Mike Sanford and head coach Brian Kelly in communicating with Jones daily. They’ve made Will Fuller comparisons.
“Just how they would see me in that offense,” Jones said of the main talking points. “They think I can be very successful. It just goes on the list with their academics and stuff like that. They send me those pictures.”
Talking with coaches on the regular isn’t the only thing keeping the Irish in play.
Jones said seeing Notre Dame for himself was one of his best decisions in the recruiting process.
“Everything stuck with me,” Jones said. “It’s my best visit, my favorite visit that I’ve taken. Just the atmosphere that they have around there is very special. You don’t get it everywhere. I just like the coaches and the people that are up there.”
But Notre Dame isn’t the only program Jones is considering outside Baylor.
Stanford, Houston, Texas A&M, Texas, Oklahoma State and Alabama are just some of the programs to swing through Stafford High School over the last few weeks. Jones is also talking with Cal and Oregon.
Those West Coast programs are likely to get Jones on campus later this summer for unofficial visits.
“I’m probably gonna hit California to see Stanford and Cal-Berkeley,” Jones said. “I’m gonna head up to Eugene. Those are the ones I have planned right now.”
Jones also plans to take official visits, although the programs in line to receive them are yet to be determined. For now, Jones is in wait-and-see mode when it comes to potentially making a final decision.
In the meantime, Baylor continues to recruit Jones in earnest.
“I talk to them every day just like I talk to the rest of the coaches,” Jones said. “I have a different relationship with them than I do any other coaches, I can say that. They’re right up the street, so I can see them any time I want.”
Early look at the Irish Invasion lineup
Notre Dame expects some of the nation’s top talent to hit campus next month. On June 18, the Irish will hold their third-annual Irish Invasion.
The list of visitors will continue to expand in the following weeks, but offered targets in the Class of 2017 include the following:
Cortez Alston – Three-star – Atlanta, Ga.
Robert Beal – Four-star – Norcross, Ga.
Hunter Echols – Four-star – Los Angeles, Calif.
Jonathon MacCollister – Three-star – Orlando, Fla.
LaBryan Ray – Four-star – Madison, Ala.
Robert Burns – Three-star – Miami, Fla.
Baron Browning – Five-star – Kennedale, Texas
New offer roundup
Green exploded onto the recruiting scene after having just one offer in January. He now holds offers from Arizona, Baylor, Florida, Georgia, Houston, LSU, Michigan, Michigan State, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas A&M and Texas Tech.
Johnson was offered by Notre Dame last year, but the staff confirmed the offer this past week. One of the top overall prospects in his class, it will be tough to land Johnson, but Notre Dame has piqued his interest early.
Landers has yet to narrow his list, but the in-state Gators have made headway with the 6-foot-5 prospect.
Notre Dame joined the mix for McMichael, who also has pulled in offers from Florida, Georgia, Michigan State, Tennessee and Virginia Tech.
Speed’s recruitment picked up steam this spring, when he added offers from Tennessee, Michigan and USC. The Tar Heels took the early lead for Speed, but his process still has a ways to go.