Notre Dame’s need for speed at cornerback – an acute issue after swinging and missing at the position less than two weeks ago on signing day – was addressed and accomplished about 24 hours after the completion of Saturday’s junior day.
Kalon Gervin, a 5-foot-11, 170-pounder out of Cass Tech High School in Detroit’s Public School League, is indeed a rare catch for Notre Dame and the first of what should be several cornerbacks in the class.
Recent efforts to make inroads in Detroit produced no dividends, although the Irish landed defensive linemen Daelin Hayes, Khalid Kareem and Adetokunbo Ogundeji out of Michigan in 2016.
Gervin is Notre Dame’s seventh verbal commitment in the class, joining a quarterback (Phil Jurkovec), a running back (Markese Stepp), a couple of linebackers (Matthew Bauer and Ovie Oghoufo), a defensive tackle (Jayson Ademilola) and a defensive end (Justin Ademilola).
Because of the early commitment shortly after receiving a scholarship offer from Notre Dame, the Irish must be on guard for interlopers. Michigan and Michigan State will not just accept Gervin’s decision without a fight.
But if the Irish can follow through and bring Gervin into the fold about 11 months and two weeks from now, they will have a highly-skilled, technique-sound prospect around which to build the next wave of cornerbacks in the program.
Make no mistake, Gervin will need to add plenty of armor to the slightly-built frame that has carried him to Scout’s No. 1 ranking in the state of Michigan among 2018 cornerback prospects.
Scout lists him as the No. 296 overall prospect, but that ranking will rise during his senior season at Cass Tech, and the move up should be pretty dramatic. This kid knows how to play the position and has the physical skills to back it up.
Finding footage of Gervin defending pass after pass is difficult due largely to his disarming nature in press coverage during his junior season.
Cass Tech employs at-the-line-of-scrimmage coverage against receivers, and Gervin has learned well. So well that opponents tend to look for alternatives to throwing the ball to his side of the field because he’s effectively jammed the receiver at the line of scrimmage.
Gervin uses his hands as weapons, getting into the upper body of receivers and throwing them off their routes out of the gate. As he gains strength, his ability to use his hands to “punch” receivers off-stride will make him that much more effective.
The technique remains sound throughout the process. Gervin understands the importance of using the sideline as an ally. In fact, when the receiver chooses the outside route – or rather, Gervin influences him that way -- he virtually pins the defender to the sideline by flipping his hips and steering the receiver closer to the sideline with his back side.
He shows the speed to turn and run with the receiver, and then completes the process by getting his head around and showing outstanding ball skills when it’s time to make a play.
Gervin has been hand-timed at 4.38 in the 40, which likely is a bit generous. But he shows excellent closing speed on receivers, so reality is somewhere in the ballpark.
Cass Tech also uses him as a blitzer off the edge, a return man and to block placekicks off the edge.
Gervin is still largely a wrap-and-roll tackler, although there is evidence of his willingness to throw his body into the ball carrier. Listed at 5-foot-11, he has some length that many undersized cornerbacks don’t boast and the frame to be a 185-pounder plus down the road.
Finding cornerbacks with the technique from start to finish of the pass-defense process is difficult. Most prep cornerbacks come in as athletes that need considerable refinement in the use of hands at the line of scrimmage, and then everything that comes with the rest of the pass-defense process.
This is a player who – particularly after his senior season at Cass Tech – should arrive about as technically-sound as you’re going to find in a college freshman cornerback.
Give credit to the Notre Dame coaching staff for persuading Gervin to the Irish in short order.
Now it’s a matter of making Gervin secure in his decision, which begins with the follow-through process of “recruiting a verbal commitment,” and then making sure the commitment sticks with a solid performance by the Irish on the field this fall.