Know Your Targets
Previous visit: Yes
Recruiting update: Notre Dame has the benefit of familiarity with Gant thanks to previous visits and no staff turnover in terms of primary recruiter. Mike Elston has been on the case for months. As ever, Ohio State looms large with a top prospect in its home state. Michigan State, Penn State and Michigan are some others in the mix.
Previous visit: Yes
Recruiting update: Success recruiting prospects out of Cass Tech isn’t something Notre Dame has had much of over the years. But the Irish will continue to work this Scout 300 prospect who has offers from Michigan, Florida, Oklahoma, LSU and Oregon.
Previous visit: Yes
Recruiting update: Hawkins will be ready to decide sooner than later with a May 10 date set. He’s recently listed Notre Dame, Ohio State and Penn State as the programs recruiting him hardest. Elite offers have continued to flow in over the last month with Oklahoma, Alabama and Miami all jumping on board.
Previous visit: Yes
Recruiting update: Jones has been doubling back on favorites lately to make overnight visits. Northwestern got one recently and Notre Dame is next. Michigan State is on the docket for this spring as well. Most feel like the Irish lead. Jones plans to comb through his options and announce a commitment in April.
Previous visit: No
Recruiting update: Del Alexander and Todd Lyght have made Lenzy a top priority and that’s something of a giveaway — Notre Dame likes the four-star prospect on both sides of the ball. Lenzy kicks off spring visits with the trip to South Bend. Stops at Oregon, USC, Oregon State and Michigan State are on tap over the next couple months.
Previous visit: No
Recruiting update: Previous relationships will bring Mabry to South Bend. New offensive coordinator Chip Long is familiar with the 6-foot-6, 270-pound prospect from his previous stop at Memphis. Cincinnati, Colorado State, Indiana and Memphis have offered. Georgia Tech has shown increasing interest.
‘Stepp-ing’ up as lead recruiter
This weekend Markese Stepp will put his recruiting chops to the test.
Stepp, a four-star running back from Indianapolis, is one of six current commitments expected back in South Bend for Junior Day. He’s also been perhaps the most vocal as a recruiter, taking to social media daily to connect with recent offers and longstanding targets.
“We want to let them know that even though we had a bad year the Irish will be back on top,” Stepp said. “We have bigger things to come. We’ll be back on top of the college football world again and hopefully get that national championship.”
Twitter is the great connector when it comes to building relationships essentially from scratch.
Take four-star athlete Braden Lenzy. He landed an offer from Notre Dame in December and will attend Junior Day as well. But getting to South Bend won’t be his first interaction with Stepp and the other commitments.
Lenzy has already been talking with Stepp via Twitter for at least a few weeks. Since Lenzy lives in Portland, more than 2,000 miles away from Indianapolis, that’s the best way for them to “meet.”
“He’s really good,” Lenzy said. “He’s a good dude, great running back. I’ve really liked talking to him. I feel like we’ve become friends in the last couple weeks.”
Forging a connection with Stepp and the other committed prospects is an important part to the recruiting puzzle for Lenzy as he sorts through options. Most of his other suitors are in the Pac 12 region, save Michigan State.
Lenzy is comfortable with the idea of leaving the West Coast for a couple programs he considers exceptions: Michigan State and Notre Dame. Building up some friendships in advance helps.
“I don’t have any worries as far as making friends,” Lenzy said. “So that isn’t necessarily a worry. It’s just kinda cool, especially since I live in Oregon, I’d have to fly to a school like Notre Dame. It’d be nice to know someone going in, being able to do some of those things and know a face. That’d be a pretty cool thing.
“I think they do a very good job with the recruiting coordinator, the coaches, the head coach, strength coach. Everyone gets in on the recruitment, whatever they can do. I think as far as other schools, (Notre Dame) has probably recruited me the hardest.”
Stepp is no small part of that effort. Being active on Twitter helps others considering Notre Dame get more comfortable with the place from afar. It also helps fill in some of the information gaps ahead of visiting.
Or for those that have visited, Stepp reinforces the message. Junior Day is a chance to do so in person.
“The first thing I ask them is how they feel about the offer and stuff like that,” Stepp said. “I let them know that we’ll be back on top. I tell them we could really use them and they could be a big part of us getting back on top of the college football world.”
Stepp won’t be the only Irish commitment trying to put in a good word for Notre Dame, even while wanting to learn more about the program’s future following so much staff turnover.
“I hope to meet with coach (Brian) Kelly and all of the offensive coaches to talk about what I can be working on in this offseason, who we need to get, and what the new offense will be like,” said Phil Jurkovec, a 6-foot-5, 200-pound four-star quarterback from Gibsonia, Pa. “I also hope to watch a little of the workout Saturday morning to see what the strength and conditioning is like. I look forward to watching the basketball game and meeting up with the 2018 commits and the players already there as well.”
Four-star defensive tackle Jayson Ademilola, a 6-foot-3, 268-pounder from Jersey City, N.J., is excited to spend time with the new defensive coaches.
“I talked to all of them over the phone,” he said. “They had great energy and personality. I'm looking forward to hangout and chill with the new staff and just being around all the commits.”
North Carolina back on Irish recruiting map
With the addition of former Wake Forest assistants Mike Elko and Clark Lea to the Notre Dame coaching staff, the Irish already have intensified their recruiting efforts in the Tar Heel State.
Notre Dame had signed nine North Carolina prospects from 2006-2012 but just two since: kicker Jonathan Doerer and defensive end Julian Okwara, the younger brother of 2012 signee Romeo Okwara.
This week three North Carolina linebackers landed Notre Dame offers and several other prospects are on the Irish radar.
Elko and Lea certainly inspired the early offers.
“Dax was one of their first visits when they got to Wake Forest,” said Shelby High School coach Lance Ware, who coaches four-star linebacker Dax Hollifield, the recipient of one of those Irish offers. “Dax's father played at Wake Forest and they developed a good relationship. I would keep in contact with coach Lea after they left and keep him updated on Dax with who had offered and all that.”
According to Ware, the relationships Elko and Lea built with North Carolina’s top prospects will help in uprooting some of the state’s top talent, but even more important are the relationships the Irish assistants built with North Carolina’s high school coaches.
“I think it will definitely help them because Notre Dame is in a position where they can get the best of the best,” Ware said. “Now they can recognize those guys early and they already have relationships with us coaches. Having those relationships early are going to help. Dax for instance, he's a 4.4 student or so and that's the first thing Notre Dame is going to inquire about. They have high academic standards and he fits right into that mold. I think it's going to help them out finding those kids out early.”
Ware also believes Elko and Lea have the right personalities to develop strong ties with high school coaches and players alike.
“In Dax's case, they're building that relationship,” he said. “They were very good at that. They were first class in everything about their approach and how we interacted. They’re the kind of guys when you pick up the phone you know they're going to answer. Both are good guys.”