Irish Recruiting: Closing stretch could be big for Notre Dame

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In 48 hours, Brian Kelly will be assembling his thoughts on the 2014 recruiting class, ready to approach the media to talk about the fruits of his staff’s labor over the past 18 months. Recapping the class should be an enjoyable exercise, with this group a truly diverse class that puts back-to-back elite groups onto the roster.

The assembly of this class is unlike any other Kelly and his staff built. The bulk of the group is early targets and commitments. Kelly accepted commitments from 14 players before the Irish played their first game in 2013. Those came from early targets like Greer Martini and Justin Brent, two players the staff honed in on early. They include the entire offensive line class, and quarterback DeShone Kizer.

But unlike years past, the staff clearly remained flexible as their big board changed. Adding players like Drue Tranquill and Jhonathon Williams showed the staff finding and targeting players that weren’t in their original target list. Nile Sykes and Kolin Hill are similar targets, two out-of-profile linebacker targets that infuse athleticism at positions where the Irish usually looked for size and length.

Then there are the long victories. Tyler Luatua and Nyles Morgan were targets that Notre Dame invested a ton of time and energy, much needed victories at positions of need.

Even if the Irish stand pat a 22 commitments, Notre Dame has added eight recruits since November, the highest number of late additions to the class since Kelly’s had a full recruiting cycle. (Even the year Kelly took over for Charlie Weis, the Irish only added 10 names in the final three months of recruiting.)

But that doesn’t mean the work is over.

The Irish are still trying to close this week chasing some top prospects. Already they solved a problem at defensive tackle with the addition of Pete Mokwuah. The former Rutgers commitment immediately gives the Irish a big body that can develop at nose guard.

Notre Dame’s also taking a big swing at John “JuJu” Smith. Landing the Irish’s first Long Beach Poly player since Freddie Parish,  the Irish staff is okay with letting Smith develop on both sides of the football, as long as it brings the talented Southern California native to South Bend. Notre Dame knows its fighting an uphill battle here against USC, but that didn’t stop Mike Denbrock and Brian Kelly from stopping by last week.

The Irish are also chasing talent in Fresno, a city that’s only given the Irish staff heart ache. But Michiah Quick is the type of athlete that Kelly and Denbrock desperately want to add to the roster, and his speed and quickness will immediately upgrade whatever position Quick ends up playing. Most believe that Quick is Bob Stoops’ to lose, with the Sooners coach building a pretty impressive pipeline into Northern California. But there’s word that Notre Dame is building momentum here, even if Fresno locals Hatari Byrd and L.J. Moore, and elite recruit Joe Mixon are set for Oklahoma.

At defensive tackle, the Irish are still in the hunt for Daniel Cage and Courtney Garnett. Bob Stoops and Kelly and battling for Garnett, with the New Orleans product committing to the Sooners before visiting Notre Dame, only to have his eyes opened with an impressive visit to South Bend.

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Cage left his official visit in South Bend and headed to Missouri. Notre Dame was late on the scene and Cage could be headed to Michigan State, but the Cincinnati native will make a Signing Day decision as well. It’s not clear whether Notre Dame would accept commitments from both Cage and Garnett, though it’s a problem I’m sure they’d be willing to entertain.

Lastly, the Irish are hoping to add one more cornerback to the recruiting class in Terrence Alexander. The New Orleans native from John Curtis Christian School didn’t begin his recruiting process until after his team’s second-straight state championship, and the Irish look in good position for Alexander.

While he’s a smaller than the cornerback’s Bob Diaco targeted, Alexander is a smooth athlete that projects to play on the field side for the Irish. Notre Dame is battling Ole Miss and Stanford, who just recently accepted him for admission, clearing a big hurdle for his recruitment.

At 22 commitments, the Irish have a class that should be a building block for the future. But closing strong could turn this into one of the elite groups in the country.