Notre Dame’s 2016 recruiting class was supposed to be a small one. Yet with two weeks to go until Signing Day, Brian Kelly has put together another Top 10 recruiting class, one that could turn into a contender for the best group in the nation.
A strong 2015 season helped—so did a large exodus at season’s end. That’s allowed the 2016 class to have the potential to swell into one of the largest groups signed by Kelly since he arrived in South Bend.
With the Irish coaching staff spread coast to coast chasing some of the nation’s elite prospects, the first Wednesday in February is just around the corner. With five early-enrollees already on campus and the 22-man class potentially adding as many as four more members, let’s take a look at the remaining targets on the board.
The five-star athlete could be the heir apparent to Will Fuller. Or at least that’s the pitch Notre Dame’s coaching staff gave on Monday night, using Kelly’s in-home visit to try and secure a commitment from one of the nation’s most tantalizing athletes. Robertson welcomed a large contingent of Irish coaches into his home in Savannah, where Notre Dame’s head coach was joined by offensive coordinator Mike Sanford and area recruiters Scott Booker and Autry Denson as they sold Robertson on replacing the Irish All-American.
Rivals’ Woody Wommack caught up with Robertson after the visit:
“They think I can come in and take over the X-receiver spot from Will,” Robertson told Rivals. “Coach Kelly compares me to him a lot, especially my deep threat ability and my route-running and things like that. He said that I have more upside coming in than Will had, even though I’m about the same size he was coming out.”
Robertson stood out on the East team during the U.S. Army All-American Bowl, a game that featured an impressive kick return from the Georgia native, who is still being chased by Alabama and Georgia. It wrapped up an impressive week in San Antonio for the elite prospect, who would be the best offensive players signed by the Irish since Charlie Weis reeled in Jimmy Clausen.
Notre Dame hasn’t had much luck recruiting Fresno. But the Irish staff believes things could be different with Kelly, a five-star linebacker who could add another high-end prospect to a linebacker position that’ll need to reload after the loss of Jaylon Smith, Joe Schmidt and Jarrett Grace.
Bob Stoops—who has built a pipeline into Fresno—already used his in-home visit. Notre Dame saved Brian Kelly’s, hopeful that the Irish head coach can help close on Kelly and finally get one of Central California’s top athletes onto the football field in South Bend.
Anna Hickey of Irish Illustrated spoke with the talented linebacker about how he’s been recruited—starting on the outside with the potential to perhaps grow into a pass rusher.
“He talked to me about his coaching style and position-wise how he does things at Notre Dame,” Kelly said. “He said things could change depending on how I grow, but right now he likes me at Sam. I could develop into a defensive end. He said the defense varies a lot, so all of the players have to know every position.”
Here’s a look at Kelly in action.
Notre Dame has been in on the Houston linebacker since he opened eyes at The Opening with some freakish test scores. They finally got McCulloch on campus and managed to open his eyes as well, with the potential fit at Notre Dame a good one.
But Texas has come on, with Charlie Strong selling McCulloch on the virtues of staying home and playing immediately for the Longhorns. McCulloch also earned admission at Stanford, likely a key in a Signing Day decision that pushed back from the original plan to announce at the Under Armour All-American game.
It’ll come down to the wire for McCulloch—with the Irish needing to regain some momentum if they want to add this explosive linebacker who could come in and contribute off the edge right away.
Notre Dame did all they could by getting Davis on campus last weekend and giving the Alabama native a look at what life could be like in South Bend. Hosted by Jerry Tillery and given an honest appraisal of what the academic rigors entail, Davis left Notre Dame putting them in a top three with Alabama and Georgia, where former Crimson Tide defensive coordinator Kirby Smart has made him a priority.
Leaving Notre Dame running third doesn’t necessarily give you warm and fuzzy feelings. But this Irish staff has pulled a rabbit out of the hat once or twice on Signing Day in SEC upsets and if they could pull that off with Alabama legacy Davis, they’ll have executed their finest magic trick yet.
Jones certainly doesn’t have the recruiting accolades of the talented trio just discussed, but he’s certainly no slouch. With Michigan still running in the lead for the Orlando native, Jones has seen a lot of the Irish staff, including a recent visit by position coach and recruiting coordinator Mike Elston.
The 247 Crystal Ball still points Michigan’s way, but Jones has one key family member in Notre Dame’s corner, according to Blue & Gold’s Andrew Ivins.
“My dad is Notre Dame all the way,” Jones told B&G. “He loves all of the other schools. He like Michigan and [Coach Harbaugh] but he likes that life after football aspect at Notre Dame. My mom she just wants me to where I’m comfortable and that’s what I want.”
Jones may be a bit undersized, but projects as a possible Mike or Will option. He was a productive high school player with a slew of impressive offers and even if he’s not the “big name” that Kelly, McCulloch or Davis is, once the ink is dry and the faxes are in, the stars disappear.
Few corners look like Jordan Fuller. And even with a stacked defensive back group in the 22-man recruiting class, the jumbo-sized DB could look pretty good in a Notre Dame uniform.
Fuller may not have played at an elite level in San Antonio at the Army Bowl, but his intriguing skill set still has Notre Dame in a battle with Michigan, Penn State, Rutgers and Ohio State, who just entertained Fuller last weekend. The New Jersey native has been on campus twice, the last visit for Notre Dame’s ECHOES awards banquet.
This could be a situation where the Irish might not have room come Signing Day. But with a fifth-year class looking minimal, extending past the 25-man limit could be a possibility, especially with five early enrollees potentially counting against last year’s group.
Notre Dame’s most recent target could come at Michigan’s expense. Tennessee receiver Nate Johnson has been a name to watch of late, and taking one look at his senior highlights helps you understand why.
This kid can fly.
With the loss of Fuller, Chris Brown, Amir Carlisle and Corey Robinson a senior in 2016, a reload is necessary in the receiving corps. And finding a way to score a late visit from Johnson and receive his fax on Signing Day morning could be the type of late addition that helps make this class special.