There could be some pun here about Notre Dame having an impressive Independence Day as an independent, but that would risk an unnecessary implied connection between this recruiting success and the Irish future. The latter is a hypothetical; the former is very much a reality Notre Dame is enjoying after pulling in a fourth class of 2023 commitment today with a Monday afternoon pledge from consensus four-star cornerback Christian Gray (De Smet Jesuit High School; St. Louis).
The No. 8 cornerback and No. 51 overall prospect in the class, per rivals.com, Gray narrowed his choices down to the Irish, LSU, Ohio State and USC before picking Notre Dame. He visited Baton Rouge and South Bend in back-to-back June weekends as part of his decision process, a process that did not heavily consider scholarship offers from Alabama, Florida and Gray’s homestate Missouri.
Standing 6-foot tall, Gray’s best asset may be his 75.25-inch reported wingspan. Those long arms not only help break up passes, but they also make him that much more effective in press coverage, hassling receivers at the line of scrimmage. Further, they allow him a margin of error in downfield coverage, able to contest a pass no matter how the receiver may attempt to box him out.
Gray returns kicks and punts in high school, though it is hard to predict if that will be among his responsibilities at the next level — as much dependent on who is among the other 84 players on the roster as it is on Gray’s abilities. At the least, his returning experience suggests any interceptions he snags may be ripe for further playmaking.
Gray’s highlight reel does not include a litany of tackles, an ability rarely spurring a cornerback’s recruitment. At only 174 pounds, squaring up a running back may be a worry until Gray adds some weight, but only so much weight can be put onto a cornerback’s frame without losing the needed agility.
He is the second cornerback in Notre Dame’s class of 2023, joining consensus four-star Micah Bell (The Kinkaid School; Houston) from Friday. They will find a young position group when they get to South Bend. Fifth-year nickel back Tariq Bracy is entering his final season, and junior Clarence Lewis and senior Cam Hart each have three years of eligibility remaining. But after them, Notre Dame has six cornerbacks currently on the roster who have not used any eligibility.
Following Bell’s commitment on Friday, consensus four-star receiver Rico Flores Jr. (Folsom H.S.; Calif.) hopped into the class on Sunday. At that point, the Irish climbed to the No. 1 spot in the team rankings in the class of 2023, per rivals.com. Ohio State is the only close competition at the moment, with one fewer commitment thus far. (Gray is Notre Dame’s 19th in the class.)
The recruiting cycle is getting to the point where that lofty ranking deserves some credibility. While many national powers have not yet ramped up in this class — Georgia has 12 recruits committed, USC has 11 and Alabama has just nine — even as they do, the 19 Irish commits include 18 four- or five-stars. If every one of those national powers leapfrogs Notre Dame, first-year head coach Marcus Freeman’s debut class should still finish in the top-five in the country, and that was a notable “if.”
The Irish class lacks enough receivers given Notre Dame’s roster issues at the position, and the class still lacks a quarterback. Freeman would probably like to add a linebacker or two to the pair already pledged.
It is not a complete group, but it is an increasingly impressive one, nonetheless.