During the Brian Kelly era, Notre Dame has operated best just outside the city limits when it comes to recruiting Detroit.
Take two cycles ago as a prime example.
Kelly signed three Michigan prospects, all of which came from the suburbs: four-star linebacker Daelin Hayes (Orchard Lake), three-star defensive end Ade Ogundeji (Walled Lake) and four-star defensive end Khalid Kareem (Farmington Hills).
Efforts to pull prospects out of the Detroit Public School League have been stymied. Notre Dame has consistently recruited PSL powers Cass Tech and King for years with no success.
Donnie Corley (King) went to Michigan State. Donovan Peoples-Jones (Cass Tech), Jaylen Kelly-Powell (Cass Tech) and Ambry Thomas (King) all signed with Michigan earlier this month. All of them visited South Bend multiple times.
Other programs in the region have made it a difficult proposition for Notre Dame.
“I think having Michigan and Michigan State emphasize the city so much, then Ohio State came in too,” said Allen Trieu, Scout.com Midwest recruiting manager. “Kids have visited Notre Dame and liked it but it is fairly different culturally for city kids sometimes, so those are the main factors. They’ve been right there on a lot of PSL kids, it’s just hard to close the door with the in-state schools coming at these kids as hard as they do.”
After years of waiting, Notre Dame scored a commitment from the PSL on Monday in four-star cornerback Kalon Gervin.
Gervin is next in a long line of talented defensive backs to come through Cass Tech. Kelly-Powell and four-star cornerback Donovan Johnson, who’s headed to Penn State, headlined the secondary last season. Gervin fit right into the mix.
“I think he gave up zero passes last year,” said Thomas Wilcher, head coach at Cass Tech. “That’s astonishing. I think he gave up zero passes, maybe one at the most. He did a great job and does a great job. He’s a very competitive young man. He pays his dues, works hard, fights. He’s a great leader, great disciplined kid. Great social skills, speaks well. He understands the meaning of hard work.”
But talent alone didn’t make Gervin the right PSL prospect for the Irish and vice versa.
That connection ran a little deeper. Gervin seemed to identify it right away. Notre Dame offered a scholarship just last week. Gervin almost immediately set up an unofficial visit, making the trek to South Bend last weekend for Junior Day.
He made a commitment less than 24 hours after returning home despite holding nearly 30 other scholarship offers. Michigan and Michigan State, programs that have dominated PSL recruiting, were among them.
“What paid off is the consistency of the coaching staff and understanding what they need and what type of kid they’re looking for,” Wilcher said. “I’ve been the head coach for awhile and they’ve had kids at every school … It’s kinda good. I’m glad (Kelly) believes in our school and what we do here. I’m very appreciative of it.”
Over the course of a couple days on campus, Gervin met with Kelly and defensive backs coach Todd Lyght. Defensive coordinator Mike Elko checked in as well. They apprised the 5-foot-11, 170-pound prospect of the opportunities in their program.
Gervin saw it for himself in terms of looking over the depth chart. Notre Dame didn’t sign a cornerback in the Class of 2017 after losing Paulson Adebo and Elijah Hicks.
But Gervin also noted how pledging to the Irish would be a challenge. Turns out that’s exactly the type of thing that’s helped Gervin carve out a place for himself among other talented prospects at Cass Tech.
“I think that’s why Notre Dame is a great fit for him,” Wilcher said. “He’s a kid that has the means to fight. He has the means to be the best. He’s not looking for someone to give him something. He’s looking to go out there and make a name for himself. That’s what I like about him. He understands what it takes to make a name for himself and he’s going to go out there and do it. He does whatever it takes.”