Matt Cashore /

Insider Report: Doubling up on Dallas?

This week’s Insider Report takes a field trip to Bishop Dunne and revisits the one Junior Day visitor who didn’t commit to Notre Dame. Could the Irish land that four-star? Also, get to know a top sophomore defensive back who the Irish are chasing.

Three years ago Notre Dame mined Bishop Dunne for Nick Watkins, a four-star cornerback.

Watkins is now bouncing back from a season lost to injury and could be in line to start as a senior. Meanwhile, an overhauled Irish coaching staff has been back at his alma mater in Dallas offering more prospects.

No matter the coaches, Notre Dame has been a steady presence at Bishop Dunne since signing Watkins in the Class of 2014. That’s something Dunne head coach Michael Johnson appreciates.

“It’s special,” Johnson said. “A lot of times you get some of these schools that are out of state, they come in and recruit some kids then you don’t see them again. Notre Dame has always been consistent, even with turnover in the coaching staff. We’ve always had communication with them, especially with Nick and his injury. I like the way they handled that situation. It was in his best interest. We’ve always had a good relationship, no matter who the coach is.”

Kerry Cooks, now an assistant at Oklahoma, had recruited Bishop Dunne for Notre Dame. Mike Sanford, who landed the head job at Western Kentucky this offseason, recruited Dunne during his stint in South Bend.

Now that job falls to defensive backs coach Todd Lyght and special teams coordinator Brian Polian. And they’ve been busy.

Bishop Dunne boasts another strong crop of prospects. Notre Dame recently offered four-star junior defensive tackle Calvin Avery, four-star sophomore safety Brian Williams and sophomore cornerback Marquez Beason.

All three players already boast offer lists verging on national. Johnson sees Notre Dame has having a fair shot with each, especially considering they have a feel for the program.

“I think they have a great shot at all those guys,” Johnson said. “Hopefully they’ll get on campus. I’ve been talking to them about Notre Dame and they’re excited about it. They can’t wait to get up there and be able to see the place, be able to get around some of the coaches and also some of the players. I think they’d fit right in. Bishop Dunne is a unique place.”

Johnson offered a scouting report on each player.

“He’s explosive. Athletically gifted and is the strongest player I’ve ever coached. I just think he’s grown that way. He’s definitely a kid that works at it to get that strong too. He’ll come in and be like, ‘Hey coach, let’s add some more weight.’ That’s just the type of kid he is. Athletically, he’s gifted. He’s fast. I can’t wait for coaches to actually be able to come out here and watch him run. The kid is so explosive, he’s so athletic with his change of direction. It’s phenomenal. At that size and able to move that way, you don’t find too many guys that can do it. He’s powerful and then he’s confident and then he has a mean streak about him. He plays upset. He plays with a fire and has a real knack to get to the quarterback.”

“He’s fast. He has a ton of speed and is very athletic. He’s quick. And then he’s smart. He’s been around the game a long time, so he’s intelligent in that aspect. He’s probably just recently learning the cornerback position. To me, I see him as a natural receiver. When he has the ball in his hands he’s dynamic, he’s special. He works hard at it. Good kid, good athlete that can do anything that you ask him to do.”

“Brian is special. Marquez and Brian, I don’t use that word a lot when I talk about kids, but they’re special. He’s got the size, athleticism that you wanna see in that type of body and that type of frame. He can cover like a cornerback and he’s so smart. He has a 4.0 GPA here and one of the highest PSAT scores in our school. He’s just overall a smart kid when it comes down to the game or the classroom. He doesn’t get caught off guard or by surprise because he’s always studying film. He’s gonna beat you just because he’s smarter than you. But athletically he’s gifted as well. He has so much great confidence in himself and his ability. That’s why we love playing him at safety.”

The Latest On Dallas Gant

Eleven top prospects attended Notre Dame’s first junior day back on Feb. 11.

Six were already committed to the Irish when they showed up. Another four joined in the weeks that followed. That leaves four-star linebacker Dallas Gant as the only holdout. And he’s heard all about that fact.

“I’ve heard from most of the commits and I’ve talked to them at the junior day and a few I’ve (messaged on Twitter),” said Gant, a 6-foot-3, 220-pounder from Toledo, Ohio. “I talk to them pretty frequently and I get some stuff from the guys sometimes. They just talk to me about ND and what they have that no one else does.”

Gant hasn’t committed but he remains high on the Irish heading into spring.

“The Irish have a great tradition and a great school overall,” he said. “I love the religious aspect of ND. It’s very similar to my school at St. John’s Jesuit. ND is very high to me and they have great, unique things about their program that I love.”

Michigan, Ohio State, Oklahoma and Penn State also are among Gant’s early favorites.

He hopes to end the recruiting process before his senior season.

“They all are great athletically and academically,” he said.

Gant hopes to see a few of those schools in the near future.

“Nothing is planned but next up will probably be Michigan,” he said. “Nothing else is planned and I’m not sure which camps I’m doing yet either.” ranks Gant as the 113th best prospect and the 10th best outside linebacker in the nation.

Irish Target Potential Rover

Panos Voulgaris knows what a four-star defensive back looks like.

It’s why the head coach at Episcopal in Alexandria, Va., can call sophomore Litchfield Ajavon his next big thing with credibility. The Irish offered the 6-foot, 190-pound athlete this spring and could see a potential Rover in the versatile athlete.

After coaching four-star defensive end Luiji Vilain (Michigan) and four-star safety Jonathan Sutherland (Penn State) last season, Voulgaris compares Ajavon favorably to those outgoing seniors. It’s part of the reason why Michigan, Georgia and North Carolina are also on Ajavon’s offer list.

“He’s gonna be a nationally recruited kid,” Voulgaris said. “We’ve had 12 Division I kids the last four years and he’s just as talented, if not more talented, than any of those guys who have come through here.”

How Episcopal dispatches Ajavon makes it easy to understand why Notre Dame values him as one of its top targets in the sophomore class. Other than playing special teams and some offense, Ajavon works at safety, often playing a two-high look but also rolling down into the box.

“He can come downhill, be physical, cover a lot of ground,” Voulgaris said. “He’s pretty natural doing all those things and he can cover. There’s some natural leadership skill there too. People gravitate to him.”

Notre Dame recruited Virginia with some success last cycle, landing defensive tackle Darnell Ewell and linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah. But Ajavon has more in common geographically with defensive end Kofi Wardlow as more of a Washington D.C. area prospect.

Irish defensive coordinator Mike Elko has some experience recruiting that region. Linebackers coach Clark Lea does too. While Voulgaris doesn’t know either well, he knows of them from their time at Wake Forest.

“I’ve had a little interaction with them and followed them pretty closely at Wake,” Voulgaris said. “They did a tremendous job with their defense at Wake. Obviously they hope to have that kind of impact at Notre Dame.”


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