Oct 17, 2011, 12:08 PM EDT
This Saturday was already a critical weekend in the head-to-head recruiting battle the Irish and Trojans are waging with each other. It just got a whole lot more interesting with five-star defensive end recruit Arik Armstead backing away from his commitment to USC on Sunday, less than a week before his official recruiting visit to Notre Dame.
At 6-foot-7, 280-pounds, Armstead doesn’t do the word prototype any justice. He’s a monstrous prospect that also doubles as a power forward during basketball season. Whether he ends up at defensive end like he prefers or as an offensive tackle, his athleticism has him among the top players at either position in the country.
While Armstead was the longest tenured commitment to the Trojan recruiting class, the idea of a de-commitment had to at least be in the back of the minds of both USC coaches and fans thanks to the mysterious medical situation surrounding Arik’s brother Armond, a senior defensive end on the Trojan roster. Armond has been held out of Trojan contact drills with an undisclosed ailment, and the Armstead family hasn’t been happy with the way the university has treated the situation.
“All I can say is that over the last six months, my family has been a little disappointed with some things going at USC but that’s all I want to say on that,” Arik told ESPN.com’s Greg Biggins.
Armstead plans on enrolling early, shortening the recruiting process and putting a huge emphasis on the upcoming weekend. He’ll be joined by a very large West Coast contingent in South Bend, with nearly every recruit holding offers from both Notre Dame and Southern Cal.
Here’s a quick look at a few key targets for both schools:
Zach Banner, OL: At 6-foot-9, 310-pounds, Banner is one of the few recruits that look down at Armstead. He’s got coast to coast offers and is one of the most coveted offensive line targets in the country.
Byron Marshall, RB: The San Jose native has a brother at Arizona State, but offers from just about every team in the Pac-12. He’d be a great complement to Will Mahone.
KeiVarae Russell, RB: Another dual-threat running back, the Irish will likely battle hometown Washington and the Trojans for Russell’s services.
Shaq Thompson, S: It won’t be hard for Thompson to see Harrison Smith and know he’ll have a shot at his job next season. But Thompson has choices, including USC, Auburn, Alabama, Oregon and Cal, where he was once committed.
Jordan Payton, WR: Once committed to the Trojans, Payton saw the Irish in Ann Arbor and will see them again this Saturday. His offers include most of the Pac-12 and Florida, Oklahoma, Miami and Michigan among others.
There are plenty of other recruits that are looking at both schools visiting South Bend on Saturday, including top national players like Cal commit Bryce Treggs and Georgia commit John Theus. Blue-chip offensive tackle Ronnie Stanley, entertaining offers from both USC and Notre Dame was scheduled to make his first visit to South Bend, but IrishSportsDaily.com reports scheduling conflicts have pushed that visit back.
Either way, the recruiting subplot will be an interesting one on Saturday. And there might not be a more important cog in all of this than Armstead, one of the biggest players — both literally and figuratively — on either teams’ recruiting board.