Notre Dame finished the early signing period with 21 signatures thanks to consensus four-star receiver Braden Lenzy’s (Tigard High School; Portland, Ore.) commitment on Friday. That leaves at least four spots for February signees on the traditional National Signing Day, Feb. 7.
If the right players wanted to commit to the Irish, the class could expand as high as 29 players without straining against NCAA rules. Early enrollees can be counted toward the previous class, meaning Notre Dame could chalk up four of the seven early enrollees as part of the class of 2017, which had only 21 pledges. Thus, neither class would exceed the ceiling of 25 prospects.
It is more likely 25 remains the mark to meet this year, at the most.
“We’re not going to take guys just to take guys, they’ve got to address needs,” Irish recruiting director Brian Polian said Wednesday. “We could go to 24, 25. We may go to 21, 22. We’ll see how it plays out here through the course of the rest of the recruiting period.”
Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly outlined those needs. At that point, receiver was still in the discussion, but Lenzy’s commitment diminishes that need drastically.
“Defensive back is still in play for us, offensive line is still in play, and then best player available,” Kelly said. “I would probably highlight them in that fashion.”
Ten players seem most likely to fill those remaining scholarships and roster spots …
Consensus four-star safety Julius Irivin (Servite High School; Anaheim, Calif.)
The No. 8 safety in the class per rivals.com and the No. 87 prospect overall, Irvin appeared set to decide between Notre Dame, Washington and USC this week before a family emergency prompted him to delay his signing until February.
Consensus four-star cornerback Noah Boykin (H.D. Woodson H.S.; Washington, D.C.)
The No. 20 cornerback in the class and the No. 193 prospect overall, Boykin (pictured above) committed to Maryland in July but did not sign a National Letter of Intent this week. In other words, he is hardly committed. Such is the transparency the early signing period provides.
“It clears up a lot of the uncertainty in this process of guys not committed when they should be still visiting other schools and saying that they’re soft verbal [commitments],” Kelly said to explain his favorite part of this new process. “That never made any sense to me.”
Rivals.com four-star/247sports.com five-star offensive tackle Nick Petit-Frere (Berkeley Prep; Tampa, Fla.)
The No. 7 offensive tackle and No. 67 prospect overall, Petit-Frere has kept his recruitment thoughts close to the vest. He visited both Notre Dame and Michigan this fall and has shown interest in Alabama and Florida, as well.
Consensus three-star offensive tackle Luke Jones (Pulaski Academy, Little Rock, Ark.)
The No. 45 offensive tackle in the class per rivals.com, Jones mirrors Boykin. Jones committed to Arkansas in July but did not put pen to paper — or finger to cellphone screen, as would most likely be — this week. The difference lies in the coaching change at Arkansas. That alone could be the reason for Jones’ delay, wanting to gauge a possible relationship with new head coach Chad Morris, formerly of Southern Methodist University.
Consensus three-star defensive end Malik Langham (Lee H.S.; Huntsville, Ala.)
The No. 38 defensive end in the class, Langham toes the line between an Irish positional need and the “best player available” distinction. Notre Dame only offered him in December, joining the likes of his homestate Alabama and a few other SEC options.
Kelly made it clear Wednesday he will not pursue defensive linemen, specifically defensive ends, unless they fit a broader mold for the Irish. He has that luxury this cycle thanks to the continued progression of the four current sophomores at defensive end, led by Daelin Hayes and Khalid Kareem.
“We’re not going to take somebody just to take somebody in this class at that position,” Kelly said. “It has to do certainly that there is a need there, but if the fit is not there, we’re not going down that route unless the right fit is there.”
Consensus three-star defensive tackle Moro Ojomo (Katy; Texas)
Consensus three-star defensive tackle Otito Ogbonnia (Taylor H.S.; Katy, Texas)
Notre Dame extended offers to both these Texas products this week. Reading between the lines, that could point toward expectations of current junior defensive tackle Jerry Tillery heading to the NFL Draft, creating a need for more depth in the defensive interior.
Consensus five-star receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown (Mater Dei H.S.; Anaheim, Calif.)
The youngest brother of current Irish junior receiver Equanimeous St. Brown, Amon-Ra certainly fits the “best player available” qualifications. Rivals.com considers him the No. 1 receiver in the class and No. 3 prospect in the country. Notre Dame would jump at the chance to sign him even with the talented trio of receivers already committed. Plus, it would mean the Irish beat out USC, a victory just to not have to face a talent like St. Brown every season.
The Trojans gained another edge in this race, though, when St. Brown’s high school quarterback and the top passer in the class of 2019, JT Daniels, reclassified into the class of 2018 on Friday. He has been a staunch USC commit since July.
Consensus three-star receiver Lawrence Keys (McDonogh 35; New Orleans, La.)
The likelihood of Keys ending up with Notre Dame decreased significantly with Lenzy’s commitment, but if the Irish have a spot open come Feb. 7 and Keys wants it, there would be little reason to turn him away.
Consensus four-star linebacker Solomon Tuliaupupu (Mater Dei H.S.; Anaheim, Calif.)
It may be outright greedy of Notre Dame to look for the signing of a fifth linebacker, four of which would be four-star prospects, but Tuliaupupu might rival Jack Lamb (Great Oak; Temecula, Calif.) as the best of the bunch. Rivals.com slots Tuliaupupu as the No. 3 inside linebacker in the country and No. 94 overall prospect.