Eric Kurle doesn’t get this kind of talent often.
Sure, there are five-star prospects in every recruiting cycle. But not many of them are tucked away in small Pacific Northwest towns. Foster Sarell, a five-star offensive tackle and No. 2 player overall in the latest Scout300, is an exception and an anomaly.
Not only is Sarell considered the best offensive tackle prospect in the Class of 2017, he’s so athletic Kurle plans to use him more on defense this season as well.
“They come along very rarely,” Kurle said. “He’s really special, a special athlete and a special kid. He’s in great shape so he’s able to play more than one side of the ball.”
Sarell, it should be no surprise, anchored Kurle’s offensive line last season as a junior. It was considered one of the best units in the state and helped power Graham-Kapowsin High School to an undefeated record before it lost in the Washington Class 4A quarterfinals to Lake Stevens, which featured former five-star prospect and current Georgia quarterback Jacob Eason.
(Eason, whose father played receiver at Notre Dame, incidentally, has been getting first team reps at Georgia during fall camp.)
Now the plan is to maximize Sarell’s athletic ability in order to stage a deep postseason run. The 6-foot-6, 300-pound prospect will play defensive end.
Sarell arrived for preseason practices in such good condition his coach didn’t hesitate to add more to his plate. Kurle believes his star is athletic enough to be a real factor on defense, not just a place holder.
“We're actually gonna play him a lot at the defensive end spot in an under set,” Kurle said. “That takes care of one side for us. He does a good job and he’s so athletic. He does a good job of holding off the edge and actually runs really, really well. He’s so coordinated with his feet. It actually works out really well.”
There's also the matter of Sarell’s recruitment, which will add another layer to his senior season.
Sarell hasn't set a decision date or formally announced a leaderboard, although it’s clear his process will stretch into the season with Notre Dame, Stanford and Washington among the primary contenders.
Nebraska is expected to get Sarell on campus next weekend for an official visit. Notre Dame will do the same in mid-October when it hosts Stanford. Sarell is also planning game day trips to Stanford and Washington.
Kurle has helped out along the way as Sarell and his family have navigated the process.
“I think any time when you’re a top recruit like that it’s gonna get overwhelming,” Kurle said. “But if anybody has handled it well it’s been him. He’s been pretty good with people and narrowing it down. Actually what his narrow down is, I don’t know if he’s gonna put that out there until he’s pretty close and go from there. The kid is pretty level headed and understands the process and has handled it really well.”
Sarell visited Notre Dame for the first time back in June for Irish Invasion. It’s a trip that vaulted the Irish into serious contention, particularly as Sarell connected with offensive line coach Harry Hiestand and current players in that position group.
But many consider Stanford the team to beat. Washington, as the hometown program, can’t be discounted either. Kurle always figured, however, top academic institutions would catch the attention of his star lineman.
It’s no surprise Stanford and Notre Dame have percolated to the top.
“I think that those two are there,” Kurle said. “He’s got some other ones he’s very interested in also. He’ll make the right decision. I think most of those would be the right decision. They’re all good schools and good football programs. I think he’d fit in perfectly anywhere.”
Hiestand and the “aura”
Much has been made about the recruiting success of Hiestand during his tenure at Notre Dame.
The veteran offensive line coach has three commitments in the Class of 2017 — Josh Lugg, Robert Hainsey and Dillan Gibbons — and all are four-star prospects. As he continues to chase Sarell, Jedrick Wills, Trey Smith and Aaron Banks there’s room for the current haul to get even better.
The three previous cycles combined have seen Hiestand sign nine offensive linemen (Jerry Tillery, now on defense, excluded) and all but two have been four-star prospects.
How’s Hiestand been able to do it?
“People don’t realize the aura around Hiestand for these kids,” one parent told Irish Illustrated.
Certainly, a recent track record of success feeds into that notion. Hiestand helped mold Ronnie Stanley and Zack Martin into first round picks. Nick Martin went in the second round during the spring and might’ve started at center for the Houston Texans this season if not for a season ending ankle injury. Chris Watt turned into a third round pick. Mike McGlinchey and Quenton Nelson appear on track for first round futures.
But it’s not just player development. Hiestand has a particular style and, for lack of a better way to put it, offensive linemen seem to get it.
“He’s very genuine,” the parent said.
’18 WR Jones targeting next round of visits
Three-star junior receiver Micah Jones is planning game day visits to each of the programs in his top five: Illinois, Iowa, Michigan State, Northwestern and Notre Dame.
“I have one set up right now and that’s Iowa-Iowa State,” Jones said.
Jones is in the process of setting up other trips. He’s looking at the possibility of visiting Notre Dame for one of its primetime games — Michigan State or Stanford — depending on the schedule.
Ohio State is also in line to get a visit. The Buckeyes have yet to offer, so they’re not part of his top five, but they have been expressing more interest in recent weeks.
Venables has tie to Irish
Three-star junior linebacker Jake Venables, the son of Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables, has been on Notre Dame’s recruiting radar for quite some time.
Now, the 6-foot-2, 220-pounder from Central, S.C., has a connection to the program.
“I saw my buddy Bo committed,” Venables said. “That’s awesome.”
Bo is junior linebacker Matthew Bauer of Erie, Pa. The two met at the U.S. Army All-American Combine in January then attended another camp together in April.
“He's a great player and a really good person too,” Venables said. “I’ll try and see which games he's going to up there.”
Bauer plans to attend the Nevada and Michigan State games. Venables plans to attend games at North Carolina, Oklahoma, Texas Tech and TCU. He’ll add a few more trips as well.
Notre Dame is on Venables’ short list and hopes to land an offer.
“It’s definitely a school I’m looking at,” he said. “If they were to offer they would definitely be up towards the top.”
The chance to team up with Bauer only sweetens the option.
“That would be awesome to play next to or with him,” he said.
Clemson has already offered.
Several more Notre Dame commitments and targets will open their seasons this weekend, notably a few on national television. Here’s a quick rundown of the nationally televised games.
Gibsonia (Pa.) Pine-Richland vs. Lakewood (Ohio) St. Edward
Time/network: Noon ET Saturday, ESPN
Why watch: Four-star junior Notre Dame quarterback commitment Phil Jurkovec leads Pine-Richland against one of the best programs in Ohio.
Bellflower (Calif.) St. John Bosco vs. Cincinnati (Ohio) St. Xavier
Time/network: 5 p.m. ET Saturday, ESPNU
Why watch: Notre Dame always recruits St. John Bosco, most recently pursuing five-star Ohio State offensive line commitment Wyatt Davis. Athlete Jaiden Woodbey is worth watching in the Class of 2018. Same goes for St. Xavier, which features quarterback Sean Clifford and offensive lineman Matt Bockhorst. Neither scored a Notre Dame offer before committing to Penn State and Clemson, respectively.
Bradenton (Fla.) IMG Academy vs. Grayson (Ga.)
Time/network: 6 p.m. ET Saturday, ESPN2
Why watch: Does IMG Academy really need an introduction? Four-star offensive line commitment Robert Hainsey is there along with top junior cornerback target Houston Griffith, a recent addition to the roster. IMG has more than a dozen prospects in the Class of 2017 already committed to power programs. Plus, if you’re a glutton for punishment you can watch one-time Irish commitment Robert Beal and former top target Joshua Kaindoh, among others.
Cedar Hill (Texas) vs. Las Vegas Bishop Gorman
Time/network: 9 p.m. ET Saturday, ESPN2
Why watch: Round out your day by watching another Notre Dame quarterback commitment as Avery Davis leads Cedar Hill into its season opener. Bishop Gorman shouldn’t be a mystery to Notre Dame fans as it’s produced Ronnie Stanley, Alize Jones and Nicco Fertitta. Elite junior linebacker Palaie Gaoteote, who has an offer, is worth watching.
Early look: MSU recruiting weekend
Notre Dame’s game against Michigan State on Sept. 17 is lining up to be a big recruiting weekend.
Commitments David Adams, Matthew Bauer and Kurt Hinish will attend the game and plan to do their part in enticing four-star prospects Salvon Ahmed, Thomas Graham, Donovan Jeter and Jacob Phillips to end the recruiting process in South Bend.
Three-star junior defensive end Leonard Taylor, who recently de-committed from Michigan, also plans to attend, as does three-star defensive end Malik Vann and three-star junior defensive end Alex Reigelsperger, who will also attend the home game against Stanford.
Four-star junior running back Jaelen Gill has scheduled a visit for the Notre Dame-Stanford game and four-star senior guard Aaron Banks said Notre Dame will receive one of his official visits.
Three-star guard Wyatt Blake also plans to visit Notre Dame this fall along with stops at Ohio State and a few others. Four-star junior linebacker Dallas Gant also has Notre Dame on his short list of schools to visit this fall.