Of all the recruits slated to visit South Bend this month, Jason Onye may have been the most likely to leave his trip verbally committed to Notre Dame.
All signs seemingly pointed to Onye leaning toward the Irish. The 6-foot-4, 245-pounder felt the qualities he prioritized as a three-star defensive end were apparent in Notre Dame. Onye also forged strong relationships with the Irish commits, defensive line coach Mike Elston and the rest of the coaching staff.
Onye calls Notre Dame the “college version” of Bishop Hendricken, the Catholic, all-male high school he attends in Warwick, R.I. He also feels Notre Dame would fulfill his spiritual needs, a high priority to him.
Visiting Notre Dame for the first time appeared to be the final step before Onye committed. The coronavirus pandemic prevented that opportunity. The NCAA canceled recruiting trips through April 15 in hopes to mitigate the spread of the viral infection.
How Onye will approach his recruitment going forward could slow the momentum Notre Dame gained with him.
“If it feels like home and I like it a lot, I will commit,” Onye said. “On paper, I like everything about Notre Dame. But I still have to go there (for a visit). Once I go to a school and get a feel of the atmosphere and vibe around it, I’m not going to waste everyone else’s time. I’m just going to make a decision right then and there.”
Penn State, Michigan, Nebraska and Kentucky are Onye’s other top schools. 247Sports ranks Onye as its No. 22 weakside defensive end in the 2021 recruiting class, while Rivals pegs him as its No. 39 strongside defensive end.
Defensive coordinator Clark Lea and Elston made Onye feel like a priority after visiting his school twice during the evaluation period. They offered him a scholarship in December before scheduling the March 23-24 trip.
“We are pretty close. He’s one of my favorite coaches in this process,” said Onye of Elston. “He’s straight to the point and honest. He wants to see me improve, and I can tell that by the way he talks with me.”
Elston felt Onye could have bonded with former Irish defensive end Julian Okwara, who had planned to visit South Bend at around the same time. Okwara moved from Nigeria to the United States in the second grade. Before Onye was born, his parents immigrated to Rhode Island from Nigeria as young adults.
The Irish will now need to rely on bolstering their connection with Onye over the phone. Elston advised Onye to not commit elsewhere until he at least visits Notre Dame. Irish commits like offensive lineman Blake Fisher are working to convince Onye to end his recruitment and join their class now.
If Onye ended his recruitment and verbally pledged to Notre Dame, that decision would not be unprecedented. Since the coronavirus has become more serious in the last week, several recruits in the 2021 class committed to schools long before they intended to announce their decisions.
But for now, Onye wants to confirm the hype.
“The atmosphere, I see the fans, people that go there — I’ve never heard anything negative about it so far,” said Onye about Notre Dame. “I talk to a lot of the commits. For every sport — lacrosse, basketball, football — students go there and just love what it’s all about. I’m pretty sure I’ll like it, too.”
Other top recruits being pursued by Notre Dame are in comparable situations as a result of the coronavirus outbreak. Below are updates of Notre Dame’s top recruiting targets on defense.
With defensive tackle Gabriel Rubio committed, Elston is looking to add just two or three more defensive linemen. The following recruits, along with Onye, consider Notre Dame as one of their top schools.
• DE David Abiara, 6-4, 230; Mansfield (Texas) Legacy: Notre Dame and Oklahoma are Abiara’s top two schools. They recruited him long before other top schools.
Texas A&M, Utah, LSU, Alabama and Michigan State are among schools that offered Abiara in the last two months. Whether any of them begin to attract Abiara’s interest remains to be seen. Abiara appeared close to committing to the Irish but wanted to meet more of their commits and players. Landing Abiara will likely require Notre Dame to host him for another visit.
• DE Aaron Armitage, 6-4, 242; Blairstown (N.J.) Blair Academy: Some people at Notre Dame expected Armitage to commit when he landed his offer in December.
But similar to Abiara, Armitage’s recruitment continued to expand. Oklahoma, Oregon, Texas and Oklahoma State offered him within the last month. He planned to visit several schools this spring, including Notre Dame this weekend with Abiara. The Irish will need to host Armitage again to garner his commitment.
• Kechaun Bennett, a 6-4, 210-pounder from Suffield (Conn.) Academy, planned to visit Notre Dame on March 28 and may look to reschedule his trip.
Former cornerbacks coach Todd Lyght’s recruiting shortcomings are beginning to show this cycle. Three of Notre Dame’s top cornerback targets this class committed elsewhere this month: Jordan Hancock (Clemson) Jakailin Johnson (Ohio State) and Devonta Smith (Ohio State).
In his first month at Notre Dame, new cornerbacks coach Mike Mickens seems to be connecting with recruits well despite working from behind. Here are where some of his top targets stand.
• Deuce Harmon, 5-10, 185; Denton (Texas) Guyer: Deon Harmon told the Tribune his son will reschedule his April 3-5 trip to Notre Dame. Deuce hopes to announce a commitment later this summer but will approach his recruitment day-to-day in the meantime.
That Harmon considered Notre Dame as a top school before visiting South Bend shows his interest in the school, but he appears to be leaning toward Texas A&M.
• Ceyair Wright, 6-0, 175; Los Angeles Loyola: Wright planned to visit Notre Dame this spring and still hopes he can reschedule. The Irish are one of his top schools, but Wright has not narrowed down his recruitment much.
• Corey Coley Jr., 6-1, 170; Jacksonville (Fla.) Trinity Christian Academy: Coley told the Tribune that Mickens communicates with him daily. He planned to visit Notre Dame this spring and will look to reschedule. His recruitment remains open.
• DJ Harvey, 5-10, 180; Chatworth (Calif.) Sierra Canyon: Harvey’s 7-on-7 team canceled his first trip to South Bend earlier this month because of a scheduling conflict. Harvey still named Notre Dame as a top school, along with LSU, Virginia Tech, Kansas, Arizona State, Oregon, USC and California.
• The Irish could also land Indianapolis Ben Davis’ Daylan Carnell and La Puente (Calif.) Bishop Amat’s Dyson McCutcheon if they pushed harder for them.
Because Irish commit Justin Walters brings a bruising style that translates to strong safety, they will likely pair him with a rangy free safety.
Notre Dame appears far from securing another safety pledge, but the following appear to hold the most mutual interest: Ewa Beach (Hawaii) James Campbell’s Titus Mokiao-Atimalala, Downey (Calif.) Warren’s Xamarion Gordon, Monroeville (Pa.) Gateway’s Derrick Davis Jr., Garden (Calif.) Junipero Serra athlete Devin Kirkwood and Canonsburg (Pa.) Peters Township athlete Donovan McMillon.
Their recruitments will begin to take shape more in the coming weeks. Clayton (Ohio) Northmont’s Rod Moore will also be worth monitoring after he garnered a Notre Dame offer on Tuesday.
Of the five linebackers this class to accrue a Notre Dame offer, only one has visited South Bend: West Lafayette (Ind.) High’s Yanni Karlaftis. The Irish are not pursuing Karlaftis as much anymore and will likely look to their other four options.
• Chaz Chambliss, 6-3, 239; Carrolton (Ga.) High: Chambliss told the Tribune he intended to take a recruiting trip to South Bend this spring. Notre Dame will need Chambliss to reschedule in order to become a contender in his recruitment.
Arlington (Texas) Martin’s Morice Blackwell is another option. He landed an Irish offer in late January. Dallas (Ga.) Paulding County’s Smael Mondon Jr. and Suwanee (Ga.) North Gwinnett do not appear to consider Notre Dame as a top school at the moment. The Irish also liked Donovan McMillon at rover.
• Aidan Hubbard, 6-4, 225; Cleveland St. Ignatius: The three-star linebacker visited for Notre Dame’s junior day last month. The Irish were pursuing him in the winter but contacted him less this month. Hubbard considers Notre Dame as a top school, but whether he receives an offer remains unclear.