The leap from high school to college often presents new academic challenges for Notre Dame football players.
Not so much for Kyle Hamilton.
Before emerging as a star Irish safety, Hamilton attended Marist School in Atlanta. The private, Catholic school is considered to be rigorous from an academics perspective.
“A lot of people who leave Marist say Marist is actually harder than college. Honestly, I would probably say the same,” said Hamilton, a member of Mensa International. “No disrespect to Notre Dame, but Marist just has a large workload and a lot of people do extracurriculars as well. It’s a good foreshadowing for what’s going to come in college. I think it prepares you very well.”
Since the 2018 class and Hamilton’s recruitment the following cycle, the Atlanta area and Georgia overall has emerged as one of Notre Dame’s most reliable recruiting grounds. One reason is because Hamilton is not alone in his lofty standards.
Tom Lemming, a recruiting analyst for CBS Sports Network, said there are plenty of academically-focused football recruits from the Atlanta area.
“Not that they have a lot of Catholic schools, but they have a lot of private schools,” said Lemming of Atlanta. “Private schools normally mean the kids are going to be better students with college prep classes and better prepared for Notre Dame. There are a lot of really good academic schools in the Atlanta area, which isn’t the case for a lot of the Southern states.”
Hamilton will return to Atlanta when No. 4 Notre Dame (5-0, 4-0 ACC) faces Georgia Tech (2-4, 2-3) on Saturday (3:30 p.m. EDT on ABC) at Bobby Dodd Stadium.
Damari Alston, a running back recruit in the 2022 class, said he will be watching the game from home. Alston won’t be far from the stadium. He attends Woodward Academy, a private school in Atlanta. The Irish and the Yellow Jackets are two top contenders for Alston.
And to him, both schools share one common denominator.
“It’s like a 40-year decision. I say that for both schools. They are both great academic schools,” Alston said. “Whatever degree you major in at both schools, you know you are graduating with a purpose. And you will have different connections to get good jobs.”
Notre Dame recently went away from Florida, the state that has produced the most recruits under head coach Brian Kelly (29). The Irish have not signed a recruit from the Sunshine State since taking four in the 2018 class. They have since started to prioritize Georgia. They have signed six recruits from the Peach State since the 2018 class, have three committed for 2021 and have another pledged in 2022.
Who will be next? Below is a deeper look at the five prominent Georgia recruits who hold Irish scholarship offers so far, beginning with Alston.
• 2022 RB Damari Alston, 5-10, 205; Atlanta Woodward Academy: Alston attended Notre Dame’s Nov. 16 home game against Navy last season.
On Aug. 19, Alston announced he received an Irish offer. Kelly and run game coordinator Lance Taylor now contact him multiple times per week, Alston said.
“They want me to know that I’m a big priority for them,” Alston said. “They want to get my family members more, keep in touch with me and build a relationship with me as the recruiting process goes on.”
Alston said he does not expect to commit to a school until he starts taking visits again next year. The coronavirus pandemic has canceled on- and off-campus recruiting trips via the NCAA dead period ruling since March. The current mandate lasts through Jan. 1 and could be extended again.
In the meantime, Alston said he will lean toward schools that offer quality academics, football and opportunities to see the field early. Beyond Notre Dame and Georgia Tech, Alston said he often hears from the following schools: North Carolina, Miami, Florida, Florida State, Alabama, Auburn, Oregon, Ohio State, Penn State and Northwestern.
Expect Alston to take another trip to South Bend soon.
“When I visited, I didn’t see much,” Alston said. “So I just want to see the rest of campus and see how everything goes on daily at Notre Dame. I like the city of South Bend. I stayed in the city for a night, and we did some fun things at night. But I just want to get a feel of Notre Dame, get up there a second time and see what’s going on.”
Kelly and Taylor will look to have Alston join Irish tight end pledge Jack Nickel next cycle. In 14 games last season, Alston turned 157 carries into 889 yards and 10 touchdowns while catching 22 passes for 161 yards and two scores.
“I think he’s a pretty good prospect and underrated,” Lemming said. “He plays at a really good prep school. I really liked him both years I saw him. He came out to meet me again in February. He’s just a talented kid. Not super big. He runs OK, not too fast. But he can catch and run. So he’s more of a slot back. But again, he’s not a bad ballplayer.”
247Sports: Three stars, No. 36 RB, No. 395 overall | Rivals: Four stars, No. 12 RB, No. 173 overall
• 2021 CB Khalil Anderson, 5-11, 175; Atlanta Riverwood: The next offer Notre Dame extends to a member of the 2021 class could be Anderson. He recorded 37 tackles, two tackles for a loss, seven interceptions and five pass breakups in 11 games last season.
Cornerback became more of a need for the Irish this cycle once Philip Riley decommitted and flipped his verbal pledge to USC. Notre Dame now has just two corners committed in Ryan Barnes and Chance Tucker. Northwestern commit Theran Johnson, Los Angeles Loyola’s Ceyair Wright, Anderson and Riley are among 2021 corners who are hearing from the Irish coaching staff weekly.
With Anderson, he has shown that distance is not a concern. He has remained verbally committed to Pittsburgh since pledging in June. An offer from Notre Dame could change his situation.
“The kids in Atlanta, they are going everywhere around the country,” Lemming said. “It’s sort of like Los Angeles. If you have a guy who knows what he’s doing, knows the area and puts a lot of effort into recruiting like (Irish defensive pass game coordinator Terry) Joseph does, they are always going to be successful. Because it’s Notre Dame.”
247Sports: Four stars, No. 23 CB, No. 329 overall | Rivals: Three stars, No. 52 CB
• 2022 DE Mykel Williams, 6-5, 255; Columbus (Ga.) Hardaway: Whether Williams becomes a defensive tackle or defensive end may depend on how his body develops.
What does not appear to be open to interpretation is Williams’ prowess. Lemming said he gives Williams a four-star rating.
“I like him a lot. He’s a big-time guy,” Lemming said. “He would be an outstanding addition. You’ve got (Irish defensive line coach Mike) Elston recruiting him, which is a good sign, because Elston is one of the more premier recruiters. He was all-state last year, 10 sacks, he’s got explosive moves.”
Williams accrued his Irish offer on July 20 after recording 57 tackles, 10 sacks, 14 quarterback hurries, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries in nine games last season. Alabama, Clemson, Georgia and Ohio State are among schools that have offered him.
247Sports: Four stars, No. 5 DT, No. 46 overall | Rivals: Four stars, No. 5 SDE, No. 51 overall
• 2022 ATH Malaki Starks, 6-2, 196; Jefferson (Ga.) High: Maybe the only concern with Starks is not knowing which position suits him best.
In 11 games last season, Starks recorded 544 rushing yards and five touchdowns on 53 carries, caught eight passes for 157 yards and two scores and on defense recorded 27 tackles, five interceptions, three pass breakups, 1.5 tackles for a loss and one fumble recovery.
Starks has garnered offers from the likes of Alabama, Clemson, Georgia, Florida State, USC and LSU. Notre Dame offered on May 7.
247Sports: Four stars, No. 2 ATH, No. 16 overall | Rivals: Four stars, No. 7 ATH, No. 69 overall
• 2022 S Jake Pope, 6-2, 190; Buford (Ga.) High: Pope has the tamest recruiting pedigree and offer list among the five recruits listed.
Still, Pope has managed to receive offers from USC, Iowa, Michigan State and Nebraska, among others. Notre Dame joined the group on Aug. 24.
“The kid has got length, and he’s a hard hitter,” Lemming said. “He’s a good safety. He’s probably a three-star-plus or four-star recruit depending on what he does this year. Good ball player. Not a great one, but a good one.”
247Sports: N/A | Rivals: Three stars, No. 30 ATH