Matt Cashore /

Stepp back to putting best foot forward

Markese Stepp is just about ready to get back on the field, although he'll wait another week before hitting The Opening circuit. Attending the Blue-Gold Game this weekend and doing some recruiting for the Irish comes first. Stepp singled out a few names he'll be targeting.

Markese Stepp isn’t Notre Dame’s highest-ranked commit. But he remains one of its most valuable.

The powerful Indy native has been active contacting top targets to sell the Irish. Along with that recruiting presence, Stepp will provide a bigger back with mobility for his size, which has been enhanced since last season.

“Right now, I’m at 220. I feel great,” Stepp said. “I didn’t even know I was at 220 because I don’t feel it at all. It’s great.”

Stepp has been vigorously rehabbing his hamstring to ensure that he will be back to full form during preseason workouts, camps, and other training events.

“I’m feeling great,” he said. “I feel I’m at 100-percent, but I’m still knocking off the rust from not doing anything in a long time. I’ve been doing rehab and stuff, trying to get back to full speed. I’m feeling a lot better.”

Cathedral should rate among Indiana’s top high school programs this fall, looking to build off back-to-back seasons that ended in the regional round of the state playoffs. The Fighting Irish boast not only Stepp, but also four-star Michigan commitment Emil Ekiyor on the offensive line, plus three-star linebacker Hugh Davis and three-star athlete Jackson Barrow.

“I think we’re going to be really good,” Stepp said. “We have a tough regular season but I think we can win all those games. Personally, I think we can go undefeated. Right now, I think we’ve got about 6 or 7 guys that I think will go D1.”

Stepp will be the headliner and rates highly enough nationally that USC offered him a scholarship on March 27. Stepp’s father has ties to the Trojans program via new running backs coach Deland McCullough, who spent the past six seasons at Indiana.

“Right now, I haven’t been (to USC) or anything. We’ll see if I do, I don’t know yet,” Stepp said. “How that offer came about, my dad played with the running backs coach there, coach McCullough. He was the running backs coach at IU before he got the job at USC. My family has known him for a while. So, the relationship is definitely there. I’ve known him since I’ve been, like, 10 years old. The interest is there but I’m still 110-percent committed to Notre Dame right now. Notre Dame coaching staff and fans don’t have to worry about that.”

USC isn’t the only program sweet on Stepp.

“There’s still a lot of schools that are still trying to get after me a lot,” he said. “Texas, Penn State, USC, UCLA, a lot of schools have been contacting me. It’s different from the quarterback position. When you’re a quarterback, like Phil (Jurkovec), they stopped recruiting him. At the running back position, they’re still pushing hard. It’s crazy. You think it’s going to be all over then you’re like, ‘Dang, I’m still in it.’”

Stepp had planned to attend The Opening Regional in Washington D.C. this weekend, which would have prevented him from attending the Blue-Gold Game on Saturday. Instead, he'll push his appearance on The Opening circuit back a week, hitting the New Jersey event on April 30. That means the Irish commit is in the clear to be in South Bend. He won't pass up that opportunity.

Stepp has high expectations for Notre Dame’s recruiting department during Blue-Gold weekend. In fact, he’s got a few names in mind.

“Tyreke Smith, of course, and I think (L’Christian) Blue Smith,” Stepp said. “I think everyone is going to have a great time. All of them are going to really like it.

“I think Tyreke Smith is really going to like it. That’s the one I hope we get. That’s the one I’ve really been getting after. I really want to see him end up at Notre Dame. I think he’d be a great fit at Notre Dame and I think he’s a great kid and he fits perfect with our class.”

Smith told Irish Illustrated late last week that he wants to be in South Bend for the Blue-Gold Game, but he’s not sure if he can make he trip.

Beyond recruiting, Stepp wanted to make the spring game to check out his future position in person.

“The Notre Dame running back group right now is really good,” he said. “I feel like Josh Adams will lead and with Tarean Folston leaving, I think Dexter Williams is going to do really good, too. So, we’ll see how he does. If he does well enough, he could possibly lead too. Once I get there, I think I have a really good chance of playing early. No disrespect to them, I just think that I could play over there and make an impact on the field.”

The Irish have been active in their search for a second running back to complement Stepp in the 2018 class. That pursuit doesn’t bother Stepp one bit.

“I think it would be great,” he said. “I think it would be good to have another running back out there to get some carries. I don’t see it as a negative impact. Notre Dame’s got to do what they’ve got to do and I guess they want another running back. I feel good about it actually.”

Other than Christian Turner, who recently committed to Michigan when many analysts, fans, and recruitniks felt he was leaning toward Notre Dame, Stepp has only spoken to a few running backs on the Irish offer list.

“I talked to Keaontay Ingram,” he said. “That’s the only one I’ve talked to, except I used to talk to T.J. Pledger, but he committed to Oklahoma. I think Keaontay would be a great complement as he has a completely different style than mine. Christian Turner, I was surprised that he didn’t commit to us.”

Stepp said he’s uncertain where Notre Dame sits with Ingram. Regardless, the Irish commitment would like to see the Texas athlete in South Bend.

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