Insider Report: Guide to Irish Invasion

Here’s everything you need to know about the Irish Invasion. Which top targets could shine? Which prospects are on Commit Watch? Which underclassmen are worth remembering? Get it all in this week’s Insider Report.

Irish Invasion weekend is here.

Camp season is always an important part of the recruiting calendar. It’s doubly critical for Notre Dame as its marquee event continues to grow, morphing into one of the top summer events nationally while attracting talent from all corners of the country.

California, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas will all be represented. Washington, North Carolina, Connecticut and Rhode Island are expected to send talent to South Bend too. On top of that, Notre Dame’s home base will show with regional talent from Indiana, Illinois and Ohio.

Five-star prospects with elite scholarship offer lists are expected. Under-the-radar recruits seeking to impress the Notre Dame coaching staff will bring and edge to the camp environment.

Put it all together and it looks like the best edition of Irish Invasion yet. Irish Illustrated takes a look at the names to know and storylines to follow in this week’s Insider Report.

Top targets: Who’s who in the Class of 2017

Georgia and Miami are Brini’s top two schools and the former surged into the lead after a recent visit. Notre Dame hopes to get Brini back on campus for an official visit if all goes well this weekend.

The good news is Browning is wide open. The bad news is the five-star has his pick of just about any team in the country and double-digit programs are pushing hard to land him. Alabama, Florida State, Michigan, Ohio State, Texas and UCLA are all in the mix.

Echols pledged to UCLA back in February, but he’s still considering a number of other programs. Alabama, Miami, Michigan, Nebraska, Notre Dame, Oklahoma, Oregon and USC are all on that list. He consistently mentions Notre Dame as a future official visit despite this weekend being his first visit to campus. That’s a good sign for the Irish.

It’s big news getting Foster on campus for an unofficial visit. Clemson and Tennessee lead but Notre Dame has been firmly in his top seven, so Irish Invasion is an opportunity to make up ground and zero in on an official visit in the fall.

Hainsey will make a day trip for Irish Invasion on Saturday alongside his mother, who’s never seen campus for herself. Notre Dame hosted Hainsey in the spring and could be behind Penn State and Michigan State (at least) for the Pennsylvania native. Still, making it a point to return is a good sign.

This has shaped up to be a Notre Dame/Penn State/Alabama battle. The Nittany Lions have been involved longest, but Alabama and Notre Dame have taken his recruitment to the next level. He loves the idea of playing a role that mirrors C.J. Prosise. He’s scheduled to visit Alabama and Penn State in July and a decision is expected around the beginning of his senior season, though it’s possible he finds his home before then. Holmes is teammates with wide receiver Tarik Black, one of Notre Dame’s top receiver targets. He’s expected on campus later this month.

Notre Dame, Stanford and Washington make up Sarell’s top three. The five-star keeps his recruitment rather close to the vest, but the pairing of academics and Harry Hiestand’s track record could position Notre Dame as the team to beat after this weekend. It’s not totally out of the question that Sarell could commit this weekend, but we don’t expect that to happen.

Notre Dame, Stanford, UCLA and USC are all in the mix for St. Brown, the younger brother of Irish wide receiver Equanimeous St. Brown. He originally wanted to make a decision this summer, but now it appears he’ll take official visits. Stanford has made St. Brown one its top offensive targets in 2017, so it could be an intense battle between the Cardinal and Irish down the stretch.

Georgia has a comfortable lead on the rest of the pack, but Clemson and Notre Dame are in contention. He’ll make this visit with his parents, and the staff will pitch the academic opportunities unique to Notre Dame. This will be his second Irish visit, following a Junior Day earlier this year. If Georgia was the forgone conclusion here, he would have already committed. A decision could come this summer or he could extend it into the fall.

Commitment Watch: Who’s next?

It’s always the main question heading into a major recruiting event: Who joins the commitment column? Not down the road. Right now.

Notre Dame has been sitting on 10 verbal pledges in the Class of 2017 since four-star athlete Isaiah Robertson joined the fold in April. But if recent history tells us anything, Irish Invasion is a very productive time for instant commitments.

Wide receiver Kevin Stepherson and safety Jalen Elliott jumped on board this time last year. Linebacker Jamir Jones and safety Spencer Perry followed before June ended.

It’s not a matter of if Notre Dame will add to its class this month, but when. So who could it be? Here’s a look at some possibilities.

Putting Carter on commitment watch could be a stretch, but it’s already a Miami/Notre Dame battle without him having visited South Bend. If he likes what he sees this weekend, he could go ahead and pull the trigger. Carter is former prep teammates with Irish defenders Te’von Coney and Devin Studstill.

Of the six prospects listed under commitment watch, MacCollister enters the weekend as Irish Illustrated’s best bet to make a move while on campus. In fact, we would surprised if he did not return home Irish. His timeline for commitment is by the end of this month, at the very latest. Tennessee, which will receive a visit from MacCollister before he arrives at Notre Dame, appears to be the only potential threat.

Notre Dame had the most momentum in Pouncey’s recruitment until Florida offered last week. The Gators like him as a defensive back (something Pouncey isn’t so sure about) whereas the Irish like him at receiver. His Irish Invasion experience will factor into how impactful the offer from the powerhouse in-state school is in the end.

Stepp wants to make a decision this fall, but this weekend will mark the rising junior’s fifth visit to campus in less than a year. It’s possible he decides to shut down his recruitment this weekend or shortly thereafter. Michigan and Michigan State make up the others in his top three. Visits to Alabama, Clemson, Florida State, Michigan State, Ohio State and Virginia Tech are tentatively scheduled for this summer, so it’s also possible he stays true to his timeline and a commitment doesn’t occur until the fall.

Wilson has a top three of Louisville, Notre Dame and South Carolina, and he wants to make a decision this summer or early fall. It’s his first visit to campus, so if he likes what he sees, it’s not out of the question he commits to the Irish on-site or in the days that follow. The Cardinals hold the edge entering the weekend.

Young could make a decision at any point. Notre Dame, Oregon and Texas A&M make up his top group, and this weekend’s visit could be what gives the Irish a clear edge over the other two. This will be his first visit to campus, meaning Notre Dame is set to supplement its recruiting pitches with an in-person grasp of all Notre Dame has to offer.

Offer Watch: Running back and defensive end

Irish Invasion isn’t just about impressing prospects already holding offers with a glorified Junior Day experience. There is, after all, a camp element.

Usually the underclassmen are the ones working out most for offers. Tight end Cole Kmet earned his last summer. This year’s potential junior offer group includes linebacker Hugh Davis, wide receiver Micah Jones, linebacker Dallas Gant and tight end Anthony Torres.

Defensive end Stephen Herron is one to remember in the Class of 2019.

But let’s not forget there will also be some rising seniors looking to change their recruitments in a big way, headlined by a couple running backs and a defensive end.

Cunningham comes from the same Bishop Dunne program that produced current Irish cornerback Nick Watkins. There’s some intrigue here as Cunningham missed all of last season after tearing his ACL. He's just now getting back up to full speed.

“I just want to show them I’m two times the athlete I was my sophomore year,” Cunningham said.

Jackson plans to make the trip alongside four-star offensive tackle Andrew Thomas, a teammate at Pace Academy. There are some solid offers already on board: Duke, Louisville, Oregon State, Wisconsin, Maryland and Virginia Tech, to name just a few.

Jordan recently released a top six of Arkansas, Cal, Duke, Georgia Tech, Indiana and Michigan State. Notre Dame could move into that top group with an offer and maybe even surge toward the top, depending on how the visit goes.

Mitchell landed an invitation to Irish Invasion during a spring unofficial visit and is an interesting local talent. Known for his speed, Mitchell continues to draw interest from Power 5 programs. Cincinnati and Iowa State have offered along with several MAC programs. Purdue, Indiana, Michigan State and Penn State are interested and want Mitchell to camp as well.

“It’s gonna be really exciting to compete against those guys,” Mitchell said. “Just the fact that I know some of those guys and will get to compete against them. I want to go out there and show them I can compete. Not just from my film but show them in person pretty much.”

Scott Booker made a point to visit Paye, a Boston College commitment since December, twice during the spring evaluation period. Paye is returning that interest with the visit and admitted if Notre Dame offers, he’ll have plenty to consider.

“I think this offseason I’ve taken the opportunity to put in more hours,” Paye said. “I’ve been working on my stamina, my duration, my speed. I’ve been running track just to get my speed up there. I’m trying to compete with the best.”

Notre Dame hosted Perkins for an unofficial visit in the spring, which kick started some interest. Right now Illinois is probably the most high profile offer, but Perkins is intriguing with some length on the edge of a defense. He’s close friends with tight end commitment Cole Kmet.

Don’t Forget These Underclassmen

Headlining the underclassman talent are a handful of prospects with Irish offers, including Houston Griffith, Amon-Ra St. Brown, Markese Stepp, Leonard Taylor, Malik Vann, JT Daniels, Horace McCoy and Bookie Radley-Hiles.

Griffith, a 6-foot, 180-pound junior cornerback from Chicago is one of the Midwest’s top prospects.

“He'll be able to go almost anywhere in the country,” said analyst Allen Trieu. “Looking at his size and technique, it's not a surprise. He's wide open right now but I'd expect Notre Dame to be a school that continues to be in the thick of his recruitment.”

Florida State, Georgia, Michigan, Ohio State and Tennessee are among Griffith’s other suitors.

Notre Dame has been aware of St. Brown for years. The Irish signed Equanimeous St. Brown in 2015 and now have their sights set on landing the third brother in this family. Notre Dame also has offered Osiris St. Brown, a 2017 four-star wide receiver.

The 6-foot-1, 190-pound junior wide receiver from Santa Ana, Calif., has drawn offers from coast to coast and will return to South Bend with the Irish considered to be among his early favorites.

“You have to think (Equanimeous at Notre Dame) will play a role in his recruitment moving forward,” said analyst Greg Biggins. “He's actually closer to his older brother Osiris and the two would love to play together in college if possible and the Irish and Stanford are his current top two. The youngest St. Brown has made a very nice jump this spring and looks dramatically quicker with a better burst and downfield speed than he showed a year ago. He has very strong hands and has always been a polished route runner and competes at a very high level.”

Stepp, a 6-foot, 205-pound junior running back from Indianapolis, plans to announce his college decision this fall so Notre Dame needs to make a strong impression this weekend.

“He’s a big back but he's not just a power guy,” Trieu said. “He has some breakaway ability and can catch the ball. Notre Dame is high on his list too with Michigan and Michigan State. An Ohio State offer could make things interesting.”

Taylor, a 6-foot-5, 240-pound defensive end from Springfield, Ohio, landed an offer from Notre Dame in March and committed to Michigan a few days later.

He remains open and is looking forward to seeing the Irish.

Springfield coach Maurice Douglas, a former Chicago Bear, sees a lot of upside in his two-way standout.

"He's a lot like DeForest Buckner," Douglas said. "Big athletic guy with great upside; uses his hands very well. Only his first year playing defense."

Vann, a 6-foot-3, 245-pound junior defensive end from Fairfield, Ohio, recently listed Kentucky, Michigan State and Notre Dame as his favorites.

Of all the 2018 prospects scheduled to attend Notre Dame’s camp, Vann could be considered the most likely to end the recruiting process.

Last month, Vann recapped his spring visit to Notre Dame.

“Atmosphere was great,” Vann said. “All the fan support, they came out for the spring game. Walking out and seeing all the fans right there waiting for the players, I signed autographs.”

Daniels, one of a handful of select 2019 prospects on the camp roster, saw his recruitment blow up after throwing for 3,042 yards and 33 touchdowns to just four picks. The 6-foot-1, 180-pound quarterback from Santa Ana, Calif., has offers from Notre Dame, USC and UCLA.

“Although just a rising sophomore, Daniels is already among the best pure passers in the West region,” Biggins said. “He has an advanced feel for the game in terms of his timing and anticipation, has a tight release and a live, accurate arm. He'll be in contention for top overall recruit in the West his senior year. Three schools look like early leaders for Daniels right now, Notre Dame, Stanford and USC and all but the Cardinal have offered. Location won't be a factor for Daniels as he'll go anywhere and is talented enough to compete for playing time early in his college career.”

McCoy, a 6-foot-3, 175-pound rising sophomore wide receiver, teams up with St. Brown and Daniels at Mater Dei High School in Santa Ana, Calif. The trio terrorized opponents in 2016 and should do the same for the next couple of seasons.

Biggins believes the Irish should play a role in McCoy’s recruitment.

“Oregon was first to offer McCoy and USC was his most recent one, offering over the weekend,” Biggins said. “The Irish have offered as well and will stay among McCoy's favorites all the way through his recruitment.”

Biggins feels McCoy could be an impact player on either side of the football.

“McCoy is a big, physical receiver and has a college body right now,” he said. “He uses his size well on the field to get separation from opposing defensive backs and has above average athleticism as well. He's strong in jump situations, does a nice job catching the ball through contact and can make plays down the field. He shows a lot of potential at receiver but could be an even better prospect down the road on the defensive side of the ball.”

Radley-Hiles, a 5-foot-10, 175-pound junior cornerback from Calabasas, Calif., also saw a surge in his recruitment this spring with new offers from USC, his childhood favorite, UCLA, Nebraska, Michigan, Ohio State and Notre Dame.

“This visit to South Bend could keep the Irish towards the top of his list,” Biggins said. “Radley was one of the standouts of the spring and had several impressive showings on the 7-on-7 circuit. He's one of the most physical corners in the region and loves to get up and play man/press coverage and bully an opposing receiver. He has very good ball awareness and ball skills as well and shows strong cover instincts.”

A pair of in-state prospects plan to showcase their skills to earn offers.

Indianapolis linebacker Hugh Davis, a 6-foot-1, 210-pounder, has landed offers from a pair of Big Ten schools and Central Michigan. His recruitment is in the early stages.

“He may be a little bit overshadowed by his Cathedral teammates but he's getting his due now,” Trieu said. “He has Indiana and Illinois offers and has had some good camp performances this summer.”

Mishawaka junior tight end Anthony Torres has flown under the radar but he has the potential to develop into a solid pass catcher.

“He's just coming onto the radar but he has good size and a nice skill set,” Trieu said. “It's a little early to tell if he's a high-major kid but he's definitely looking like a DI guy and being as close as he is, a guy I'd expect the Irish to keep close tabs on.”

Other junior prospects scheduled to attend the Irish Invasion are Ohio linebackers Dan Bolden and Dallas Gant and Illinois wide receiver Micah Jones. Sophomore participants include Kentucky defensive tackle Jacob Lacey and Illinois offensive tackle William Putnam.

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