BEAVERTON, Ore. – Two of Notre Dame’s top targets will announce their college destinations during The Opening Finals at Nike this week.
Four-star athlete C.J. Holmes will announce his commitment in a pre-recorded video scheduled to drop at 10 a.m. eastern. Notre Dame was considered the heavy favorite until Holmes tweeted a top four earlier this week and excluded the Irish. And yet that still might not be enough to knock Notre Dame out of the lead.
Scout.com recruiting analyst Brian Dohn said Irish fans shouldn’t be too concerned with the Holmes’ post.
“I'd be shocked if he didn't pick Notre Dame,” Dohn said. “I think it's one of those situations where you have some fun with things. I don't think C.J. is the kind of kid that trolls people.”
Holmes attended the Irish Invasion and quickly listed the Irish as his leader, admitting that he almost committed on that visit. A short time later he declared his intent to announce his college decision on July 8.
Dohn believes that was a sign of what’s to come on Friday.
“It's no secret that he decided it's time to announce after he made a trip to Notre Dame,” Dohn said. “He's a big time academic kid. He doesn't just talk about it. He means academics. For me, you put two and two together and you know what's going on with it.
“You go back and you look, he visited Notre Dame and he comes out of the Notre Dame visit saying he almost committed and then he said he's going to announce at The Opening. What changed? Then you don't put Notre Dame in it? He's just having a little fun. Let a kid be a kid.”
A Holmes commitment could help the Irish land four-star wide out Tarik Black, Holmes’ teammate at Cheshire Academy in Connecticut.
“He's really tight with Tarik Black, his teammate who Notre Dame is on hard, the four-star receiver,” Dohn said. “They’re not a package deal but it will help whatever school gets him.”
Holmes’ father, Craig Holmes, is looking forward to seeing his son’s commitment video. He hasn’t seen a preview but he and his wife, Dawn, are thrilled their son made a decision not just focused on football.
“From a parent's perspective it's almost unreal,” he said. “It's almost like a dream, very surreal. I think about him starting football starting as a mighty mite and now he's 18-years old and we're here making a huge college decision. It almost seems like a dream but we're very proud of him based on his selection because after all the talks with myself and his mom we feel like he really got it and realized that outside of just big programs and different schools that life outside of football was the most important thing. The degree and the academics, outstanding academics and things of those nature are the most important things. I feel that based on his decision those things sunk in.”
Notre Dame is also the favorite to land four-star tackle Robert Hainsey of IMG Academy in Florida. The top lineman is expected to reveal his choice on Sunday.
Hainsey, who lives in Pittsburgh, Pa., transferred to IMG to improve his skills. Dohn always expected the standout lineman to return to the Midwest and believes the Irish will add another talented lineman to its recruiting class of 2017.
“Penn State I thought would have a really good shot at him but they already have some linemen committed so it's a numbers thing there,” Dohn said. “Then you look at Notre Dame and he's what Notre Dame wants, an athletic kid that is big and strong that can play multiple positions on the interior line of scrimmage. He reminds me a lot of Quenton Nelson. Notre Dame makes a lot of sense for him.”
Like Holmes, Hainsey is making a decision based on more than just football.
“You go to IMG to get better in football but also to have a great opportunity academically,” Dohn said. “Notre Dame offers that and it's closer to home. It's prestigious and ever since Brian Kelly got there I've heard it's not a four-year decision, it's a 40-year decision and Hainsey always struck me as a kid that would make a decision like that.”
How Could Michigan Impact Recruiting?
Saturday rivalries can come and go. Recruiting rivalries never take a break.
Notre Dame and Michigan haven't played since the 31-0 blowout in South Bend that sent the Irish out on top. That demolition ended the series, at least until Thursday when the schools announced it would be back in 2018-19 with a home-and-home.
Yet even when the teams took a break, the recruiting rivalry never hit pause.
“In all the reshuffling of conferences and Notre Dame going to play a lot of ACC schools, and the Big Ten going to nine games, what gets lost is you need to have the Texas-Texas A&M games and you should have Oklahoma-Nebraska,” Dohn said. “You have to have Notre Dame-Michigan. That's the way it is.
“For it to return, it’s great and you know the other great part is that once every two years you have a ton of recruits on campus and you're calling kids on Sunday morning to see how they enjoyed it.”
Both programs have enjoyed the fruits of playing each other early in the season.
One interesting example: Former four-star offensive tackle Steve Elmer visited Michigan when it hosted Notre Dame in 2011. He watched from the stands as the Wolverines took a 35-31 victory. And that proved to be the pivotal moment in Elmer’s recruitment.
Notre Dame scored a commitment from Elmer, who’s from Midland, Mich., one week later: He later said watching the Irish lose in Ann Arbor made him realize the right destination.
“It’s a big draw, especially when they don’t have to go too far,” said Allen Trieu, Scout.com Midwest recruiting manager. “I think it makes sense for Notre Dame to play Michigan and to have Michigan recruits there because you can so easily get top recruits from the state to come to South Bend. It’s an easy day trip for a lot of those kids and their families.”
Adding Michigan back to the schedule will give Notre Dame another premium platform to impress recruits, especially those potentially considering both programs.
Notre Dame signed three defensive linemen from Michigan last cycle: Daelin Hayes, Khalid Kareem and Ade Ogundeji. Top targets from the state in the Class of 2017 include four-star safety Jaylen Kelly-Powell and four-star cornerback Ambry Thomas.
Michigan is considered the leader for Kelly-Powell and a major player with Thomas. Both attend high schools in Detroit, which have traditionally been the domain of in-state programs.
Future prospects from similar areas or high schools could see Notre Dame in a new light thanks to its games against Michigan.
“They signed three kids from Michigan last year but there’s been a number of other Michigan kids that they’ve been close on and didn’t quite get,” Trieu said. “I think you beat Michigan in a couple of ball games, especially if those kids are (visiting), that could help turn the tide that last little bit on a couple of those guys they’ve been really close on but couldn’t close out the last couple of years.”