When Notre Dame signed Sheldon Day and Jarron Jones five years ago it looked like the potential start of something special in recruiting defensive tackles.
Scout.com rated Day as a five-star prospect while Jones slotted within the Top 300. After a historically good defensive end haul a cycle earlier that included Stephon Tuitt and Aaron Lynch, it appeared the Irish might be able to win in both trenches, not just on the offensive line.
It hasn’t worked out that way, which is why defensive tackle recruiting remains a major priority this cycle. Since that Jones-Day combination class, the Irish have completely missed at defensive tackle twice in the past five cycles. They’ve signed nine defensive tackles total during that time, grabbing three four-star prospects (Daniel Cage, Jerry Tillery and Darnell Ewell) and six three-star recruits.
For the sake of comparison, Alabama signed 13 defensive tackles during that same run, landing at least one every cycle and taking three five-stars, eight four-stars and two three-stars.
Yes, Notre Dame can’t recruit like Alabama and doesn’t expect to. But also yes, if the Irish make the College Football Playoff at some point there’s a good chance they’ll run into the Crimson Tide and their defensive tackle depth chart.
So where does Notre Dame go from here this cycle?
Four-star Jayson Ademilola, who holds an Alabama offer, is a good place to start considering he earned an invite to The Opening Finals last weekend in New Jersey. Ideally, he’ll be one of three interior line prospects this cycle.
Outside of Ademilola, the Irish have offered seven defensive tackles. Right now, the recruit showing the most interest is Ridgely (Maryland) three-star Ja’mion Franklin.
Franklin is in the discussion of recruits most likely to commit to Notre Dame. Multiple staff members were in contact with him early in the recruiting process and continue to keep tabs on him.
The high-motor tackle visited South Bend on March 24, and received a much-anticipated offer. Since then, Franklin has also visited Penn State and Virginia. He told Irish Illustrated that he will return to Notre Dame in late-June with his parents before announcing his decision on July 1.
Things look good for Notre Dame.
Notre Dame has hosted P.J. Mustipher several times, including for the Blue-Gold Game weekend, and his brother is the starting center at Notre Dame. He has seen all he needs to see. Still, the clarity of his Notre Dame recruitment is questionable. At The Opening Regional in New Jersey last weekend, Mustipher said a commitment could come this summer after he reviews his options with his parents.
Ohio State is the main school that comes up as the competitor in this race, as well as some chatter about Tennessee, but that has died down. It appears this is an Irish–Buckeye battle. As of now, the Irish considered to be still in the race for his pledge. Penn State has an outside shot as well.
Outside of Franklin and Mustipher, interest in Notre Dame from top defensive tackles is slim.
IMG Academy defensive tackle recruits Stephon Wynn and Josh Walker have yet to show interest in Notre Dame. Wynn (No. 266 overall) and Walker (No. 5 DT in FL) would be great additions, but the IMG Academy duo have extensive offer lists and are pursuing schools in the south.
Bishop Dunne (Dallas, TX) defensive tackle Calvin Avery was a possibility for the Irish. Given current Notre Dame cornerback Nick Watkins went to that high school, the Irish have strong connections. However, Avery told Irish Illustrated that he hasn’t been hearing from Notre Dame since his offer back on March 7. A day later USC offered. Avery recently picked up a Missouri offer on April 25.
Covington (Georgia) Newton four-star defensive tackle Darnell Jeffries (No. 2 DT in GA) is an explosive prospect that holds an offer from Notre Dame. Last week the interest from either party isn’t clear. However, Jeffries’ coach told Irish Illustrated that the four-star was very interested in Notre Dame and would visit this summer.
Look for Notre Dame to visit the 6-foot-4, 275-pound prospect during the spring evaluation period. Jeffries owns offers from Alabama, Georgia, Clemson, Ohio State and LSU. If the Irish do decide to push for his signature, it will be a tough battle.
Archbishop Moeller star Aeneas Hawkins was offered back on February 9. The Irish had high interest in the four-star recruit, but since coach Mike Elko took over the defense the recruiting focus, related to the defensive line, has shifted.
Hawkins plays more defensive end than tackle, and the Irish are now looking for different types of athletes. Sources have indicated that the Irish are no longer in pursuit.
We know there is a strong possibility that the 6-foot-2 ½, 306-pound Franklin will commit to the Irish on July 1. We also know Mustipher, has Notre Dame in his top group.
The question is, where will Notre Dame turn if they don’t land both Franklin and Mustipher? It seems the Irish will need to comb through the nation to find more defensive tackle prospects.