One down, one to go.
Four-star running back Audric Estime signed with Notre Dame during the three-day window this week, announcing the news via Twitter on Friday. The Montvale (N.J.) St. Joseph Regional product had been verbally committed to Michigan State since September.
Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly told the media on Wednesday he expected the Irish to sign two running backs and another defensive back to close this 2021 recruiting cycle. Who would sign and when looked unclear at the time of his comments.
There's more clarity at running back after Estime's signing and a couple other developments.
At 6-foot-1, 215 pounds, Estime brings a bruising style and the bulky size Notre Dame coveted at the position. Irish running backs Kyren Williams (5-9, 195), Chris Tyree (5-10, 188), C’Bo Flemister (5-11, 201) and Kendall Abdur-Rahman (6-0, 190) all come in below 205 pounds.
Estime should add variance to a Notre Dame running back room that already is surging and holds promise beyond this season. He will join the team in June.
“And he can fit in with those guys,” said Tom Lemming, a recruiting analyst for CBS Sports Network. “I’m not saying he’s better, but he can fit in. There’s not going to be a drop-off with him. He’s got power. He’s got the vision, balance and will to be a really good back. He’s a hardworking kid.”
As a senior this season, Estime dominated against impressive competition. He finished as the leading rusher in New Jersey, accounting for 1,857 yards and 22 touchdowns on 190 carries across only eight games. Estime eclipsed 150 rushing yards in every game and scored three-plus times in all but two contests.
Rivals ranks Estime as its No. 7 running back and No. 132 overall player in the 2021 class, while 247Sports pegs him No. 17 at the position and No. 287 overall. Texas A&M, Nebraska, Virginia and Virginia Tech were among other schools who offered him a scholarship.
“When he plays against the top teams,” Lemming said, “he’s the guy you count on as the offensive weapon.”
On Wednesday, the Irish signed 23 of their 24 verbal commits and added Mishawaka (Ind.) Penn quarterback Ron Powlus III to the class. They navigated through defensive coordinator Clark Lea being announced as Vanderbilt's next head football coach without losing a commitment on defense. The only other drama came at running back.
The one pledge who hasn’t signed, running back Logan Diggs, has been verbally committed to Notre Dame since July. But in-state powerhouse LSU offered the Metairie (La.) Archbishop Rummel product on Dec. 9. Diggs flipping to the Tigers or delaying his decision looked like a possibility.
West Bloomfield (Mich.) High’s Donovan Edwards and San Diego Morse’s Byron Cardwell were the two running backs Notre Dame targeted. Edwards largely kept his recruitment close to the vest until this week. Cardwell does not plan to announce his decision until Jan. 25.
Edwards favoring Michigan became clear in the recruiting world early this week before he signed with the Wolverines on Wednesday. On Monday, the Irish extended an offer to Estime. There was still uncertainty regarding Estime’s timeline, though.
Estime told 247Sports he wanted to sign in February. He has yet to visit Notre Dame but has communicated with the coaching staff for months. The Irish offering Estime seemingly impacted Diggs’ recruitment. Diggs announced Wednesday night he will not sign until February, though he is still considered a Notre Dame pledge.
So now the Irish will look to secure Diggs or turn to Cardwell. They could offer more running backs this cycle, too. The Irish also will pursue Ceyair Wright, a four-star cornerback from Los Angeles Loyola who plans to announce his commitment on Jan. 2. College Park (Ga.) Woodward Academy's Khari Gee, a three-star safety, signed with Notre Dame on Wednesday and announced the news on Friday.
A total of eight recruits were committed to other schools before signing with this Irish class: Defensive ends Will Schweitzer (Nebraska) and Devin Aupiu (UCLA), cornerbacks Philip Riley (USC) and JoJo Johnson (Cincinnati), kicker Josh Bryan (Colorado), offensive lineman Caleb Johnson (Auburn), Estime (Michigan State) and Gee (LSU).
Eight flips tie the 2010 class for the most in 12 recruiting cycles under Kelly.
247Sports and Rivals rank Notre Dame’s 27-player class (including Diggs) No. 7 and No. 9 nationally, respectively.