Few states churn out college football talent like Texas.
Notre Dame will get a glimpse of that this weekend. Although light in numbers, the Texas contingent at Irish Invasion on Saturday will be heavy on hype. Five-star outside linebacker Baron Browning (Kennedale) leads the way.
Browning, ranked No. 20 overall in the latest Scout300, will see Notre Dame for the first time. The Irish are in his Top 10 alongside Alabama, LSU, Michigan, Oklahoma, Ohio State, TCU, Texas, UCLA and USC.
Michigan is expected to host Browning on his Midwest trip as well. Ohio State was supposed to be on that list but Browning plans to scratch Columbus.
“I think the summer visits will be big for him,” said Greg Powers, a national recruiting analyst for Scout.com based in Texas. “I think it’s pretty wide open. He’s visited most often the schools that are closer to home like Texas and TCU. But he’s been adamant to want to go out and see schools like Ohio State, Alabama, Notre Dame, Michigan and UCLA and a few others.
“I think it’s probably too early to really sift through what he’ll end up doing until he makes some of those trips.”
Browning has talked about trimming the list to five contenders following summer visits. He’s also said it could take only one trip, the one that makes a big enough impact, to end up in a verbal commitment.
After making a swing through the Midwest, Browning will participate in The Opening Finals on at Nike in July. After that, official visits could be part of the process. Or maybe not, depending on how Browning feels about his suitors.
Either way, the Irish get their first shot at one of the nation’s elite defensive prospects.
“Baron is a guy I didn’t get to see play in person with the pads on until the very last game of his junior season where they got bounced from the playoffs against Argyle,” Powers said. “It was just a torrential downpour that night. So it didn’t really give me a fair shot to evaluate him in person, which is something I always think is big when you’re putting the five stars next to somebody’s name.
“We just continued to look at him and I think he’s the guy in this class that has the most NFL potential based upon his physicality and, like I said, his intangibles off the field, his testing numbers. He’s a guy that can run extremely well for his size and is quite simply one of the strongest players in the nation.”
Browning could play a few different positions at the college level and already does for Kennedale, which moves its best player around to create more opportunities. Powers sees plenty of possibilities.
“He’s not just pinned down to one position,” Powers said. “He’ll come up and be an edge rusher. He’ll play middle linebacker. They just move him all around to try and create opportunities for him to make plays. It just kinda depends on what he grows into. He’s already 6-foot-4, over 240 pounds. It just kinda depends on how he matures as a person and how his frame matures to what he ends up doing at the next level. He can run. He’s a good tackler, very strong. Of course, a lot of people heard about that 600-pound dead lift.”
Browning will join a couple more Dallas-area natives in South Bend this weekend.
Four-star quarterback Avery Davis (Cedar Hill) will be back on campus for the first time since giving Notre Dame a spring commitment. Irish offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Mike Sanford, who doubles as area recruiter, will get a chance to work with Davis in a hands-on environment.
Sanford will likely see growth in his future quarterback, who’s settled in as a leader at Cedar Hill High after ascending into the full-time starting role last season.
Davis made the Elite 11 Finals earlier this summer but fell short of an invitation to The Opening Finals. Back home, he helped Cedar Hill qualify for the Texas state 7-on-7 tournament and turned in a productive spring.
“Very consistent,” Powers said. “He’s a great leader. But the thing I like most about him is he’s always calm, cool and collected. He never panics. He never has any of those huge, ‘Oh, no’ moments. He’s able to stay very consistent and balanced with what he does and never plays out of control.”
Putting on an aerial display Saturday is something Davis will more than likely do in a camp setting.
Last season Davis threw for 2,148 yards and 25 touchdowns against just four interceptions. He added 873 yards rushing and another 13 scores. But make no mistake, Davis is a passer first and running is a distant second.
“He’s a pass-first guy that will use his legs when he needs to,” Powers said. “I think the dual-threat gets thrown out there much too often on quarterbacks and people that read it think these are run-first guys that can’t really throw. That’s not how I see Avery Davis. He’s a guy that can throw but also run.”
Running back Rajan Cunningham rounds out the senior Irish Invasion visitors and hopes to grab the kind of spotlight Browning and Davis own.
It’s been awhile since Cunningham, who plays running back at Bishop Dunne in Dallas, suited up in pads. Cunningham tore his ACL last spring and missed his junior season. Most coaches haven’t seen much of the 5-foot-9, 180-pound prospect outside camps.
Still, there have been offers from Cal, East Carolina, Iowa, Louisiana Tech, New Mexico, Oregon State, SMU and Toledo. Cunningham wants to add another with a strong Irish Invasion workout.
“He’s a guy who before he went down with that injury was very firmly on the radar,” Powers said. “I think he had an early ranking based on his sophomore tape. He’s been on the radar for awhile but we just haven’t had a chance to see what he can do, it’s been over a year now.”
Sanford checked in with Cunningham during spring. The Irish want to see how he performs in person before making a scholarship offer decision. That might require waiting until fall to see how he holds up as a senior.
“He's looked good in camps and stuff physically," Powers said. “It’s just tough to tell. You don’t gain a lot of great intel from watching a running back in a camp setting. They’re abusing linebackers on pass routes. That’s not something they’re necessarily gonna be doing when they have pads on.”