Brock Wright has a leprechaun hat left over from St. Patrick’s Day. He won’t wear it Sunday night when he walks into Darrell K Royal Stadium in Austin as a Notre Dame commitment.
That’s about the only sartorial concession Wright will make when he watches his future team take on his home state one.
“I’m gonna put on as much Notre Dame gear as I can fit on me,” Wright said. “I’m going all out. Nothing incognito about it.”
Wright represents one of three Irish commitments from Texas alongside four-star quarterback Avery Davis and four-star athlete Paulson Adebo. Adebo doesn’t plan to be in Austin and it’s not clear if Davis will make the trip from outside Dallas. Adebo holds a Texas offer and continues to hear from the Longhorns.
Wright is on a bye week, making travel from the Houston area easier.
Notre Dame doesn’t have another serious Texas target this cycle outside five-star linebacker Baron Browning of Kennedale, located between Dallas and Fort Worth. Browning visited South Bend for the Irish Invasion and plans to return for an official visit during the Stanford weekend in October. He’s scheduled to be in Austin on an unofficial visit this weekend.
The Irish have had moderate success recruiting the state under Brian Kelly, dispatching former defensive backs coach Kerry Cooks – now at Oklahoma – there for four years before turning to quarterbacks coach Mike Sanford (Dallas-Fort Worth) and defensive backs coach Todd Lyght (Houston). While Sanford had some previous Texas connections from recruiting the state for Stanford, this represents a total rebuild for Lyght.
That’s part of the reason why Notre Dame has just three active scholarship players from the state: receiver Torii Hunter Jr., cornerback Nick Watkins and tight end Durham Smythe. All held Longhorn offers out of high school and Smythe was a one-time Texas commitment.
Yet even with the Longhorns struggling, there’s a reason why mining the state has been tough. Notre Dame has signed just one Texan the past two cycles in receiver Jalen Guyton, who left the program after one semester. The Irish were close on four-star linebacker Jeffrey McCulloch last cycle before he signed in Austin.
“Living in Texas, I can tell you that Texas pride is a real thing,” Wright said. “When I graduate from college I definitely want to move back here, live here. Most people, if they really do love Texas, the Texas lifestyle, they’re prideful of Texas and don’t think there’s anything better.
“I think guys just have to be willing to be open and get a different perspective.”
Wright had one, but even that didn’t make getting away from the Longhorns easy. Despite a father who played at Texas Tech – “I grew up hating Texas, hating A&M” – when Charlie Strong arrived in Austin it changed Wright’s outlook.
“They were one of my top schools,” Wright said. “I really liked Charlie Strong. I definitely liked his ideals and beliefs. I decided to go visit and my brother (sophomore defensive end at Rice) talked about how they used the tight end, treated their players well. Austin is a great city.
“Of course the school is excellent too. The law school is wonderful and the McCombs School of Business is top-notch. All that was big, plus the tradition too.”
Ultimately, Notre Dame never trailed for Wright after hosting him at Junior Day almost 18 months ago. Even with a few stops in Austin, the four-star tight end never did more than compare Texas to Notre Dame. But he understands why not everyone in his home state feels like he does.
In fact, he’ll see a bunch of them Sunday night.
“I have a ton of friends that go to school there,” Wright said. “We have family friends who are season-ticket holders and an old neighbor who will tailgate right outside the stadium. They asked us to stop by. Everyone down here is so excited for this.”
Longhorns will host Irish prospects
A few Notre Dame targets are expected to be in Austin on Sunday night.
Five-star linebacker Baron Browning will take an unofficial visit for the game. Notre Dame is among his top five and the Irish are expected to receive an official visit for the Stanford game. Ohio State and Texas are the likely leaders at this point.
Four-star safety Isaiah Humphries, four-star wide receiver Joshua Moore and four-star athlete Jordan Moore, all juniors, are expected to visit as well. They’ve all drawn Notre Dame interest, though none hold an offer.
Last year, Notre Dame hosted a few marquee names on official visits for its opener against Texas. Among them were a couple of defensive backs that would later commit to the Irish in cornerback Donte Vaughn and safety D.J. Morgan.
Defensive end Daelin Hayes and tight end Cole Kmet, neither of which was committed at the time, took unofficial visits to Notre Dame that weekend.
Jeremiah Holloman sets official visit
The No. 1 wide receiver in Georgia will see Notre Dame on an official visit in two weeks when the Irish host the Spartans.
Newton four-star Jeremiah Holloman has long considered Auburn, Georgia and Tennessee his top three, but Miami and Notre Dame have entered the picture as of late. We’re hearing the Hurricanes now lead with the Vols and Irish working their way up his leaderboard.
“Notre Dame has always been there, just low-key,” Holloman said. "I just talked with the coaches, and they tell me exactly how I fit in their offense and how I can be that big guy that can make all the plays for them, a possession wide receiver.
"It’s a pretty painted picture, if I can say that.”
Holloman named Georgia, Miami and Tennessee as the schools recruiting him hardest.
A decision is expected this fall following a few visits.
“Basically I’m looking at how the wide receiver is utilized in the offense. You don’t want to go somewhere and just be sitting there. You want to be making plays with the ball in your hands.”
Foster Sarell admitted to Stanford
Graham (Wash.) Kapowsin five-star offensive tackle Foster Sarell has been admitted into Stanford prior to the start of his senior year.
“That only enhances the chances for the Cardinal in landing what has been thought to be a lean there for some time,” said Scout national analyst Brandon Huffman.
Sarell will take his official visit to Notre Dame for the Stanford game on Oct. 15. He first visited for Irish Invasion in June.
Jurkovec matched his hype
The game plan was obvious: Stop Phil Jurkovec.
But for St. Edward High School coach Tom Lombardo, figuring out how to shut down the Pine-Richland High School quarterback and Notre Dame commitment was much more complicated. Jurkovec, a four-star dual-threat prospect in the Class of 2018, represented a unique challenge.
“We thought he was dangerous really running the ball,” Lombardo said. “It's hard to take away everything so if we could eliminate his running game, which we did a pretty decent job of, at least on the designed runs but he scrambled on us, we thought if we forced him to throw we could get some pressure on him and force him into some quick decisions and flush him out of the pocket.”
On film, Lombardo saw a team that liked to operate fast. And with Jurkovec pulling the strings, Pine-Richland had big play potential every snap.
“We kind of knew what kind of team they were,” he said. “They go fast and run up-tempo and that certainly was effective. They love to throw the screens. He's got great command. He's 6-foot-5 and experienced and he sees the whole field really well. You could really tell he has a good command of their offense.”
Early on, St. Edward, winners of back-to-back state championships, struggled to stop or even contain Jurkovec.
He racked up more than 300 yards of offense in the first half but finished the game with just 404 as the Rams couldn’t hold an early second half lead before losing, 28-27.
“As the game went on, early they really dominated, but as the game went on we settled in and started getting some pressure on him,” Lombardo said. “That was the main thing and not letting him take off for major, major chunks (of yards).”
Jurkovec completed 20-of-31 passes for 296 yards and three touchdowns and added 108 yards on 17 carries with another score.
“As we settled down, they weren't really making too many yards on designed runs so that was good,” Lombardo said. “We kind of blitzed a little more in the second half and hoped we could get to him and it kind of worked.”
Pine-Richland’s offense struggled to finish in the second half. The Rams started five drives inside St. Edward territory, only once reaching the 10-yard line, but failed to find the end zone.
“I think the heat had a lot to do with it,” said Lombardo of the temperatures that reached the early 90s. “We wore them down.”
Pledges preview Texas
Starting Sunday night it’s the beginning of a second season for Notre Dame’s commitments.
Not only do they have their high school seasons to worry about, they can begin to watch the Irish with a new level of insight. Receiver commit Jordan Pouncey definitely will be.
“One thing that, not just me, but the entire country is excited to see is how the offense will look under the helm of two quarterbacks,” Pouncey said. “I’ll be looking at what ESB (Equanimeous St. Brown) is going to do, and Corey Holmes, who is a backup and from St. Thomas Aquinas in Florida. I’m excited to see them be a productive group even though they lost three of their best guys last year.
“Torii Hunter will be leading that group, especially as the captain of the team. He’ll try to pick up the wide receiver unit from where they left off last year.”
Pouncey didn’t offer a final score prediction, but he likes a Notre Dame player to be the MVP.
“Whatever quarterback gets the most time, or it will be Josh Adams,” Pouncey said. “I like how he’s a taller running back that’s not as stocky. I think he can open his stride up when he hits the open field.
“Texas was 5-7 last year, so I’m not sure they’ll be on Notre Dame’s level. But I’m pretty sure it’ll be a good game.”
Four-star athlete C.J. Holmes didn’t offer a score prediction either. But there are some things Holmes will be watching closely.
“I’ll be paying attention to things like the RB rotation if any at all,” Holmes said, “schemes the offensive coordinator leans towards and variety in the run games as far (as) zone, power, iso, sweeps, things of that sort.”
Other commitments weighed in as well.
Prediction: Notre Dame 31-14
Quotable: “I think (DeShone) Kizer will go off and have one rushing touchdown and two passing. I don't know very much about Texas but I know Notre Dame always comes ready to play on the road and I feel that they will be very dominant.”
Prediction: Notre Dame 42-0
Quotable: “Notre Dame is a far better team than Texas in my opinion. Our offensive line and defensive line will tilt the game.”
Quotable: “Most interested in seeing the tight ends and I am expecting a solid all-around performance.”
Irish Illustrated on the road
Indianapolis Cathedral takes center stage Friday as it travels north for a matchup against Mishawaka, another of the state’s top-ranked teams.
Cathedral (2-0) features Notre Dame linebacker commitment Pete Werner, who’s expected to make his season debut after recovering from offseason hip surgery. Three-star linebacker Hugh Davis, a junior, is also on the Irish radar.
Davis has continued to hear from Notre Dame and is planning to visit.
“Most likely (for) Michigan State,” Davis said.
Four-star junior running back Markese Stepp, another Notre Dame commitment on the Cathedral roster, isn’t expected to play after suffering a hamstring injury in Week 1. He’s likely out 3-6 weeks overall.
Emil Ekiyor, a four-star offensive guard in the Class of 2018, is another name to remember. Ekiyor has yet to land a scholarship offer from Notre Dame, but has a national list of suitors.
Coaches begin ’18 contact
Thursday marked the first day college coaches could reach out directly to prospects in the Class of 2018.
Needless to say, the phones of juniors across the country started working overtime at midnight. Four-star wide receiver Amon-ra St. Brown is testament to how the recruiting process changes when the direct message function on Twitter is no longer off limits.
“I was kind of surprised to wake up to nine different (direct messages),” St. Brown said, “but it means a lot to me. I was really excited and it shows me who’s really interested in me and is looking forward to getting things started.”
St. Brown already holds offers from Alabama, Arizona State, Boise State, Cal, Michigan State, Northwestern, Notre Dame, Stanford, UCLA, USC, Utah, Washington and Washington State, among others.
Many of those programs reached out to St. Brown right away. USC, Stanford, Notre Dame, Tennessee and LSU were among the first in contact.
Four-star wide receiver Joshua Moore found himself in a similar situation. Moore and his brother, Jordan, a four-star athlete, are standouts at Yoakum High School in Texas. Notre Dame hasn’t offered the brothers, but its early contact Thursday sent a message.
“The way I look at it if a school is really interested in you then they'll show it,” Joshua Moore said, “and ND has done nothing but show that they are.”
Notre Dame, like every other program, cast a wide net in reaching out to prospects.
Four-star defensive tackle Trevor Trout, three-star offensive lineman Wyatt Blake, three-star wide receiver Micah Jones, four-star cornerback Houston Griffith, three-star defensive end Sal Spina and five-star defensive end Xavier Thomas were all among those to hear from the Irish staff.
Needless to say, there were several more. Mostly, it’s just about letting them know the Irish will be watching.
“They just acknowledged that I’m a top target,” Trout said.
Notre Dame was one of the schools to reach out to junior four-star cornerback Marcus Johnson out of Augustus Hawkins High School in Los Angeles. Tennessee, Arizona, Kentucky, BYU and USC also contacted Johnson on the first day coaches were allowed to touch base with 2018 prospects.
“They just talked about their game and said they want me to trip this fall,” Johnson said.
That could happen if Johnson’s brother, four-star senior athlete Greg Johnson, decides to take an official visit to South Bend. Greg Johnson committed to Arizona in March but has remained open to the Irish’s interest. An official visit would be a major development in his recruitment.
"If my brother takes an official, which I think he will, I will go,” Marcus Johnson said.