In signing 12 defensive players Wednesday, Notre Dame added depth to a defense that relied on a larger rotation of players this fall than had been the case recent years. Both that change and the recruiting to adjust to it can be attributed to defensive coordinator Mike Elko, coming up on the conclusion of his first calendar year with the Irish.
“Mike’s ability to say, I know what I’m looking for, that’s number one,” Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly said in describing Elko’s impact on recruiting the class of 2018. “Then, grinding, getting on the road and grinding it out. … It’s being decisive and saying that’s who I want, and it’s grinding it out.”
As a whole, Kelly praised the defensive class, one that may yet grow but is already positioned to make an immediate impact. A year ago that might not have been the same quality of a compliment, but after a strong season for the Irish defense, a quick imprint upon it means the recruits would have earned those chances, not stumbled into them by default.
“I don’t know from a defensive standpoint that there are many of these guys that we go and say these are projects,” Kelly said. “These are guys that we think can play and academically have been given a thumbs-up in terms of the work that they’re doing. That’s pretty impressive in December.”
Consensus four-star safety Derrik Allen (Lassiter High School; Marietta, Ga.)
Measurements: 6’1”, 204 lbs.
U.S. Army All-American
Brian Kelly’s Take: “He was the first guy that we saw that had the ability to cover man-to-man, play the ball in the air and get the ball down on the ground with his size. That was the trait that we had to have in this class. It was a must, must, must. It was underlined five times. We have to find this player.
“So it was all in on that type of player, and when we saw that trait, it was just — in terms of our efforts, they all had to be focused in that direction when we saw those traits coupled with great student, great character, all other intangibles. It was a home run for us.”
Consensus four-star defensive back Houston Griffith (IMG Academy; Bradenton, Fla.)
Measurements: 6’1”, 192 lbs.
Under Armour All-American
Kelly’s Take: “Houston has the natural ability to play corner for us, but we are going to bring in young men that have the athletic ability to play at corner [and] we’re going to develop them and as they progress in our program — we never close the door on where they can be best-suited as they move through the program and look toward a career at the next level.
“He could be a corner, he could play nickel for us, could be a safety at the next level. He certainly has the skillset to play corner for us.”
Rivals.com three-star cornerback Tariq Bracy (Milpitas H.S.; Calif.)
Measurements: 6’0”, 170 lbs.
Recruiting director and special teams coordinator Brian Polian’s Take: “Tariq is one of these guys — one of the reasons I love him — it’s interesting their greatest strengths can sometimes be their weaknesses, too. Getting Tariq on the phone was like an act of Congress, and my wife would grow frustrated with me being downstairs on the phone at 1:30 in the morning because that was my best chance to get Tariq on the phone.
“He was not a guy that said look at me in the recruiting process, seeking offers, going to every camp to try and get his stars up. … His recruitment, frankly, probably would have been bigger had he sought that, but he was an attention-seeking guy.”
Consensus three-star defensive back Joe Wilkins, Jr. (North Fort Myers; Fla.)
Measurements: 6’2”, 175 lbs.
Kelly’s take on defensive backs in general: “The defensive players, the safeties, the corners, we all know that’s going to add competition to those ranks which is going to be a healthy situation for us. That’s what jumps out at me right away in terms of competition.”
Local consensus three-star safety Paul Moala (Penn; Mishawaka, Ind.)
Measurements: 6’0”, 200 lbs.
Polian’s take: “The one guy that nobody has mentioned that I love is Paul Moala, a local guy here. How special is that? That we can find a player that ultimately we believe we can compete for a national championship with that fits the academic profile and comes from 10 miles away. …
“That Irish Invasion, those summer camps, some of that is recruiting and some of that is, you want a chance, come in and show us what you got. That was the kid in this class that came in and took advantage of a camp date and crushed it.”
Consensus four-star linebacker Jack Lamb (Great Oak; Temecula, Calif.)
Measurements: 6’4”, 224 lbs.
Under Armour All-American
Consensus three-star linebacker Ovie Oghoufo (Harrison; Farmington, Mich.)
Measurements: 6’2”, 207 lbs.
Kelly’s take on both Lamb and Oghoufo: “You do a good job of evaluating the personnel, and you can see that they’re not just box players. They can play outside the box. They are guys that are extremely athletic. We would rather take them and then begin to hone in on where they can best fit in that defensive structure rather than saying, he’s a box player, that’s all he can play.
“These guys give us flexibility to see how they’re going to fill out and develop.”
Consensus four-star rover Shayne Simon (St. Peter’s Prep; Jersey City, N.J.)
Measurements: 6’3”, 210 lbs.
U.S. Army All-American
Kelly’s take: “His ability to pick things up, very smart player. When you talk about that position, playing close to the ball certainly helps.
“Here is a guy that is over 210 pounds already, physically mature but also very smart. … Certainly when you project a player that is closer to that position already makes for an easy reach for us, but even if he was back on the hash more, I think we would still feel comfortable with what he can do for us.
Shayne is an exceptional player and a guy that we feel can come in and compete right away.”
Rivals.com four-star linebacker Matthew ‘Bo’ Bauer (Cathedral Prep; Erie, Pa.)
Measurements: 6’3”, 220 lbs.
Kelly’s take on the early enrollees, of which Bauer is one: “The early enrollee piece has to come together almost at the same time as our recommendation, and the player being on that track. It doesn’t come like this, ‘Hey, there’s a linebacker, we’re going to tell him to be an early enrollee.’
“Let’s be clear on that. There has to be an alignment in that fashion.
“In this instance, for the most part, that happened with the linebacker crew in the same fashion as our recruitment of it, more so than we went and dictated that through the recruiting process.”
Consensus four-star defensive tackle Jayson Ademilola (St. Peter’s Prep; Jersey City, N.J.)
Measurements: 6’3”, 290 lbs.
U.S. Army All-American
Kelly’s take: “Jayson has a little bit more of the length and athletic ability, if you will, to play the three[-technique]. So [he and Ja’Mion Franklin] were a great complement in terms of a shade and three that we saw out there early on. We thought they complemented each other very well.”
Consensus three-star defensive tackle Ja’Mion Franklin (North Caroline; Ridgely, Md.)
Measurements: 6’2”, 300 lbs.
Kelly’s take: “Ja’Mion has the ability to play the shade for us. He has that ability to lockout, hold the point, but also has the quickness at that position. He’s going to be a 300-plus player at that position where you’ve got to have the ability to hold the point in there.”
Consensus three-star defensive end Justin Ademilola (St. Peter’s Prep; Jersey City, N.J.)
Measurements: 6’3”, 234 lbs.
Kelly’s take on defensive end recruiting: “If we had targeted and profiled the right fit for Notre Dame, we would have taken another pass rusher. … We’re not going to take somebody just to take somebody in this class at that position.”