Three different safeties receiving considerable playing time was a new wrinkle added to Notre Dame’s defense this year.
The Irish hope to continue the three-man rotation beyond their 2019 football season — even if Alohi Gilman departs a year early for the NFL Draft. Fellow starter Jalen Elliott expires his eligibility following this season, so Gilman’s departure would leave sophomore Houston Griffith and freshman Kyle Hamilton as Notre Dame’s only safeties that have played in high-leverage situations.
Adding Ohio State graduate transfer Isaiah Pryor — who holds two years of eligibility — gives the Irish their third safety for a rotation. That plan became evident to the 6-foot-2, 200-pound Pryor after he took his official visit last weekend. He watched Notre Dame involve Elliott, Gilman and Hamilton in its 30-27 victory over USC on Saturday.
Defensive pass game coordinator Terry Joseph headed Pryor’s recruitment and made his intentions of a three-man rotation known.
“I feel like I would fit well into their scheme,” Pryor told the Tribune.
So much so that a second visit for Pryor is in the works. He wants his mother, Lillian, to absorb the Notre Dame experience as well. She did not join Isaiah’s father, Richard, for last weekend’s trip.
The Irish appear to be the heavy favorites to land Pryor. The Bradenton (Fla.) IMG Academy product has no other visits lined up. He may come for Notre Dame’s Nov. 2 home game against Virginia Tech.
“They have delivered on everything,” Pryor said. “So I’m confident with them. I feel like we just have to keep building this relationship. I’m excited to get back up there.”
The Irish believe taking Pryor comes with high upside and little risk. Because at worst, he becomes the third safety to use for a rotation. The best-case scenario sees Pryor living up to his four-star recruiting pedigree and cementing himself as a starter over Hamilton or Griffith.
247Sports ranked Pryor as its No. 10 safety and No. 77 overall player in the 2017 recruiting class. Rivals pegged him No. 12 at the position and No. 106 overall. He started seven games as a sophomore for the Buckeyes last season, recording 31 tackles, one tackle for a loss and an interception.
Pryor spent most of the weekend with Joseph and learned of his vision and scheme. He also received answers on academics. Pryor would arrive in South Bend for the spring semester after garnering his undergraduate degree from Ohio State in December. He’d obtain his master’s degree from Notre Dame.
“I’ve asked a lot of questions,” Pryor said. “I’m sure my mom has plenty more that I didn’t even think about. That’s why I want her to come, because she knows what she wants, too. And what she’s looking for in a university.”
Barring a change, it looks like Pryor will become the fifth-ever graduate transfer for the Irish. Wide receivers Cam Smith (Arizona State) and Freddy Canteen (Michigan), cornerback Cody Riggs (Florida) and safety Avery Sebastian (California) are the others.
“The level of tradition that is upheld there,” said Pryor on what stood out about the visit. “I wasn’t really sure exactly what they were doing. But just being there in the crowd, seeing the fans and what they do. Every time they score, they throw everybody up in the air and do crazy stuff like that.
“There’s a lot of tradition there, and I have a lot of respect for that.”
Notre Dame hosted more than 60 high school players in its biggest recruiting weekend of the season for USC.
Beyond Pryor, the Irish focused on their 2021 recruiting class. They went 2-of-3 with their highest priority targets, landing pledges from four-star wide receivers Deion Colzie and Lorenzo Styles Jr. Their commitments elevated Notre Dame’s seven-player class to a No. 1 ranking nationally on 247Sports and Rivals.
Matthews (N.C.) Weddington High’s Will Shipley represents the top target that left his visit still uncommitted. While Colzie and Styles had already trekked to Notre Dame a handful of times, Shipley visited South Bend for the first time.
The Irish appeared to have gained significant ground on the four-star running back. Though Shipley told the Tribune he remains far from a decision, he hopes to take another trip to South Bend.
“They have let me know that I am the top priority for them,” Shipley said. “I really respect that, how transparent they’ve been through the whole process. (Running backs coach Lance) Taylor, (head coach Brian) Kelly, everyone on that staff has been very transparent with my family and me.
“I’ve let them know that Notre Dame is a great spot and I can definitely see myself ending up there.”
Notre Dame’s recruitment of Shipley may end up mirroring that of Chris Tyree. The four-star running back speedster pledged to Notre Dame over Alabama and Oklahoma in May. Landing Tyree required the involvement of multiple Irish coaches in his recruitment.
The 5-foot-10, 200-pound Shipley possesses similar recruiting pedigree, ranking as the No. 1 all-purpose back in the 2021 recruiting class. 247Sports ranks Shipley as its No. 44 overall player, while Rivals pegs him No. 53 overall.
Shipley spent time with Tyree during the game and had one-on-one meetings with Taylor throughout the weekend. Taylor compares Shipley’s skill set to that of one of his former players — Carolina Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey.
“He wants to just get me in space and let me use everything I have in my arsenal,” Shipley said. “He thinks I can run between the tackles but also catch out of the backfield. To take on the defensive backs and outside linebackers one-on-one. He wants to maximize my ability.”
2020 recruiting update
Notre Dame was already tight on numbers for its 2020 recruiting class, which holds 17 commitments. Adding Pryor would mean maybe one spot remains in the class.
The shrinking numbers may explain why special teams coordinator Brian Polian will visit Bakersfield (Calif.) Liberty Tuesday night to see 2020 cornerback Ramon Henderson. The 6-2, 183-pound Henderson took an official visit to Notre Dame for its Sept. 28 home game against Virginia. He left still uncommitted and hoped to announce a decision in December.
Henderson had previously told the Tribune that he liked the idea of silently pledging to a school and still making his commitment known in December. Polian may look to secure a silent commitment from Henderson during Notre Dame’s bye this week.
247Sports considers Henderson as a four-star recruit, ranking him as its No. 10 athlete and No. 257 overall player. Rivals evaluates him as a three-star wide receiver. Notre Dame likes Henderson at corner, as does Oklahoma, UCLA and others.
Two commits in Notre Dame’s 2020 recruiting class — running back Chris Tyree and defensive tackle Rylie Mills — returned to action last week after sustaining ankle injuries.
Tyree suffered a middle-grade high ankle sprain in a Sept. 13 loss and missed three games. The 5-10, 189 pounder rushed for 150 yards and three touchdowns on eight carries in his first game back last week, leading Chester (Va.) Thomas Dale to a 75-12 rout over Meadowbrook.
A low ankle sprain sustained in a Sept. 6 game held Mills out for four contests. Lake Forest (Ill.) High blanked Zion-Benton 26-0 in Mills’ return. He recorded 11 tackles, six tackles for a loss and two sacks.