Corey Bender

Insider Report: ND can bulk up this weekend

The Insider Report highlights Notre Dame’s major recruiting weekend in the trenches, where the Irish could be close on a couple commitments. While the offensive line is the focus, there could be a move on a top defensive tackle too.

Take center stage, Harry Hiestand.

Spring recruiting heats up for Notre Dame this weekend with seven unofficial visitors expected, four of which are on the offensive line. Hiestand prioritized his top targets with scholarship offers shortly after National Signing Day. Now a group of them will be on campus all at once.

Four-star offensive tackle Nick Petit-Frere headlines the quartet, which includes commitment Cole Mabry. Petit-Frere is making the trip from Tampa, Fla., with a national offer list in tow. He’s a top 50 prospect overall on Scout.

“He’s loaded with upside, man,” said Corey Bender, Florida recruiting analyst for Scout. “He’s got a lean frame. He’s about 6-6 and 270 pounds right now. He’s a kid in pass pro that really slides his feet effortlessly. He’s so athletic. When he sits back it’s almost like he’s toying with defensive ends. That’s how good his footwork is. When he shuffles his feet it just comes so naturally.

“But at the same time, when you see him run blocking he’s so aggressive. Plays to the whistle. He really knows an on and off switch. He’s like class president, 4.0 student, yes sir and no sir kind of kid. But on the field he has this on switch where he just destroys kids until the whistle is blown.”

Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Michigan, Nebraska, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Oregon and Texas are some of the offers Petit-Frere is considering. Florida is considered a possible leader.

“The schools I can definitely tell you I think are on his mind would be Auburn, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Michigan and Florida,” Bender said. “Alabama is in there too. He visited Alabama and Auburn last year. Michigan was his first offer. With Notre Dame getting him on campus, I think that’s huge.”

Regional targets Ryan Hayes and John Dirksen are also expected in South Bend. Both are four-star prospects. Hayes is a three-sport standout West High in Traverse City, Mich., while Dirksen is one of the top prospects in Ohio.

Hayes is taking what has now become a well worn path — prep tight end destined for offensive tackle in college. In fact, another from Traverse City West product did the same thing.

Jake Fisher played tight end at West before heading to Oregon, where he turned into an offensive tackle. He was named an All-American in 2014 as a senior. Cincinnati selected Fisher in the second round of the 2015 NFL Draft.

“It’s funny,” said Allen Trieu, Midwest recruiting manager for Scout. “I think it’s gotten to the point now where recruiting people assume every tight end can convert to offensive tackle and while it has been successful in many cases, it is never a given. With Ryan, his dad played offensive line, his brother played offensive line, his high school has produced tons of college offensive linemen, and so he's been coached very well on his blocking.

“He's athletic, I watched him play basketball and he can bend and move, and I think he brings some of the toughness needed to make that conversion as well.”

Fisher got outside Big Ten country for college ball. Hayes probably won’t.

Cal, Kentucky, Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, Northwestern, Notre Dame, TCU, Vanderbilt and Virginia are the scholarship offers of note. But it basically boils down to the Irish, Wolverines and Spartans.

“Those will be the three primary programs in the recruitment I think,” Trieu said. “It should be a Midwestern-type recruitment and those three seem to have an early advantage.”

Dirksen heads to South Bend as something of a mystery. He doesn’t often field questions about his recruitment and plays smaller division Ohio football. That alone makes him a challenge to rate, yet Scout lists Dirksen as its No. 190 overall prospect in the Class of 2018.

Only Jack Carman, another Irish target, is rated higher as an offensive lineman out of Ohio this cycle.

“With small school kids, you have to judge them on the ability to translate what they're doing to college,” Trieu said. “So first, the film has to be dominant. It can't just be good at that level, and John's film looks the way it should, it looks like a man playing against boys. From there, is it just a bigger, stronger kid, or does he have the tools needed to do that in college? And with John, he has the athletic tools to do that.

“We have seen him against top competition at camps at Ohio State and Michigan State, so that is the final piece of the puzzle, trying to see them against top competition at camps.”

Iowa State, Kentucky, Michigan State, Northwestern and Notre Dame are among the programs that have offered. Notably, Ohio State isn’t seriously involved. Michigan State has been seen as a top contender with the Irish trending lately.

“I believe those are the two schools at the top,” Trieu said. “However, I have always thought that an Ohio State offer would likely win out if that came through.”

Franklin ready to break out?

With nearly a dozen scholarship offers in hand, it’s hard to consider Ja’mion Franklin as a sleeper prospect.

The 6-foot-2, 310-pound three-star defensive tackle from Ridgely, Md., already holds offers from Boston College, Duke, Louisville, Georgia Tech, Rutgers and a host of others, but he’s still waiting for one of the elite college programs to pull the trigger.

That could happen on Friday when he visits Notre Dame.

“From talking to the coaches, they like that he's the kind of kid they want in here at the defensive tackle inside,” said James McCormick, Franklin’s head coach at North Caroline High School. “He moves well and can move sideline to sideline.”

McCormick believes Franklin’s recruitment got off to a slow start due to a transfer after his freshman year.

Franklin started his career at North Caroline but transferred to Gilman School for his sophomore season. He left Gilman in December and played his junior year back at North Caroline.

“I've talked to a couple coaches about it,” McCormick said. “Some coaches have asked why he didn't pop up on the radar earlier. I tell them that everybody is looking at him as a defensive tackle, which is what he played for us as a freshman. When he was at Gilman as a sophomore he started at offensive guard for them because they had a couple of good Division I defensive tackles so he started off at guard. There wasn't really any defensive tackle film on him until this season. That might have been one of the things that was kind of holding him up. The other thing is we're not a powerhouse program where we're pumping out Division I kids every year.”

Several of the elite college programs have checked in with McCormick after seeing Franklin’s junior film.

Clemson invited him down for its junior day earlier this spring and Franklin will head to South Bend on Friday.

“He's starting to get some looks now from I guess the bigger schools,” McCormick said. “He's doing well with us. As a freshman, he was 13 or 14 years old so he was a pretty young kid. Now he's around 16 and less of a little kid and more of a man. His size and the way he moves, he's developing and getting to where he needs to be.”

At North Caroline, Franklin bounces around depending on the situation and most favorable matchup.

“We move him around a little bit,” McCormick said. “He plays defensive tackle for us and he plays a little bit of defensive end. He's athletic and a legitimate 309 or 310 pounds and moves very well for his size. We play him on offense at offensive tackle and fullback a little bit. He's got good hands and could play tight end for us if we wanted to. Teams try to find out where he is and they try to run away from him so we try to move him around a little bit.”

Griffith back in Big Ten territory

Houston Griffith, a four-star defensive back at IMG Academy by way of Chicago, is back in the Great Lakes region this week for a couple visits.

Ohio State hosted the 6-foot-1, 192-pound prospect Thursday for an unofficial visit. Penn State gets a visit Friday. Right now those are the only trips scheduled for Griffith this spring, although Notre Dame would like to have him back on campus.

Griffith said the Irish staff is working to set up another trip. Nothing is on the schedule just yet. He last visited in February and is approaching double digit stops in South Bend.

’19 offensive lineman targeting visit

Sophomore offensive lineman Pierce Quick likely won’t make it to Notre Dame this spring despite targeting an April visit previously.

But the Trussville, Ala., native hopes to make that up later. Quick has been hearing from the Irish through his coach and is interested enough to make the trek. Notre Dame has also been in touch with Pierce’s classmate, Hewitt-Trussville quarterback Paul Tyson.

Tyson plans to visit April 2.

“I want to get on campus for sure,” Quick said.

Alabama, Auburn, Georgia and LSU have already offered Quick scholarships.

Latu releases top 10

Four-star defensive end Cameron Latu released a top 10 earlier this week.

Alabama, BYU, Cal, Nebraska, Notre Dame, Oregon, UCLA, USC, Utah and Washington remain standing.

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