Clemson’s Travis Etienne and Christian McCaffrey of the Carolina Panthers were two players West Bloomfield (Mich.) High football coach Ronald Bellamy compared to his star running back.
“What separates him is his ability to play multiple positions on offense,” said Bellamy of Donovan Edwards. “A mixture of that power runner with speed. A guy who can run routes on linebackers. You put a safety down, and you can split him out wide where he can run routes on a linebacker.”
In Will Shipley, Notre Dame and others compared his multi-purpose ability to McCaffrey. Run game coordinator Lance Taylor and Co. pursued the Matthews (N.C.) Weddington running back harder than any other recruit this cycle. So much so that the Irish hardly communicated with Edwards and other running backs in the 2021 class.
But when Shipley verbally pledged to Clemson earlier this month, Notre Dame had to reassess its options. Cypress (Texas) Cy-Fair’s LJ Johnson, Conroe (Texas) Oak Ridge’s Alton McCaskill and Metairie (La.) Rummel’s Logan Diggs received Irish scholarship offers. More offers could be extended, too.
Cincinnati Roger Bacon’s Corey Kiner committed to LSU, while Garland (Texas) Lakeview Centennial’s Camar Wheaton remains unlikely to land at Notre Dame. So the Irish identified Edwards as their top running back target going forward — and he’s certainly no consolation prize.
Edwards might even be better than Shipley.
247Sports ranks Edwards as its No. 2 running back and No. 23 overall player in the class, while Shipley’s pegged as its No. 1 all-purpose back and at No. 45 overall. Shipley comes in as Rivals’ No. 1 all-purpose back and No. 38 overall player. Edwards ranks No. 2 at his position and No. 61 overall.
In 12 games as a junior, Edwards rushed for 1,239 yards on 161 carries for 16 touchdowns and caught 33 passes for 419 yards and five touchdowns.
“With the disappointment of not getting Will Shipley, that gets washed away if you land a guy like Donovan Edwards,” said Allen Trieu, 247Sports’ Midwest recruiting analyst who evaluates Edwards multiple times annually. “Where they’re different, I think Donovan gives you a little more strength. A little more between the tackles.
“Will has more verified speed. He’s run in the 4.4s on the laser (in the 40-yard dash).”
The 5-foot-11, 190-pound Edwards considered Notre Dame as a top school earlier in his recruitment. The Irish fell behind Michigan, Georgia and others after spending several months prioritizing Shipley, however.
Head coach Brian Kelly, offensive coordinator Tommy Rees and Taylor now value Edwards as their top option and have increased their communication with him. By pairing the elite speed from 2020 running back signee Chris Tyree with Edwards’ complete skill set, the Irish could satisfy one of their biggest needs.
“For Lance (Taylor),” Trieu said, “it would fully establish him as a top-of-the-line recruiter to get those guys back to back.”
Notre Dame became one of the first major programs to offer Edwards (December of 2018) after he broke his left leg in game seven of his sophomore season. Then he came to campus a month later. He returned last December for the Echoes Awards banquet.
Khalid Kareem may also look to be involved with Edwards. The former Notre Dame defensive end began his high school career at West Bloomfield. He’s mentored Edwards and watched him play during Notre Dame’s idle week last season.
“Donovan has a great relationship with Khalid and looks at him as a big brother,” Bellamy said. “Distance really isn’t going to be a main factor in his recruitment. First and foremost, the culture and helping him develop into a young man. A great academic institution (is one of his priorities).”
The Irish dipped into Michigan for their 2016 class to sign Kareem and two other defensive ends: graduate seniors Adetokunbo Ogundeji and Daelin Hayes. They signed junior defensive end Ovie Oghoufo two classes later. Landing Michigan recruits on offense though, particularly at the skill positions, has been a challenge.
In the last 12 classes, Notre Dame signed just one offensive player from Michigan: offensive lineman Steve Elmer (2013). Running back Jonas Gray (2008) represents the only skill player from Michigan to sign with Notre Dame since the 2006 class.
Ending that drought will require Notre Dame to make amends on losing touch with Edwards. No on-and off-campus visits from recruits and coaches could give the Irish enough time if Edwards holds off on a decision until the fall or later. The NCAA recently extended the recruiting dead period to June 30 because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Trieu said Edwards appears far from announcing a commitment and likely won’t be forced into a decision until he’s ready. He’s still communicating with dozens of schools.
“Georgia did catch his attention when he went down there. But I think that their lead has been a little exaggerated since then,” Trieu said. “That’s not to say he won’t end up there. I do think they are one of his top schools.
“But I do not think that there is a clear No. 1 there. I don’t even know if there’s a clear top group. I think he’s giving everybody a chance. He’s still hoping to wait this thing out and get to some campuses.”
The recent conversations between the Irish and Edwards have gone well. Notre Dame initially preferring Shipley hasn’t deterred Edwards’ interest going forward, Bellamy said.
“I do know Will Shipley was a huge target of Notre Dame’s,” Bellamy said, “and Donovan was aware of that. Every great program is not just going to recruit one running back. Notre Dame is one of Donovan’s favorites. They just have to continue staying aggressive recruiting him.
“At the end of the day, it’s Notre Dame. It’s a rich school with a rich tradition and a huge following. That’s going to be huge in his recruitment.”