Matt Cashore /

Looking ahead: Top targets in ‘18

Well before the ink dries on National Signing Day, college coaches are looking ahead to the junior class.

If college coaches got started on their next class on National Signing Day, they’d be late.

Notre Dame has already made dozens of offers and plans to host its first Junior Day next weekend to formally bring the Class of 2018 to the forefront. Even better, there are already six commitments in hand.

Defensive line, wide receiver and cornerback figure to get plenty of emphasis.

Irish Illustrated takes an early look at some names to know among the offered juniors, particularly those with strong connections to Notre Dame. That starts with the commitments already on board.


Recruiting defensive linemen isn’t the easiest thing at Notre Dame, so getting a two-for-one with the Ademilola’s has been a blessing. Jayson is a little bigger and more highly rated, a four-star prospect ranked in the Scout 300 as a defensive tackle. He posted 86 tackles, 22.5 tackles-for-loss, 10.5 sacks and two forced fumbles for St. Peter’s Prep in New Jersey as a junior.

Justin is listed as a defensive end and also showed a proficiency for chasing down the quarterback during his junior season: He piled up 10.5 sacks and 20 quarterback hurries to go with 85 tackles. Justin has been committed to the Irish since June, doing so alongside his brother.

Bauer certainly lived up to his billing as a junior with 106 tackles and 10 sacks while leading Cathedral Prep to a 14-0 season. He capped it by winning the Pennsylvania Class 4A state championship. Notre Dame scored a commitment from Bauer right before the season started. He attended Irish Invasion last June.

Every recruiting class starts somewhere and it doesn’t get much better than doing so with an elite quarterback. Jurkovec pledged to Notre Dame last May, choosing the Irish over several other elite options. Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State and Penn State were among the other programs to offer. Jurkovec is also a standout basketball player. He’s already broken the 1,000-point barrier.

Oghoufo joins Bauer to give Notre Dame one of the best linebacker duos in the country at this stage, with both ranked inside the Scout 300. There’s no doubt Oghoufo brings some athletic upside: He played both linebacker and tight end during his junior season and produced at both.

Stepp committed ahead of Irish Invasion last summer to join Jurkovec in the junior commitment haul. Michigan had been the other primary contender. Unfortunately, a lingering hamstring injury derailed Stepp’s junior season at Cathedral High School in Indianapolis. He only played in a few games after suffering the injury on his first carry of the season — a long touchdown.

Twenty-Five Targets To Know

Quietly, Notre Dame has emerged as a real contender for one of the top defensive backs in the country. Allen has already visited campus a couple times and enjoys a solid relationship with defensive coordinator Mike Elko, which is a positive development from an Irish perspective.

Not many offensive linemen in the Class of 2018 have landed offers from Harry Hiestand at this stage. Carman is one of the select few. Naturally, the Irish aren’t alone. Alabama, Ohio State, Clemson, Michigan and USC are just some of the heavyweights also involved. Carman teams with four-star defensive end Malik Vann, another junior top target.

Dirksen doesn’t play in the biggest division of Ohio football but that hasn’t kept him from hauling in major offers and earning four-star status. Notre Dame offered this week. Iowa State, Kentucky, Michigan State and Northwestern are already on the list.

Dotson visited Notre Dame last spring and walked away with a scholarship offer. Several other major programs have done the same: Alabama, Clemson and Ohio State most notably. Dotson is one of the truly elite wide receiver prospects in this class nationally.

Winter has been good to Douglas as the scholarship offers have come rolling in. Notre Dame pulled the trigger in early December, sparking talk of a visit. Alabama and Georgia have offered, as has Stanford. Douglas attends the same school that produced former Irish defensive end Isaac Rochell.

Gant is one of the best linebackers in the Midwest for the Class of 2018 and a top prospect nationally. Notre Dame has been in the mix for months and new linebackers coach Clark Lea wasted little time following up, doing so in mid-January. Most feel Ohio State is the solid favorite at this stage.

Looking for a truly elite defender? Here you go. Gaoteote is the top-ranked outside linebacker on Scout and a tremendous prospect. It’ll take more than solid connections at Bishop Gorman to be a true contender. Ohio State and USC are real threats. But the Irish can boast success at Gorman in the form of Ronnie Stanley, Nicco Fertitta and Alizé Jones.

Injury cost Gill most of his junior season, although he’d already established himself as an elite prospect. Notre Dame has been pitching the idea of pairing with Stepp for a standout running back combination. It won’t be easy pulling Gill out of Ohio, where the Buckeyes are considered the favorite.

Few juniors are as familiar with Notre Dame as Griffith, a Chicago native now at IMG Academy. Griffith has been on campus multiple times and already has a strong relationship with defensive backs coach Todd Lyght. In the end, it could be a Notre Dame-Ohio State battle.

Hawkins is the latest talent to matriculate through Moeller High School in Cincinnati, a program that’s been kind to Notre Dame over the years. Ohio State, Florida State, Penn State and Alabama are among the other programs to offer. As is so often the case with prospects it wants in the state, Ohio State is the presumptive leader.

Hayes is one of the more intriguing prospects in the Midwest. He's a big tight end who looks likely to grow into an athletic offensive tackle. Notre Dame joined an offer list that includes Michigan State, Northwestern and Central Michigan just this week.

Competition is always steep for the best players at IMG Academy. Hightower is no different. Alabama, Clemson, UCLA and USC are just a selection of the major players. But Notre Dame figures to be in the mix at least for awhile.

The state of Oregon is loaded in 2018. Hufanga is one of the headliners. Most of the Pac 12 has already offered plus Michigan, Nebraska and Notre Dame, among others. Hufanga lives near Oregon State, but that’s not to say he might not end up elsewhere.

Rare is the prospect that makes Notre Dame his first offer. But that’s the case with Jackson, who added the Irish in early December. Miami, Duke, Vanderbilt, Texas A&M, Nebraska and TCU have since followed.

Jones is much like Griffith — a Chicagoland native who’s very familiar with Notre Dame already. He scored an offer after Irish Invasion last summer. Illinois, Iowa, Michigan State and Northwestern are some others in the mix. But Notre Dame figures to be the favorite. Jones is on track to visit again Feb. 11 for Junior Day.

Here’s an early candidate for unexpected prospect that could fall Notre Dame’s way down the road. Todd Lyght has already made Lenzy a priority, visiting Tigard High School in Portland before signing day. Lenzy, who has family in Indiana, plans to visit for Junior Day next weekend.

Name look familiar? It should. Mustipher is the younger brother of Notre Dame’s center, Sam. The younger Mustipher plays on the other side of the ball and is a top 100 prospect. Frankly, this seems like the kind of player the Irish shouldn’t miss on, especially given his position.

Pledger, a California native now at IMG Academy, has expressed some interest in Notre Dame and has been a target of the current commitments. He’s one of the most explosive backs in the country. Offers from Florida, Georgia, Michigan, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Texas and Washington back up his talent.

Notre Dame recently moved with an offer to Petit-Frere, one of the top offensive linemen in Florida. Alabama, Auburn, Florida, Georgia, Miami, Michigan, Ohio State and Penn State are just some of the others already on the offer list. Petit-Frere attends the same school that produced one-time Irish target Nelson Agholor.

How good is Salyer? Consider the fact that he’s projected as a guard at the next level and is still rated No. 8 overall in the Scout 300. That’s two spots higher than the top-ranked offensive tackle, Brey Walker. That’s rarified air for a guard. Salyer has already visited Notre Dame.

How about another target at St. Peter’s Prep? Simon is teammates with the Ademilola brothers and could continue that at the college level after Notre Dame offered in January. Needless to say, it seems like the Irish should be a serious player here.

Pass rushers in Ohio are sure to become hot commodities for programs in the immediate area. Notre Dame is involved along with the usual suspects: Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State and Penn State. Per usual, most favor the Buckeyes. But look for Smith to return to South Bend for Junior Day.

There’s one more St. Brown in the recruiting pipeline and he’s probably the most talented of the three brothers. Notre Dame no longer has its primary connection to the family with Mike Denbrock now gone, but there’s still plenty of reason for optimism. USC is another major player here.

Tight end or defensive end? That’s the question with Taylor moving forward. Either way, he’s a talented jumbo athlete. Taylor visited Notre Dame last summer for Irish Invasion and de-committed from Michigan shortly thereafter.

Vann has been pretty up front throughout the process that Notre Dame is either in the top group or leads outright. He’s been on campus multiple times and will likely return for the upcoming Junior Day. Ohio State hasn’t offered the Ohio native. Top Stories