Recruiting

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Irish commit C.J. Saunders dazzles at The Opening

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Some of the top recruits in the country are in Oregon this week, taking part in The Opening, a combine and football camp hosted at the Nike headquarters. For recruitniks, it’s an opportunity to see the top prospects of the cycle compete in a 7-on-7 tournament, as well as go through the Nike SPARQ Rating Championship, an NFL combine-like set of testing events that measure speed and explosiveness.

For Irish fans, The Opening also gave them a closer look at wide receiver C.J. Sanders. And after yesterday’s performance, Sanders will be a much more appreciated recruiting. After entering camp as a modestly-ranked three-star prospect, Sanders will get a huge boost after putting up ridiculous numbers.

Sanders made the SPARQ finals, televised on ESPNU on Tuesday evening. He didn’t win, but it was his work during testing that opened eyes, with the 5-foot-8.5, 175-pounder showing dazzling speed and quickness to go along with impressive strength numbers as well.

Sanders ran a 4.32 40-yard dash in the prelims, just two-hundredths of a second slower than the top time. (His time would’ve been the fastest at last year’s SPARQ testing.) He also put together a ridiculous 3.80 20-yard shuttle time, the best in the entire camp. Throw in a 38.6″ vertical leap and you’ve got yourself a freak athlete.

While the timing system isn’t quite apples to apples with the NFL Combine, Sanders shuttle time would stand as the fastest at the NFL level dating back as far back as the NFL’s website records, when Jason Allen and Brandin Cooks both clocked 3.81 in 2006.

Sanders wasn’t the only Irish prospect who looked impressive. While linemen Jerry Tillery and Tristian Hoge held their own for big men, cornerback Shaun Crawford also put up elite numbers.

Measuring in at 5-foot-8.5 and 170-pounds, Crawford clocked a 4.48 40-yard dash, while leaping 38.8 inches in the vertical. That should more than make up for a lack of height, and Crawford also ran a sub-four second shuttle, making him one of the quickest guys at camp.

 

Irish get commitment from WR Miles Boykin

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Notre Dame may have missed out on Jashon Cornell and Justin Hilliard on Wednesday, but they won the commitment of jumbo receiver Miles Boykin. The Illinois native chose Notre Dame over Michigan State, Michigan, Ohio State, Florida and a slew of other offers.

At a shade over 6-foot-3 and 225 pounds, Boykin is one of the most physically impressive receiving prospects in the recruiting cycle. Originally projected by some as a tight end, Boykin has spent the summer attending national camps and combines, on a mission to prove his ability to play out wide and not attached. He’s done that, dominating in drills and putting up a more than respectable 40-yard dash time.

For the Irish, Boykin is a perfect fit. They’ve had great success with big receivers and detached tight ends, making it fairly irrelevant what position Boykin is officially listed at on the roster, as he’ll play a role we’ve seen since Brian Kelly came to town.

 

When discussing his commitment, Boykin spoke with Irish Illustrated’s Jake Brown ($), telling him about his growing comfort level in South Bend.

“Really it just feels like home there,” Boykin told Irish Illustrated Wednesday. “When I took my overnight visit there I knew I wanted to be there. I had to just take one visit to Michigan State because they were really close behind to see if I felt the same way about Notre Dame. Then after that I just knew I wanted to be there.”

Boykin told Brown that he’ll start his career at the X receiver, learning the outside receiver spot before moving around.

He’s Notre Dame’s 17th commitment of the cycle, a class that might be able to grow with the news that Nile Sykes could be transferring out of South Bend after the summer session is over.

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Notre Dame adds commitment from DB Ashton White

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The recruiting train continues for Notre Dame, with Washington D.C. area defensive back Ashton White pledging his commitment to the Irish on Tuesday evening. The one-time Virginia Tech commitment chose Notre Dame after being offered at the Irish Invasion camp.

White had offers from West Virginia, Ohio State, Iowa, UConn, Maryland and Boston College (among others). He’s a 5-foot-11, 182-pounder who will finish up his prep career at Bishop McNamara.

In a matter of weeks, Notre Dame has solidified its secondary with a strong recruiting class, a year after focusing on the front seven. White joins cornerbacks Shaun Crawford and Nick Coleman as well as safeties Nicco Fertitta and Prentice McKinney.

White made it clear why he made his decision when catching up with BlueandGold.com’s Tom Loy ($):

“It’s Notre Dame. It doesn’t get better than that,” White told Loy. “They will contend for a national championship just about every year and you can get the best degree in the country. It will set you up in life, with work, and just puts you in a better position than a lot of other people. It’s just an incredible opportunity for football and academics. You’re double dipping. It’s perfect. It’s the best place I could possibly be.”

With White, Notre Dame extends its recruiting class to 16. He’s the ninth commit to Brian VanGorder’s defense, a cornerback who had an offer from both Urban Meyer and Bob Diaco.

The recruiting news should kick up early tomorrow as well, with blue-chippers Jashon Cornell and Justin Hilliard in the morning and receiving target Miles Boykin in the afternoon. Quarterback Travis Waller pledged to Oregon today, taking him off the board. And most are bracing for the worst with the Cornell and Hilliard “joint” announcement (they’ll both make the decision at 9 a.m. CDT), while others are optimistic about Boykin.

Either way, for a class many were worried about entering June, it looks like Notre Dame will be close to full by the time the season opens.

 

Irish add RB Josh Adams to 2015 recruiting class

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Notre Dame’s coaching staff got a good look at Pennsylvania running back Josh Adams at the Irish Invasion camp a little over a week ago. They’ll see him for four more years, as Adams committed to the Irish on Monday, adding a much needed running back to the 2015 recruiting class.

At 6-foot-2, 210-pounds, Adams has size and speed that the Irish covet. He’s also only now coming into his own after an ACL tear suffered during his junior season has him fully healthy.

Our friends at Irish Illustrated caught up with Adams’ high school coach Dan Rackovan at Central Bucks, who raved about Adams’ upside potential.

“His potential, both size and athletically are off the charts,” Rackovan told Irish Illustrated. “He’s a very explosive kid, a finisher. And above all else, he’s a great kid. He’s a really good student, a leader in the school, all the things you’d want to be a part of your football team.”

Adams chose Notre Dame over Penn State, Stanford, Boston College and Pitt. He’s one of two running backs that Notre Dame is targeting in this class, with the Irish after elite national prospects Soso Jamabo and Jacques Patrick, as well as South Carolina’s Ty’Son Williams, who is close to making a decision as well.

Adams makes 15 in the 2015 class, a group that many expected to max-out in the high-teens. But with Will Mahone’s return to the program in serious question after his arrest last week and a large group of difficult fifth-year decisions coming after the season, it’ll be very interesting to see when the bus is officially full.

Notre Dame should hear about three more prospects later this week when Justin Hilliard, Jashon Cornell and Miles Boykin all announce their college decisions on Wednesday. Each prospects has the Irish in their final group.

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Recapping the Irish Invasion

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Notre Dame hosted its first primetime football camp experience Friday night, with a slew of national recruits taking part in a two-hour camp dubbed the Irish Invasion. While I wasn’t there to watch the prospects take part, I’ve spent a dozen hours on the internet reading about the camp, so let’s walk through what happened.

 

Did Anybody Commit?

Let’s just get the big question out of the way. No, Notre Dame didn’t land any verbal commitments from campers, but that isn’t necessarily the point of events like this.

After the last few weeks’ flurry of activity, the Irish coaching staff likely feels very good about where they stand in the process, and will likely keep working on some elite prospects while being fairly strategic with their last half-dozen (or so) spots.

The biggest goal of a camp like this is to get top prospects on campus during the summer months, then locking in an official visitor for the season. That was accomplished with guys like Jacques Patrick, the five-star running back who was seen hanging with Greg Bryant and Tarean Folston. They also laid tracks with top 2016 quarterback Malik Henry.

Georgia defensive end Austin Bryant also got to kick the tires on life at Notre Dame, putting the Irish in the lead group before he heads off to The Opening.

 

Did Anybody Earn a Scholarship Offer?

So glad that you asked!

Michigan 2016 linebacker Daelin Hayes earned an offer after being one of the more impressive junior visitors on campus. Hayes is a 6-foot-3, 225-pounder from Orchard Lake, and the Irish joined Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State and Penn State chasing down one of the better linebacking prospects for next recruiting cycle.

The South Bend Tribune’s Tyler James caught up with Hayes, who was very excited about the offer.

At the conclusion of the camp, Hayes was given an opportunity to follow in Smith’s footsteps when the Irish coaching staff extended him an offer. The news came shortly after a celebration of the last rep of one-on-ones.

“We knocked it down and I just see Jaylon’s big ole self jumping in the air, so I jumped with him,” Hayes said. “Coach (Bob) Elliott was jumping up and down. Coach (Brian) VanGorder was jumping up and down. Everybody was going crazy. We were doing all that, and they said we can’t let you leave here. We want to coach you. You have an offer from us. I went over to coach (Brian) Kelly and he told me the same thing.”

Hayes, on his third visit to Notre Dame, responded with elation.

“I was speechless,” Hayes said. “When they told me, I was very excited. I was at a loss for words. It was a great feeling. Notre Dame’s always been one of my favorite schools.”

After losing quarterback commit Blake Barnett to Alabama, Notre Dame is after Crimson Tide commitment Mekhi Brown. The lanky defensive end prospect earned an offer over the weekend and was very impressed with things in South Bend.

One of the top prospects in the country (he’s a consensus Top 50 talent), Brown has been committed to Alabama for over a year. But after his trip to South Bend, Notre Dame is now No. 2 for the Georgia prospect.

“Notre Dame was easily my favorite place of the trip,” Brown told 247Sports.com’s Ryan Bartow. “Just how they sold the school. The education there is so valuable. Its like getting an Ivy League degree. Plus the history aspect of the football program.”

 

So Who Looked Good? 

From all reports, Notre Dame landed a dynamic defender in Ohio cornerback Shaun Crawford. Crawford isn’t the biggest guy in the world, but his athleticism is tough to ignore. He was a lock down cornerback and impressed just about everybody on campus — reporters, coaches, and players.

Our friends over at Irish Illustrated put together this video breakdown of what they saw, and it’s worth a few minutes of your time. You’ll see why Crawford is such an exciting prospect.

 

Any update on linebackers? 

Highly-touted Cincinnati linebacker Justin Hilliard was on campus again, taunting fans all around college football with his Twitter feed as he continues to make his college decision a mystery. The five-star prospect caught up with 247Sports.com’s Director of Scouting Steve Wiltfong and basically said everything you want from a recruit who seems 50-50 on Notre Dame and Ohio State.

“They’re two totally different schools. Notre Dame is more of a structured kind of school like the one I’m coming from,” Hilliard told Wiltfong. “Very academic, prestigious. They both have really good business schools. Ohio State is a big public school. Exciting, a lot of energy on the campus. The players are really awesome. I felt comfortable at both schools.”

Hilliard was spotted riding in a golf cart with Brian Kelly before taking off and heading to Columbus the next day.

Meanwhile, Notre Dame impressed another top linebacker, Florida’s Tevon Coney, who got a closer look at campus and the Irish coaching staff this weekend. In case you wondered if Notre Dame was only taking Hilliard or Coney, that doesn’t seem to be the case, per Coney himself, who got into the Twitter game.

 

Let’s talk about the youngsters… and another battle with Urban Meyer (and Brady Hoke).

Another top 2016 prospect left South Bend with Notre Dame at the top of his board. Cleveland offensive tackle Liam Eichenberg became the most recent offensive tackle to really connect with Harry Hiestand, naming Notre Dame his leader after leaving campus.

Many expected the St. Ignatius standout to be Urban Meyer’s, though Notre Dame made quite an impression on Eichenberg and his family.

“Coach Hiestand is very particular with his coaching technique,” Eichenberg told 247Sports’ Tom Loy. “He’s just different. I love it. His coaching style is great. We were breaking down my film in the film room and I learned so much from what he was telling me.”

Eichenberg also told Loy that his dad left campus with a Notre Dame hat, something that surprised him. It’ll be a race with Ohio State and Michigan to the end for incoming freshman Jimmy Byrne’s old teammate. And it’s going to be hard to beat Hiestand, Notre Dame’s not-so-secret recruiting weapon.

 

Just because the Irish Invasion is over doesn’t mean top prospects are done visiting

Rivals’ No. 1 player in the country is on campus right now, with defensive end Byron Cowart visiting campus. That’s got to have Irish fans very, very happy.

Cowart is a freak athlete who also takes a very methodical approach to football. As Pete Sampson at Irish Illustrated pointed out after the Rivals100 Five-Star Challenge, Cowart prepared for the camp by watching recruiting film of the offensive linemen he was set to go up against. That’s intense.

Also heading to campus is five-star 2016 quarterback Jacob Eason. As Notre Dame’s QB plans for the 2015 class continue to be up in the air with Travis Waller delaying his decision date after Oregon offered him a scholarship, Eason and Malik Henry appear to be the two quarterbacks in the crosshairs for the Irish in next recruiting cycle.