National Signing Day represents the official end of one cycle and the unofficial start to another.
That’s because Notre Dame has been targeting the Class of 2018 for years, which made Feb. 1 more of a symbolic calendar flip than a hard transition. Dozens of offers are already out in the class. And even as Brian Kelly was announcing signees on Wednesday, his staff was already contacting top juniors.
Four-star defensive back Houston Griffith was one of those prospects. Griffith, a Chicago native now at IMG Academy, has visited South Bend multiple times already, including a spring practice trip during his freshman year. He talked with Kelly.
“He made it clear on the phone he wants me and knows what ND could do for me,” Griffith said.
Many others heard from the Irish staff, but Griffith is emblematic of where things are going from a big picture recruiting perspective for Notre Dame in the upcoming cycle. After signing zero cornerbacks this week, emphasis starts with that position.
Four-star prospects Paulson Adebo and Elijah Hicks were both committed to the Irish at one time but ended up elsewhere. Adebo signed with Stanford while Hicks enrolled early at Cal.
There’s a stockpile of young cornerback talent already in the program. Julian Love, Troy Pride Jr., Donte Vaughn, Ashton White and Shaun Crawford all have at least three years of eligibility remaining. Nick Coleman and Nick Watkins have two.
But missing at cornerback entirely last cycle means it’s a must-hit position next year. Defensive backs coach Todd Lyght set the number at three early on.
Brian Kelly led with cornerback among the positions he thought needed to be targeted in the coming year.
“The corner position will be a point of emphasis for us,” Kelly said. “I think elite speed on offense will be a primary goal for us. Guys that can change the game on one possession. I think we’ll see that. I think we’ve got very good size and I think we’ve got guys that can run. But we want a couple of home run hitters. We don’t care if they’re Darren Sproles size (5-foot-6). We’re gonna come off the board in terms of profile. We want some guys that can change the game on offense with elite speed.”
Several elite cornerback prospects already have Irish offers: Griffith, Braden Lenzy, Tre Douglas, Christian Tutt, Myles Sims, Brendan Radley-Hiles, Anthony Cook, Asante Samuel Jr. and Patrick Surtain just for starters.
Lenzy is expected to visit for Junior Day next week.
Defensive coordinator Mike Elko likewise mentioned cornerback as top priority moving forward. In short, it’s become one of the most important positions on the field given the skill level of wide receivers and spread offenses.
“There’s such a premium on guys that can play man-to-man and play the outside receivers,” Elko said. “Obviously, height plays a role and the ability to have length with the tall receivers you see nowadays in college football. Cover skills obviously take priority.”
Right now Notre Dame holds six verbal commitments in the Class of 2018, none of which are at defensive back. Adding cornerbacks and safeties is even more important as Elko begins to employ his 4-2-5 scheme.
In terms of numbers, defensive backs have to be top of the priority list to create depth.
“On the defensive side of the ball we continue to move toward fulfilling the needs that Mike (Elko) needs defensively relative to the positions,” Kelly said. “And continue to develop the back end of the defense, especially the cornerback position.”