So much for Notre Dame needing football recruits to visit campus.
On Thursday, three-star defensive end Jason Onye announced his verbal commitment to the Irish, despite never stepping foot on campus. Four-star cornerback Philip Riley did the same Tuesday.
The 6-foot-5, 245-pound Onye was sold on the familiarity of Notre Dame from afar. He previously called Notre Dame the college version of his high school, Warwick (R.I.) Bishop Hendricken.
“I just felt comfortable with the staff,” Onye said Thursday evening. “I love the school as it is, Notre Dame. I love the commits. I’ve built good relationships there that will help me succeed after college throughout my life.”
Onye received a Notre Dame offer in December. Then in January, defensive line coach Mike Elston and defensive coordinator Clark Lea visited Onye’s school. Onye planned to visit Notre Dame in March until the coronavirus pandemic prompted the NCAA to institute a dead period that currently prohibits visits through at least May 31.
But Onye decided he already knew enough about the Irish. He committed to Notre Dame over offers from the likes of Michigan, Penn State, Virginia, Virginia Tech and Boston College.
“They showed me what they can do for their players besides football, how successful they’ve been on the field and how their players succeed on and off the field,” Onye said. “That was pretty big to me.”
In his junior season at Bishop Hendricken, Onye said he tallied 68 tackles, 12 tackles for a loss, 10.5 sacks and five forced fumbles.
Elston has pitched the role of strongside defensive end to Onye with the possibility of sliding inside on passing downs to create mismatches as a pass rusher like the Irish did with Khalid Kareem and Adetokunbo Ogundeji last season.
247Sports slates Onye as the No. 24 weakside defensive end in the 2021 class. Rivals ranks him as the No. 39 strongside defensive end.
“He’s explosive,” said CBS Sports Network recruiting analyst Tom Lemming. “He has really good length. That’s what Notre Dame really looks for with these defensive ends now. He has long arms, quick hands, quick feet and is very productive. I like him a lot.”
Elston has now received commitments from three defensive line recruits for 2021 with Onye joining three-star defensive end David Abiara and four-star defensive tackle Gabriel Rubio. Onye has been in touch with Abiara and Rubio and formed other relationships with fellow Irish commits like Riley and Blake Fisher.
But Onye’s connection with Elston built the foundation in his Notre Dame recruitment.
“It’s one of the strongest relationships I’ve built during this process,” Onye said. “He’s honest and up-front with me.”
The lack of a recruiting visit to Notre Dame didn’t create any hesitation for Onye. He said he knew he wanted to commit to the Irish whether it came before or after a visit. With uncertainty remaining if Notre Dame will be able to host recruits in June, Onye is content with waiting until the season to make his trek to South Bend.
The addition of Onye moved Notre Dame’s 10-man 2021 class higher into the top 10 nationally. Rivals ranks the Irish class No. 7 behind Ohio State, Tennessee, Clemson, North Carolina, Florida and Iowa. 247Sports slates the Irish class at No. 9.
The Irish have added four commitments — Onye, Riley, Abiara and three-star offensive lineman Pat Coogan — and lost one — four star wide receiver Deion Colzie — since the NCAA instituted its dead period in mid-March.
The recruiting cycle was never going to be completely stopped by limited travel, but adding recruits to a class prior to making a visit is an impressive feat by the Notre Dame staff.
The important part will be making sure those commitments remain firm through the early signing period in December.
“It’s a sign that Mike Elston did a really good job since the kid hasn’t been there,” Lemming said. “Mike Mickens did a very good job with Riley too.
“It comes down to salesmanship. How good are these assistant coaches when it comes to selling the kids on their program? Kids are committing elsewhere too.
“It comes down to how much did you work on the kids before the dead period. If you did a really good job, then you have a shot at getting them.”