Late last month, four-star defensive end Donovan Jeter trimmed his list to Alabama, Ohio State, Penn State, Pittsburgh and Tennessee.
Now Jeter has an official visit booked to Notre Dame for the Michigan State weekend on Sept. 17.
Scout analyst Brian Dohn believes the Irish are still in the hunt for the Beaver Falls, Pa., prospect but the in-state schools probably hold an edge.
“I think the schools to look at the most are Penn State and Pitt,” Dohn said. “There are a lot of guys on the board for Alabama and Tennessee and they already have a lot of guys in the class.
“I think the question is No. 1, does he want to make a decision and how much room do they have? Penn State is a school that he's liked for a very long time but then when you look at Pittsburgh, it's right in his backyard and he has great familiarity there.”
Jeter’s brother, Sheldon, played basketball at Pitt.
“All that said, there's nothing to combat Notre Dame when it comes to academics and athletics, except for Stanford,” Dohn said.
That’s where the Irish could make things interesting.
Notre Dame hopes to add Jeter to an already impressive group of committed prospects from Western Pennsylvania. Four-star linebacker David Adams (Pittsburgh Central Catholic), three-star defensive tackle Kurt Hinish (Pittsburgh Central Catholic) and four-star offensive tackle Josh Lugg (North Allegheny) are all current pledges in the Class of 2017.
Four-star linebacker Matthew Bauer (Erie Cathedral Prep) and four-star quarterback Phil Jurkovec (Pine-Richland) headline commitments in the Class of 2018.
Jeter would represent another talented prospect and one at a position of need.
“Looking at Notre Dame, with what they've done with Brian Kelly, I don't think they've had a lot of guys his size playing on the edge,” Dohn said. “He's an inside guy but can play outside. You can do a lot of different things with him whether it's a 3-4 or 4-3. I also think he's a kid that is looking at the academic portion too. He's looking for the overall package, not just football.”
Irish in top three for Colin Wilson
Notre Dame could be done at running back this cycle with four-star C.J. Holmes on board. But the possibility remains for an addition.
Florida natives Colin Wilson and Robert Burns, a Miami commitment, seem like Notre Dame’s best bets among current possibilities at running back.
Burns visited for a Junior Day and is planning to return for an official visit. Wilson, a four-star prospect from Green Cove Springs, Fla., has Notre Dame in his top three heading into the season.
“Louisville, Notre Dame and UNC are my top three and they are the schools that will receive my official visits,” Wilson said. “I liked South Carolina for a while, but they kind of slipped.”
Wilson visited Notre Dame for Irish Invasion back in June, his first trip to campus.
“I like the school a lot and the feel of campus,” Wilson said. “I like coach (Autry) Denson a lot too. He thinks I could be a good player for them in their offense.”
Right now Wilson is unsure on possible official visit dates. He does, however, know some of the most important factors in making an eventual decision. Wilson was sidelined for part of last season and it gave him a better perspective on how important academics should be to the process.
Wilson wants to chart a course for his future before making his next move.
“I want to figure out what I want to go to school for before I make a decision,” Wilson said. “I think once I know that, it will help me make a decision.”
Griffith adjusts to IMG life
Houston Griffith made a major decision about his football future more than a year before his National Signing Day.
Starting this season, Griffith will play at IMG Academy. The four-star junior cornerback has already moved out of his native Chicago and is in Bradenton, Fla., preparing with new IMG teammates ahead of the upcoming season.
Griffith, formerly a standout at Mount Carmel High School, chose IMG to focus on development for college and preparing to enroll early at the program he eventually picks.
“I was home seeing my family every day,” Griffith said. “Now I’m down here. All you can do is FaceTime or get a phone call in. I’m gonna start growing up. It’ll make me grow up a little faster.”
That includes in practice, where Griffith goes against other star talent every day.
IMG features a laundry list of top prospects, including 13 players with four-star or better status in the Class of 2017. There are 16 seniors already committed to Division I programs. Griffith, a junior, mixes in with another eight prospects in the Class of 2018 that are ranked inside the Scout300.
“It’s been great,” Griffith said. “The one-on-ones, 7-on-7 and team periods have you always competing. No matter what, always.”
Because IMG is essentially a national boarding school, it also plays one of the most challenging schedules in the country.
First comes the season opener against Carol City (Florida) next week. There are also dates against Grayson (Georgia), Corona Centennial (California), Long Beach Poly (California), St. Frances (Maryland) and Southern Lab (Louisiana), among others.
IMG doesn’t compete in the Florida state playoffs.
“I’m just gonna keep learning from my coaches and build with my teammates,” Griffith said. “I’ll take each game one by one. We’ll stay focused on the game we have next weekend. I just wanna help and become more of a leader and a team player I’d say.”
Although his location has changed, Griffith doesn’t expect it to affect his recruitment outside longer travel to some of the programs he’s considering.
Notre Dame, Florida, Florida State, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan, Michigan State, Nebraska, Ohio State, Tennessee, UCLA and Wisconsin are among the scholarship offers on the table.
Griffith visited Notre Dame for Irish Invasion in June. He maintains a close friendship with current safety commitment Isaiah Robertson and has been connecting with some pledges in the Class of 2018, notably four-star running back Markese Stepp.
“Isaiah, that's my boy,” Griffith said. “He’s gonna be working on me. I’ve talked to Markese Stepp. We’ve just talked about how great this class could be and if I make that decision it’d be a great decision for me.”
Defensive backs coach Todd Lyght is invested in recruiting Griffith.
“Last time I was up there we got to spend some time together and just learn from him,” Griffith said. “I sat in a meeting and I got to see the way he coaches. He’s just a great coach and I love the relationship me and him have.”
Visiting the Irish again would have been easier if Griffith was still living in Chicago. As it is, there’s no game day visits on the schedule as he acclimates to life at IMG and scouts out some breaks in the season where a trip might fit into the mix.
In general, recruiting will slow as the season moves forward.
“Probably after the season I’ll look to break down schools,” Griffith said. “I’ll take it from there.”
ND hunts big game at offensive tackle
Notre Dame has been contention for a few premier offensive tackles in the Class of 2017, namely five-star Foster Sarell and four-star Jedrick Wills. The Irish would like to add at least one more tackle in 2017.
A new name emerged this summer when offensive line coach Harry Hiestand reinforced that four-star tackle Aaron Banks, who’s from El Cerrito, Calif., held a committable offer.
Banks visited Notre Dame, along with Michigan, last week. Each of the traditional Midwest powers improved their standing with Banks following those unofficial visits.
But proximity to home could be an issue. With that in mind, Arizona State, UCLA and USC have an edge in his recruitment. Notre Dame would like to get Banks back on campus this fall for an official to close that gap.
Wills could move on a verbal commitment to Alabama as soon as next week.
Sarell will decide among Notre Dame, Stanford and Washington after giving each program an official visit. There are plans in the works for Sarell, who visited around Irish Invasion weekend, to return for the Stanford game in mid-October.
Four-star receiver emerging
Oliver Martin crept onto Notre Dame’s radar late this summer.
Martin, a four-star prospect from Iowa City, Iowa, recently made a quiet visit to campus amid more public trips to Michigan and Michigan State. Notre Dame expects Martin to return for at least one game during the fall.
Right now there's no offer on the table, although that could change as the coaching staff continues to monitor Martin’s progress and the Irish receiver board.
Oregon is scheduled to host Martin for an official visit in early September. Michigan and Michigan State are considered the favorites. Iowa and BYU are also in the mix.