Notre Dame’s first junior day following the 2018 regular season proved to be a fruitful recruiting event.
Two Irish signees made their first visit to South Bend: running back Chris Tyree and offensive tackle Tosh Baker. They watched Notre Dame’s first December bowl practice to prepare for Clemson in the College Football Playoff semifinal.
Tyree had been emerging as a top target in Notre Dame’s 2020 recruiting class. He joined his head football coach at Chester (Va.) Thomas Dale, Kevin Tucker, for a second trip last March. Baker garnered an Irish scholarship offer following the visit. Both committed in May.
With the shift to the early signing period beginning in 2018 and spring official visits being permitted the following cycle, Notre Dame moved up its schedule and pursued future recruiting classes sooner. Like offensive tackle Blake Fisher and wide receiver Lorenzo Styles Jr., two of Notre Dame’s commits out of the 2021 class who were also present that weekend.
Adopting a similar approach for Saturday, Notre Dame’s first junior day this offseason, became difficult because of the recruiting calendar. The dead period — which prohibits recruits from taking college campus visits — begins Feb. 3 and lasts the rest of the month. Last year’s recruiting calendar permitted such trips every weekend in February.
The tighter schedule prompted Notre Dame and other major programs to host their winter junior day on the same weekend. A few recruits already have backed out on their plans to visit South Bend because of scheduling conflicts.
“Everyone is in the same ballgame — where they are all struggling to get kids to visit this weekend,” said Tom Lemming, a recruiting analyst for CBS Sports Network. “Once everyone realized you can’t have anyone for the rest of the month, they all started to panic.”
The Irish will host a handful of recruits out of the 2021 and 2022 classes this weekend. The targets that hold Notre Dame scholarship offers are detailed below.
• 2021 S Justin Walters, 6-2, 170; Bolingbrook (Ill.) High: Former Notre Dame defensive tackle Micah Dew-Treadway messaged Walters in September.
Dew-Treadway already had started his graduate transfer season for Minnesota. But he felt compelled to reach out after hearing a recruit from his former high school received a scholarship offer from his former college.
Walters landed the offer following his visit for Notre Dame’s Sept. 14 home game against New Mexico. He has since felt the Irish connection through Dew-Treadway and others.
“It seems like an institution where they really care about you,” Walters said.
Defensive coordinator Clark Lea, offensive coordinator Tommy Rees and defensive pass game coordinator Terry Joseph each visited Bolingbrook High over the past few weeks during the contract period.
“They aren’t hounding me, but I know exactly where they stand,” Walters said. “I know that I’m one of coach Joseph’s favorites and that he really wants me there. Notre Dame is definitely up there for me.
“I really enjoyed the coaching staff, coach Joseph and coach Lea. Just from the times I’ve been able to talk with them, they seem like really genuine people.”
Michigan and Northwestern are also in heavy pursuit of Walters. A solid business program, alumni network, fit and football team are among the attributes Walters has prioritized throughout his recruitment.
“I definitely want to talk to the players,” said Walters of his goals for his second visit. “I haven’t been able to do that. I want to get an academic presentation and see what a player goes through on a daily basis.”
247Sports: Three stars, No. 18 S, No. 403 overall | Rivals: Three stars, No. 14 S
• 2021 DE David Abiara, 6-4, 230; Mansfield (Texas) Legacy: January’s 2021 defensive end spree in which Notre Dame offered 10 scholarships at the position in eight days included Abiara. He may hold the most interest in the Irish among that group.
Mansfield Legacy head football coach Chris Melson said Notre Dame joined Oklahoma as Abiara’s top schools. The Irish have made an impression through their visits in January.
Defensive line coach Mike Elston stopped by last Thursday. Special teams coordinator Brian Polian visited on Wednesday.
“I don’t think he’ll go everywhere,” said Melson of Abiara’s visit prospects. “I don’t think he’ll go to many other places, to be honest with you. If there’s some big school that comes in and is interested— I don’t think David will visit a school unless they offer him. If they offer him and he’s interested, he might visit.”
Since Notre Dame offered following Elston’s visit, a handful of Power Five programs followed suit: Alabama, Texas A&M, Utah, Ole Miss and Northwestern. Abiara recorded 21 tackles, six tackles for a loss, six sacks and a fumble recovery in seven games as a junior last season.
“He’s got unbelievable length with his arms and body type,” Melson said. “Very aggressive, great hands. He plays with his hands very well for a young kid. He’s very, very fast and explosive.”
247Sports: Three stars, No. 25 SDE, No. 321 overall | Rivals: Three stars, No. 19 SDE
• 2022 S Braelon Allen, 6-1, 200; Fond Du Lac (Wis.) High: The Irish have recruited Allen earlier than all but a couple Power Five schools. They offered him a scholarship in January, joining just Wisconsin and Iowa.
Allen believes several other major programs are primed to join the mix soon. He’s ranked among the top 100 overall players in the 2022 recruiting class via 247Sports. But Allen will remember Notre Dame being one of the first schools to express interest and competing at the Irish Invasion camp last June.
“I’ve always liked Notre Dame, but when I got to campus I was kind of surprised,” Allen said. “I never really thought about going there — or having a chance to go there. When I got the camp invite, it was exciting and I registered right away. It pretty much took off from there.”
Notre Dame received another visit from Allen for its Nov. 2 home game against Virginia Tech. Allen left without a scholarship offer, narrowed his choices between Wisconsin and Iowa and scheduled a commitment date on Jan. 20.
When Notre Dame heated its pursuit of Allen in January and offered him, though, he reopened his recruitment.
“I was thinking even before then that I was going to take more time,” Allen said. “But when they offered, I knew I was going to have to take a little more time to see some more places.”
Joseph spent more time with Allen than any other assistant coach during his visits. Allen described him as energetic and down-to-earth. This visit will involve Allen meeting the rest of the Irish coaching staff, including head coach Brian Kelly.
Then he hopes to visit Iowa State and Wisconsin in March, among others.
“I’m going to sit down and have a conversation with coach Kelly at some point during the day and meet some of the players maybe,” Allen said. “Get around a little more since I didn’t get to do too much on my game-day visit.”
247Sports: Four stars, No. 5 S, No. 76 overall | Rivals: N/A