One major program will get news today from a remote corner of the recruiting world.
Salvon Ahmed, a four-star athlete from Kirkland, Wash., is set to announce a verbal commitment during a ceremony at Juanita High School. Notre Dame, Stanford, USC, Washington and Oregon are the finalists.
“Whoever gets Salvon will get a really versatile player,” said Brandon Huffman, Scout’s National Director of Recruiting. “(He) could be a game breaker on offense but can also be a terrific defensive back, either as a safety or corner. He’s fast, the 4.31 he ran at The Opening Finals was the fastest there, but I think he’s got more upside in the secondary as a safety because he’s pretty physical, closes well and has great ball skills.”
Ahmed narrowed his list to a handful of favorites after landing other scholarship offers from Arizona, Arizona State, Cal, Mississippi State, Oregon State, UCLA, Utah and Washington State, among others.
Notre Dame established itself on the list thanks to defensive backs coach Todd Lyght, the area recruiter, and associate head coach Mike Denbrock. Ahmed got his first up close look at the Irish last weekend for the Michigan State game.
Getting Ahmed on campus gave Notre Dame the last visit. He’d already seen the Pac 12 programs on his list at least once. The athlete has gone underground since, not speaking to reporters.
“Ahmed was always intrigued by the Irish and seeing another Washington native, who was a similar player to him, KeiVarae Russell, flourish there, wasn’t lost on him,” Huffman said. “Mike Denbrock knew the Seattle area from his time at Washington and did a great job laying the groundwork with Ahmed and I think Ahmed was enamored by the history and tradition of Notre Dame.”
What’s unclear is if one visit to South Bend was enough to move the Irish into prime position for a commitment.
Washington was the first program to offer the 6-foot-1, 186-pound prospect. Since it doubles as the hometown program — Kirkland is about a 15-minute drive from campus — Ahmed has built a strong relationship with the Huskies staff.
“He’s from a tight-knit family and the opportunity to play close to home has always been a factor for the Huskies,” Huffman said. “He’s also close with the other in-state commits this year, playing on the 7-on-7 circuit with them. Chris Petersen has done a great job of keeping most of the in-state talent home, which his predecessor, Steve Sarkisian, (struggled) to do.”
So how does it all shake out? Huffman sees the longtime favorite winning in the end.
“I’ve felt he’s been Washington’s to lose since they offered,” he said. “While he liked all the national offers, I think the pull to stay close to home is too great. Having said that, I’ve felt if there was a school that could steal him, it was Notre Dame, and in our mid-August trend-meter, I compared him to Russell in being another kid most locals thought would stay home only to go to Notre Dame, because he hadn’t decided and I thought it may be because he was seriously considering leaving. But the more I’ve heard and watched in his recruitment, the more confident I’ve been in picking the hometown team.”
Hanging around with Hezekiah
Four-star wide receiver Hezekiah Jones has been one of Notre Dame’s top targets for months.
Jones visited in April for the Blue-Gold Game while still a Baylor commitment. He later de-committed but then gave Texas A&M his pledge. But that didn't keep Jones from coming back to campus last weekend for the Michigan State game.
Nothing will be easy when it comes to pulling an in-state prospect away from A&M, but the Irish feel they made an impact with Jones’ stepmother and covered a lot of positive ground.
The plan is to keep fighting it out and see if Jones softens his stance on A&M. It’s worth watching.
Scarcity at safety
It’s no secret that Notre Dame’s safeties have struggled this fall.
It begs the question: Why are Notre Dame’s best options at the position a pair of in-the-box safeties with histories of injury or a true freshman? It all traces back to recruiting, starting four years ago.
Notre Dame signed just seven safeties from 2013-16 and four of those are freshmen right now. Put another way, in three years (2013-2015), Notre Dame signed only Max Redfield, Mykelti Williams and Nicco Fertitta at the position.
Even without roster attrition (Redfield’s dismissal and Williams’ transfer), how Notre Dame identified talent and recruited depth at safety position has been an issue the past four years.
Even the players the Irish missed on haven’t panned out.
L.J. Moore (Oklahoma), Hatari Byrd (Oklahoma) and Juwann Williams (Oregon) were all major targets four years ago. Byrd transferred after his freshman season and Byrd was dismissed last off-season. Williams has been a career reserve.
The next cycle the Irish got Payton Hendrix (Texas Tech) in for an official visit as a high school teammate of Nick Watkins at Bishop Dunne in Dallas. Through three years Hendrix has yet to start. JuJu Smith-Schuster (USC) also took an official visit that cycle but stayed home to play receiver.
The ’15 cycle was the most damaging to Notre Dame’s outlook after the Irish hosted 10 safeties on official visits and signed only Fertitta and Williams. Prentice McKinney de-committed for Oklahoma, where he’s a reserve. The Irish lost Justin Reid, Frank Buncom and Ben Edwards to Stanford. From that group, only Reid has started a game.
The rest of the official visit list that year included Calvin Brewton (Florida State), Arrington Farrar (Wisconsin), Tyree Kinnel (Michigan), Nate Meadors (UCLA), Ronnie Harrison (Alabama) and Gary Jennings (West Virginia).
From that group, only Harrison and Meadors start. Jennings moved to receiver. The rest are backups.
Despite all those misses, there is now light at the end of the tunnel with the four-man freshman class of Devin Studstill, Jalen Elliott, D.J. Morgan and Spencer Perry. While freshman Perry and Morgan might grow into linebackers, Elliott and Studstill have already shown promise.
Notre Dame has a 2017 commitment from four-star safety Isaiah Robertson of Naperville (Ill.) Neuqua Valley. At least one more safety should be targeted, and two more wouldn’t be excessive.
That turns our attention to Amari Carter, Notre Dame’s top safety target moving forward and its best shot of adding a second commitment at the position, too…
Carter could commit next month
When Carter takes his official visit to Notre Dame for the Stanford game on Oct. 15, it will be his first official visit. So far, it’s the only official on his schedule, and it’s possible it’s the last one, too.
“A decision may come next month but I haven’t planned a date,” Carter said. “It might be next month but I’m just not sure. I would like for my mom to get out to some of the schools and see the campuses and environments. That’s pretty much where I’m at with recruiting.”
The Palm Beach Gardens (Fla.) three-star product will take an unofficial visit to Miami for the Hurricanes’ in-state conference showdown with Florida State on Oct. 8. An official visit to Coral Gables, which is approximately an hour and a half drive from Carter’s home, isn’t expected to occur until after the season.
“Miami said they want me on an official visit after the football season so we don’t have to worry about my schedule and their game,” Carter said. “That way they can make sure I’m a priority on their campus.”
Auburn, Louisville and Nebraska are also in the mix to receive official visits.
Carter was firm in his response when asked if Notre Dame’s 1-2 start will affect how he views the Irish as a contender the rest of the way.
“No, it doesn’t,” Carter said. “I know what they are capable of. The best thing about that school is not the football but the education there and what I can do with my life after I’m there.”
Former Irish receiver doing big things in Louisville
After signing with Notre Dame in 2004, Chris Vaughn arrived in South Bend with a lot of promise.
The 6-foot-4, 220-pound wide receiver from Oakdale, Conn., was a big target with rare speed for a player his size. He was one of just four freshmen to see action that fall.
Vaughn’s time at Notre Dame was short lived, however, as he transferred to Louisville after just one season in South Bend. Vaughn then signed a free agent contract with the New Orleans Saints in 2009 but an injury ended his pro career.
Now he’s back in Louisville training some of the top prospects in the area at his gym, Aspirations Fitness Institution.
“My goal was just a way to kind of help kids,” Vaughn said. “Obviously, I had some good exposure and met a lot of good people along the way. I'm just trying to help kids get more opportunities for themselves to get school for free and to better themselves.”
Vaughn works with a handful of Notre Dame targets including Stephon Herron, Jairus Brents, Tahj Rice and Rondale Moore.
Herron, a four-star sophomore defensive end at Trinity High School in Louisville, visited Notre Dame last weekend. Brents and Rice are expected on campus this Saturday.
“I've got a bunch of other kids that I work with,” Vaughn said. “I've been doing this for five or six years so I've got a pretty good pipeline of kids that have come out.”
College coaches have taken notice of Vaughn’s efforts.
“I hear from coaches, somebody different every day,” he said. “At this point, I've put out a bunch of kids so they know when I've got a kid I know what a legitimate kid looks like. There are a lot of good influences around the kids too like (former Notre Dame players) Terrail Lambert, Leo Ferrine, those guys come down. Leo is out at Boston College now and Terrail is out in California. They've mentored Jairus, being corners, and just surrounding them with good people.”
Vaughn is careful not to push any school on the kids he works with but he’ll be ready if they come to him with questions about the Irish.
“I think a whole lot of Notre Dame,” he said. “It didn't work out for me but I think Notre Dame is a great school and whatnot. It's a great place to be both academically and football-wise. I would push any kid to give Notre Dame a strong look for the value of the degree after it's all said and done. Once those guys go out and see it and get a feel for it, I don't want to push it on them per se, but once they like it for themselves, I definitely would share some of my experiences and how strong the network is as far as the alumni base and all of that stuff goes.”
Herron, a 6-foot-4, 225-pounder, transferred to Trinity from nearby New Albany in Indiana. He could develop into an outside linebacker or defensive end.
“He's a great kid first,” Vaughn said. “He has a great support system with his family. His mom and dad do a great job with him. He left New Albany with a 4.2 GPA and he's on track to graduate early. He is a Notre Dame kind of kid. He fits what they're looking for in a student-athlete and he values academics. He comes from a background of people who reemphasize that type of thing. He's going to be an edge rusher in college. Whether he'll be a defensive end or a standup outside linebacker remains to be seen with how much weight he gains and how his body naturally fills out, but he's a big-time kid.”
Brents, a 5-foot-10, 180-pound cornerback from Waggener Traditional High School, plays in a manner similar to that of Arizona Cardinals safety Tyrann Mathieu.
“Jairus is the aggressive one out of the bunch,” Vaughn said. “He's what people see the Tyrann Mathieus of the world do. He's that guy that goes out there and is ultra-competitive. What sets Jairus apart is his competitive nature. He loves to compete. It doesn't make a difference what it is, tic-tac-toe, chess, hide-and-seek, he's going to win. He'll cut your throat for it. He ran a 4.29 (40-yard dash) this summer at Ohio State's camp. He's been doing this for a long time now, since he was six or seven years old, he's been training and preparing for this moment to go on in life and pursue a career.”
Rice, a 6-foot-3, 265-pound defensive lineman, doesn’t have the playing experience of his teammate Brents, but he’s quickly developing.
“Tahj has the strongest lower body that I've ever seen on a young kid,” Vaughn said. “If he wanted to, he probably could set some kind of power lifting record. He has an incredibly strong lower body. He's another real good kid, a cerebral kind of kid. He has a whole lot of ability. His upside is really high. He hasn't played a lot of organized football in his life yet so sometimes he comes off a bit raw in some things but he has the commitment and willingness to learn and develop. I expect big things from him in the future.”
Moore, a 5-foot-8, 165-pound wide receiver, transferred with Herron from New Albany to Louisville Trinity and is currently waiting on his eligibility from the Kentucky High School Athletic Association. Vaughn believes his recruitment will blow up once coaches get a look at him in action.
“He's a slot receiver that has heard from Notre Dame,” Vaughn said. “He's a real athletic kid, a real high 4.3 or 4.4 kid with a 38-inch vertical and can dunk a basketball. His situation is he's ineligible at the moment because he transferred with Steven Herron, they both came from New Albany in Indiana. Once he gets on the field and they see his tape he's going to be a guy they’re definitely interested in. He's a big time athlete.”
Paye off the radar for now
Boston College defensive end commitment Kwity Paye familiarized himself with Notre Dame during the spring.
Scott Booker visited Paye at Bishop Hendricken High School to express interest. Paye followed up by visiting South Bend for Irish Invasion despite the longstanding Boston College pledge. But an offer never materialized and it appears interest has faded.
“I haven’t spoken with Notre Dame in awhile but Michigan said they are really considering me for an offer,” Paye said earlier this week.
Turns out Paye’s patience would be rewarded. Michigan offered on Thursday.
Could the Irish follow suit?
Notre Dame has four commitments on the defensive line: Darnell Ewell, Kirk Hinish, Jonathon MacCollister and Donovan Jeter. Ewell, Hinish and MacCollister are all considered interior types.
Jeter could be as well, although he has pass rush ability.
Among more pure pass rushers, Cortez Alston has an official visit set for the Miami game and Joshua Paschal remains on the radar. Linebacker Jacob Phillips could grow into a defensive end.
For now, it seems like Notre Dame is content to wait before moving on any new offers.