In some ways, Salvon Ahmed is self-made.
Every four and five-star prospect is blessed with innate ability. Some will get by on that alone as they grow from raw talent to legitimate recruit to national prospect. Others combine their natural talent with a willingness to put in extra time.
Ahmed is in the latter group. Tracy Ford can testify to that. Ford, CEO and head performance director at Ford Sports Performance in Bellevue, Wash., has seen it with his own eyes over the last few years.
“He’s never taken that part for granted,” Ford said. “That’s why he’s one of the kids that’s special to me. He never took that for granted. He wants to work. He’s eager to work. There’s times in the summer where our workout time is the same as his high school. We encourage all of our kids. We say, ‘Hey, you’ve gotta be a leader at your high school before you do anything. Everything you do here is extra.’
“But he’ll call me and be like, ‘Hey Tracy, can I come in and get some work?’ It’s those things. He was never one of the kids we had to talk to.”
Ahmed, a four-star athlete at Juanita High School in Kirkland, Wash., first came to Ford as a freshman. His gifts were evident: Speed, agility, all the things you’d look for in a top prospect. He was also unrefined, which is to be expected.
Over the next few years, Ford and his staff worked with Ahmed about four days a week. When they cranked up 7-on-7 practices, that number could grow to six.
In those early stages, Ahmed showed elite talent with the ball in his hands. Ford worked to harness his athleticism and translate it to something less natural — cornerback. Ahmed didn’t just accept the coaching. He challenged it by asking a lot of questions.
“I think that's next level,” Ford said. “A lot of people will say, ‘Oh yeah, I’ve got it.’ But they really don’t have it. You watch it on film and you’re like, ‘We just went over this.’ For him it was more, he asks questions because he wants to know. He wants to make sure he’s doing everything right. That’s the biggest thing. When we had him as a sophomore, very raw. It was Salvon doing his own thing. He just didn’t know. He was raw at the position. He didn’t fully trust the technique as much.”
Ahmed also watched older players around Ford’s facility.
Washington defensive back Budda Baker helped bring Ahmed along in the early days. Former UCLA linebacker and running back Myles Jack, now with the Jacksonville Jaguars, is another player from which Ahmed learned.
And that’s not to mention the NFL veterans Ahmed had the chance to work with, notably Seahawks linebacker Bobby Wagner.
Learning dedication to the craft from others helped Ahmed go from raw talent to refined product.
“I saw him develop a lot as a corner,” Ford said. “Playing corner has been more of a challenge because that’s not what he’s used to doing. I think that’s why he likes it — because it’s more of a challenge to him. It’s a challenge for him to be natural. Just watching his growth and development as a defensive back, it’s been amazing.”
Where Ahmed ends up at the next level remains an unresolved question, in more ways than one.
Ahmed is currently working with a top five that includes Washington, Oregon, USC, Notre Dame and Stanford. He’s visited all but Notre Dame at least once. The Irish are scheduled to play host next weekend for an official visit during Michigan State weekend.
Even when Ahmed chooses — an announcement for a verbal commitment is set for Sept. 23 — nobody is totally sure about his college position.
Some see a cornerback at the next level. Notre Dame is recruiting him exclusively on defense. Others want to keep the ball in the hands of a prospect that’s recorded 40-yard dash times in the 4.3-second range.
Ford, who knows Ahmed’s skill set better than most, doesn’t know for sure either.
“I watch him and he’s 190 pounds right now,” Ford said. “This isn’t even going into a Power 5 conference school where they’re lifting every day, they’re eating right and they have the capability to have meals when they want them. He’s 190 right now. He could easily be a 210-pound tailback at the next level running a 4.3. He has that ability.
“I like him at corner. I think he’s technically sound. He doesn’t have the long arms you wanna see in an NFL corner. But I could still see him playing it. It’s a toss up. I want him to play corner because I’ve seen him develop. But he’s big enough to play running back.”
Look for more coverage on Ahmed this weekend with Irish Illustrated in the Pacific Northwest to see the four-star athlete and five-star offensive tackle Foster Sarell.
Cage headlines weekend visitors
Four-star defensive tackle Jerron Cage is the marquee name on Notre Dame’s weekend visit list.
Cage, the brother of Irish defensive lineman Daniel Cage, committed to Ohio State in July. Notre Dame has remained in touch and will get a shot at luring the younger Cage from the Buckeyes.
It won’t be easy.
“He will play it close to the vest but could look down the road,” said Scout.com analyst Dave Berk.
Some likely targets could include 2018 offensive lineman Jack Carman, junior lineman Finn Dirstine and sophomore defensive tackle Jacob Lacey. Carman, one of the nation’s top ’18 offensive linemen, confirmed to Irish Illustrated that he’ll be in South Bend.
Carman already holds an offer and Dirstine and Holmes are friendly rivals. The two will open their respective seasons against other next weekend.
Dirstine has heard plenty from the Irish.
“Mostly I’ve been getting a lot of mail and DMs from coach (Scott) Booker,” he said. “I’m excited to meet the staff this weekend.”
Notre Dame, North Carolina, Temple, LSU, Oklahoma, Virginia Tech, Boston College, Auburn, Illinois, Penn State and Syracuse all reached out to Dirstine on Sept. 1 and he hopes to see several more schools in the near future.
“I still need to figure that out,” he said. “We only have one Friday game so I can only go to one more game. I'm leaning towards a Michigan game at the Big House.”
In the Class of 2019, Notre Dame will host defensive tackle Jacob Lacey of Bowling Green (Ky.) South Warren. Lacey earned a Notre Dame offer after impressing defensive line coach Keith Gilmore during Irish Invasion. Kentucky, Louisville and Tennessee have also offered.
“Mainly, I just see what atmosphere is like at Notre Dame,” Lacey said. “And how the coaches and players prepare for a big football game and what they do on gameday that separates them from other schools.”
Lacey’s cousin was the late Dave Duerson, former All-American safety at Notre Dame, Pro-Bowler and Super Bowl Champion.
“I like that I have family that went to Notre Dame,” Lacey said. “That’s important. So is Notre Dame’s really good academics and good coaches. I like how they emphasize academics for their football players and win games, too.”
Lacey primarily stays in touch with assistant Mike Elston.
“I don’t call (Gilmore) a ton, but I call coach Elston every once in a while, and coach Gilmore will sometimes hop on the phone,” Lacey said.
Ohio State and Clemson have also expressed interest in Lacey.
“Ohio State said they wanted to game film from this season before they offered, so I just sent them film of my first three games,” Lacey said. “I should be hearing back next week if I’m getting offered now.”
The 6-foot-2, 290-pound interior defensive lineman isn’t listing favorites, but three schools have separated themselves from the pack so far.
“I wouldn’t call him them favorites, but I really do like Louisville, Notre Dame and Tennessee,” Lacey said. “I have established a great relationship with all of them so far.”
Lacey will visit Louisville next weekend.
How many teams in it for Black?
Notre Dame was the clear-cut leader for four-star wide receiver Tarik Black entering August. Then the Cheshire (Conn.) Academy standout visited Michigan for the Barbeque at the Big House, and the Wolverines made a move. Black returned to Ann Arbor on an official visit last weekend with his head coach and parents. Michigan now feels like it’s the team to beat, though a decision is not expected until January.
It’s our feeling that even though a couple SEC programs will receive official visits, including Auburn this weekend, this will be a Michigan-Notre Dame battle down the stretch. We’re still hearing that Black’s parents would prefer Notre Dame first and foremost, followed by Stanford.
Black hasn’t yet scheduled his official visit to Notre Dame, though it’s likely it doesn’t come until late fall.