One of the most erratic recruiting cycles in recent memory is expected to become even more turbulent once the NCAA lifts the dead period.
National recruiting analysts forecast more decommitments, unpredictability, and commits visiting other schools than ever once recruiting trips are permitted again this fall. Programs will look to poach Notre Dame’s 10 pledges, particularly wide receiver Lorenzo Styles Jr. and defensive end David Abiara.
And the Irish won’t shy away from pursuing recruits committed elsewhere either.
Deuce Harmon’s recruitment shows how even those who appear convinced about their decision may not be so assured when opportunity knocks. The four-star cornerback from Denton (Texas) Guyer verbally committed to Texas A&M last week. A total of 12 analysts at 247Sports projected Harmon to land on the Aggies, and all but two of them submitted that prediction more than a month before his announcement.
The writing had been on the wall for Harmon. But his recruitment shouldn’t be considered over. His father, T. Deon Harmon, told the Tribune that they would take an official visit to Notre Dame this fall if invited. The Irish considered Harmon as a top target at one of their biggest positions of need, so an invite seems like a no-brainer.
How many visits Harmon would take and whether they would change his mind remains to be seen. But the fact that he’s already expressing that interest shows that some committed recruits are approaching visits elsewhere with an open mind. Hundreds of recruits like Harmon are committed but did not visit every school they wanted to because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The trajectory of Notre Dame’s 2021 recruiting class should be decided by two factors: how the Irish perform in maneuvering through this unstable climate and in head-to-head battles with Michigan.
Port Huron (Mich.) Northern defensive end Braiden McGregor and Frankfort (Ill.) Lincoln-Way East’s A.J. Henning were two of Notre Dame’s biggest recruiting losses in the 2020 class. Both landed at Michigan. The Irish will need to win their notable clashes with the Wolverines this cycle to salvage a top 15 class nationally. They are tied for No. 13 and rank No. 17 on Rivals and 247Sports, respectively.
Quarterback J.J. McCarthy, defensive end Kechaun Bennett, safety Rod Moore and former Notre Dame offensive line pledge Greg Crippen committed to the Wolverines after the Irish cooled off on their recruitments. Notre Dame also stopped pursuing George Rooks, a defensive tackle projected to land at Michigan.
The Wolverines just haven’t landed a recruit that mattered much to the Irish. Not even Tristan Bounds, an offensive tackle who pledged Michigan last week. Notre Dame only made him a priority earlier this month after whiffing on a handful of offensive linemen.
Not that the Wolverines have performed poorly this cycle and are scavenging for scraps. Rivals and 247Sports pegs Michigan’s class of 17 commits at No. 5 and No. 7, respectively.
Clarkston (Mich.) High interior offensive lineman Rocco Spindler, West Bloomfield (Mich.) High running back Donovan Edwards and Gaithersburg (Md.) Quince Orchard cornerback Ryan Barnes are the three important recruits Notre Dame and Michigan are top contenders for this class.
For the Irish, those recruits would help fill their three biggest positions of need. Notre Dame appears to be the favorite for two of those three. Barnes and Spindler are featured below in the analyzing of the three recruits most likely to commit to the Irish next.
How the Irish handle securing these three recruits, poaching and head-to-head battles with the Wolverines should determine where this class finishes.
Gaithersburg (Md.) Quince Orchard
The NCAA extending the dead period through July 31 hurt Notre Dame on this recruitment. Barnes wants to visit South Bend before committing.
But Barnes has still emerged as the most likely recruit to pledge to the Irish next. Growing up as a Notre Dame football fan helped. With his grandparents living approximately 50 miles southeast of South Bend near Winona Lake, Ind., Barnes trekked to campus on several occasions throughout childhood.
The virtual visits and contact with the coaching staff have helped Barnes feel more confident about Notre Dame. Barnes hears often from head coach Brian Kelly, defensive coordinator Clark Lea, pass game coordinator Terry Joseph and cornerbacks coach Mike Mickens.
Though Barnes accrued his scholarship on March 25, he said he has bonded with Mickens more than most of the other assistant coaches elsewhere who communicate with him.
“I know that I can play any defensive back position on the field,” Barnes told the Tribune in April. “The fact that they see that too is something that definitely sparked a lot of interest in that being a potential home for me.”
Because the Irish figure to be the clear leader on Barnes, they will look to secure his verbal pledge as soon as possible. His recruitment being dragged out would hurt Notre Dame and help Michigan and others potentially make up ground.
Considering Barnes’ timeline, expect him to announce a commitment in the coming weeks.
“I want to be able to make a decision before my senior season,” Barnes said April. “But if we find a place that we feel would be that home for me, I’m definitely willing to make that decision earlier or later if need be.”
247Sports: Three stars, No. 34 CB, No. 439 overall | Rivals: Three stars, No. 55 CB
Clarkston (Mich.) High
The recruiting graphic startled some of those who follow Spindler on Twitter.
Spindler tweeted a Michigan graphic on May 27 that prompted his friends, fans and other followers to believe he committed. That response inclined Spindler to delete the post and republish the graphic with a caption that included, “(NOT COMMITTED).”
“I was like, ‘Y’all need to reread the thing.’ When I commit, I’ll let everyone know the date and time a month before,” Spindler wrote in a text message to the Tribune last week.
Had the coronavirus pandemic not canceled recruiting visits, Spindler said he would have announced his commitment on May 15. He made public that decision date more than two months in advance. Spindler still intends to not make a surprise pledge. He aims to publicize a commitment date well before announcing his decision.
Without the pandemic, Spindler would have likely been committed to Notre Dame by now. But the momentum the Irish established on Spindler has lost some luster. Two of his recruiting trips to South Bend — an unofficial visit on March 20-22 and an official visit on April 3-5 — were canceled. The Wolverines have since made up ground and are now a major contender.
Notre Dame should still land Spindler. Nothing suggests he feels he’s missing something from the Irish. Spindler looks to offensive line coach Jeff Quinn as a father figure. He’s been to campus several times. Notre Dame’s commits are close with him.
Don’t hold out hope that Spindler will announce a decision soon. He said he wants to take all five official visits before committing.
“So hopefully by the end of the summer I can take them,” Spindler said in April. “But if not, I’ll extend (my recruitment) through the fall.”
247Sports: Four stars, No. 3 OG, No. 66 overall | Rivals: Four stars, No. 3 OG, No. 56 overall
Dacula (Ga.) High
Since offering Edwards on May 18, Notre Dame has appeared to emerge as his favorite school. Edwards has yet to visit South Bend, though.
“Just the location of South Bend,” Edwards told the Tribune last week about his biggest remaining question. “What’s the city like? I’ve never been there. Me being a Georgia boy, can I get a good feel for South Bend and be able to see that as home?
“I’m pretty sure I can’t commit to a school without visiting. That’s one of the things that’s hard in this recruiting process right now.”
Edwards holding firm on needing to visit would hurt the Irish. Barring a change, Notre Dame won’t be able to host recruits until its scheduled Sept. 12 home opener against Arkansas. And Edwards wants to pledge to a school by no later than his first day of the fall semester.
Look for Notre Dame to persuade Edwards to compromise his plans. The Irish will want him to either pledge in the coming weeks or hold off on his commitment timeline until he visits campus. The coaching staff seems to have resonated with him enough to spark a change of heart.
Kelly, Lea and Joseph have made Edwards feel like a top priority in recent weeks. Edwards held a Zoom video call with Kelly last week for a virtual visit. The Irish project Edwards as a safety but believe he brings position flexibility. They like him at rover, too.
Notre Dame also considers Edwards to be a perfect fit with his personality, grades and football skills. And his priorities seem to align with how he feels about Notre Dame.
“Faith, family, academics and football in that order. Those are the core values I base myself on,” Edwards said. “Making sure I get the best of both worlds. That I can flourish in college, not just with football but academically and prepare myself for life after college.”
247Sports: Three stars, No. 65 S, No. 867 overall | Rivals: Three stars, No. 24 athlete