Foresight and creativity might be needed for Notre Dame to satisfy its 85-scholarship limit this cycle.
Given the circumstances with the coronavirus pandemic, college football teams must juggle several questions without immediate answers. With that in mind, the Irish coaching staff has intentionally slowed their pace in recruiting the 2021 class since March.
They expect to pursue 2021 recruits until National Signing Day in February. At 17 commitments this class, Notre Dame likely could add up to five recruits. The class ranks No. 12 nationally on 247Sports and Rivals.
The Irish continued to build recruiting momentum over the weekend. They added commitments from top linebacker target Prince Kollie and their top overall target, four-star offensive lineman Rocco Spindler.
“Yes, they are definitely now in that top 10 class territory,” said Tom Lemming, a recruiting analyst for CBS Sports Network. “They have to continue it. To finish in the top 10, they have to get a couple more big-time guys between now and December.”
How the Irish will approach this cycle beyond their current targets remains to be seen. They could expand their board by offering more scholarships. They could also look to poach recruits verbally pledged to other schools.
In the meantime, there are only eight uncommitted 2021 targets worth following going forward. In hearing their names, Lemming said they each earned at least a four-star rating in his system.
“Any combination of those guys would really enhance this class,” Lemming said. “None of them are reaches.”
Below is a look at that group and their current situations.
WR Jayden Thomas
6-2, 205; Atlanta Pace Academy
Among these eight recruits, Thomas seems to be the most likely to commit to Notre Dame. He included ND in his top five schools last month, along with Georgia, Michigan, Penn State and Arkansas. He’s close with the family of former Irish running back Mick Assaf. Thomas toured campus with the Assaf’s when visiting for ND’s Nov. 2 home game against Virginia Tech. He left feeling that no university compared to his high school more than Notre Dame. The Irish have seemingly emerged as his top school, but Thomas plans to announce his commitment late this recruiting cycle. Plenty could change.
247Sports: Three stars, No. 97 WR, No. 632 overall | Rivals: Four stars, No. 23 WR, No. 131 overall
WR Dont’e Thornton Jr.
6-5, 192; Baltimore Mount Saint Joseph
Oregon looks to be the overwhelming favorite for Thornton. Notre Dame is likely Thornton’s second-favorite school, however. Thornton’s current timeline would give the Irish five months to catch the Ducks. He plans to make his decision public at the All-American Bowl in January. He chose that date specifically so he could announce his commitment on TV. But what happens if the pandemic cancels the high school all-star game in San Antonio? Thornton cutting his recruitment short and ending Notre Dame’s chances prematurely could happen. Oregon, Arizona State, USC, Virginia, Notre Dame and Florida State were named in his top six in May.
247Sports: Four stars, No. 9 WR, No. 64 overall | Rivals: Four stars, No. 9 WR, No. 53 overall
WR Deion Colzie
6-4, 205; Athens (Ga.) Academy
Despite losing Colzie’s verbal commitment in March, the coaching staff have continued to prioritize him. Colzie simply has not been that receptive to their communication. Partly because Colzie wants to stay closer to home, Georgia pulled ahead of his other contenders. Notre Dame should be considered a long shot. His mother, Yolanda Jackson, helps Notre Dame’s chances. She’s a lifelong Irish fan. He included Notre Dame in his top 10 school list in June.
247Sports: Four stars, No. 13 WR, No. 110 overall | Rivals: Four stars, No. 11 WR, No. 73 overall
RB Donovan Edwards
5-11, 190; West Bloomfield (Mich.) High
The Irish landed a commitment from Metairie (La.) Archbishop Rummel running back Logan Diggs on July 29. Don’t be surprised if they still pursue Edwards. His recruiting pedigree nears five-star territory. Notre Dame identified Edwards as one of its top running back targets early in the process, offering him in December 2018. He’s also been to campus multiple times. Michigan took an overwhelming lead once Notre Dame started prioritizing Will Shipley, who committed to Clemson in May. The Irish will need Edwards to delay his decision until the winter if they want to ascend to his top school.
247Sports: Four stars, No. 2 RB, No. 24 overall | Rivals: Four stars, No. 2 RB, No. 61 overall
OL Nolan Rucci
6-8, 295; Lititz (Pa.) Warwick
Holding four offensive line pledges won’t keep Notre Dame from courting Rucci going forward. The Irish saw Rucci as one of the best offensive tackles this class. Rucci planned to visit for Notre Dame’s vaunted March 20-22 recruiting weekend before the pandemic started. He included Notre Dame in his top nine school list in April. The Irish have not made much traction since, though Spindler’s commitment could help. Penn State, Clemson and Wisconsin appear to be the top three contenders for Rucci.
247Sports: Four stars, No. 5 OT, No. 16 overall | Rivals: Four stars, No. 6 OT, No. 36 overall
CB Ceyair Wright
6-1, 175; Los Angeles Loyola
With Philip Riley, Ryan Barnes and Chance Tucker already committed, Notre Dame does not necessarily need to take another cornerback. Wright has long been a top target for the Irish, though. He brings the size, verified speed and versatility Notre Dame covets at the position. Wright enjoyed visiting campus last December. The biggest challenge will be pulling him away from the West Coast. Not only does Wright want to pursue a career in Hollywood as an actor, but he’s also heavily considering Oregon, Stanford, Arizona State and USC.
247Sports: Four stars, No. 7 CB, No. 69 overall | Rivals: Four stars, No. 3 CB, No. 100 overall
S Jaden Slocum
6-2, 185; Alpharetta (Ga.) High
Though the Irish may not add another cornerback, they will make safety a top priority. Having only five scholarship safeties and taking zero in the 2020 class made the position a major need this cycle. Notre Dame added a verbal pledge from Bolingbrook (Ill.) High’s Justin Walters. He’s an old school, bruising type of safety. Pairing Walters with a rangier safety like Slocum would be the ideal scenario. His position flexibility makes him an option at corner, too. Slocum prioritizes academics and will give schools like Notre Dame, Stanford and Georgia Tech long looks. He appears far from announcing a commitment.
247Sports: Three stars, No. 53 S, No. 707 overall | Rivals: Three stars, No. 20 S
S Titus Mokaio-Atimalala
6-1, 170; Ewa Beach (Hawaii) James Campbell
Notre Dame continues to find success recruiting in Hawaii, adding defensive tackle Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa (2017), linebacker Marist Liufau (2019) and defensive end Jordan Botelho (2020) in recent classes. Mokaio-Atimalala could be next. He fits the profile of what Notre Dame wants at defensive back. He could play any position in the secondary and even wide receiver in college. Distance and infrequent media interviews makes Mokaio-Atimalala’s recruitment more unpredictable. Michigan, Notre Dame, California and Arizona State appear to be his favorites.
247Sports: Four stars, No. 20 ATH, No. 314 overall | Rivals: Four stars, No. 49 WR