Junior Day kicks off 2015 recruiting cycle

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After getting our first taste of spring ball, we’re going to have to wait two weeks for practice No. 3. While it’ll give South Bend a chance to thaw, it’s leaving all of us in a lurch. So let’s get caught up on some recruiting.

Notre Dame held its first Junior Day last weekend, entertaining a handful of recruiting targets for the 2015 class. With quarterback Blake Barnett and offensive linemen Jerry Tillery and Tristen Hoge already on board, it’ll be interesting to see how the Irish build the 2015 class.

One look at the potential 2015 roster shows you quite a few key fifth year players available. Everett Golson, DaVaris Daniels, Amir Carlisle, Nick Martin, Tony Springmann, Chase Hounshell, Ben Councell, Jarrett Grace, Eilar Hardy and Matthias Farley are just the first wave of players that the Irish would welcome back to play out their eligibility. That makes the scholarship numbers for this recruiting cycle more limited than the back-to-back classes in the 20s.

Still, if there are priorities in this class they are taking shape. One such player is Cincinnati linebacker Justin Hilliard. With elite offers from Ohio State, Michigan, Florida State and USC, Hilliard is going to be a  hotly contested national prospect. But the Irish did some solid work with Hilliard and his father spending time with Brian Kelly and Brian VanGorder.

Kelly won a huge battle at St. Xavier in his first recruiting class, earning the signature of coveted left tackle Matt James. He’ll have to do so again, with Hilliard telling our friends at Irish Illustrated that the Irish got off to a good start.

“Coach Kelly just talked about a bunch of different things and how coach VanGorder is bringing in a more aggressive defense and it really makes for more versatile linebackers,” Hilliard said. “The linebackers will be more aggressive with some blitzing and stuff like that.

“I feel a lot better with Notre Dame from talking with coach VanGorder and meeting him after coach Diaco left,” Hilliard said. “I’ll probably come back up one more time for like a spring practice or something, just for a day, something like that, and just hang out here.”

Hilliard wasn’t the only visitor on campus with an offer. Defensive lineman Elijah Taylor was on campus as well, another Catholic school Cincinnati prospect from Archbishop Moeller. Less of a national prospect, Taylor earned an offer from the Irish staff and seems to fit Kelly and VanGorder’s new plans at defensive tackle.

Another defensive prospect that earned an offer was Indiana prospect Josh Barajas. Barajas moved to Merrillville after playing at Mt. Carmel in Chicago and has the Irish out from after an offer at Junior Day. The Irish are likely going to take three linebackers, making things interesting as to how this shakes out.

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Tom Loy at BlueandGold.com tabs Hilliard and Barajas as two of the five linebackers the Irish have set their sights on, with Arizona prospect Cassius Peat on that list as well. (Notre Dame chased his older brother Andrus Peat, but the offensive tackle ended up at Stanford.)

No commitments came out of the Irish’s first Junior Day, though they weren’t necessarily expected. How Notre Dame builds its class this year will be interesting to follow, as the early commitments the Irish have pulled in appear to be elite, national targets.

In the past, Notre Dame tended to build their classes with “RKGs” commitments from pipeline schools or players that might be more “glue” guys than elite targets, though reaching any true conclusion is rather silly with the Irish coaching staff probably having a far better grasp on the players they offer than any recruiting analyst. Yet Barnett, Tillery and Hoge are among the top 150 players in the country nationally, and elite at their positions, people that don’t often commit early to the Irish.

Offers don’t seem to be as wide as they were in the past when Notre Dame planned to bring in close to the maximum of 25. But they are out to players at profile schools, safety Nicco Fertitta at Bishop Gorman in Las Vegas and Jashon Cornell at Cretin-Derham Hall in St. Paul to name tw0.  

As we slowly build to Signing Day in 11 months, names with come, go, emerge, disappear and everything in between. All just part of the fun that comes with recruiting.