Notre Dame football recruiting: Hoge still high on Irish

TYLER JAMES
South Bend Tribune

Four days after leaving South Bend, the excitement still hadn’t subsided for Tristen Hoge.

The 2015 offensive line prospect came close to verbally committing to Notre Dame on his unofficial visit for the USC game. Ninety-six hours and 1,500 miles later, the feelings still held strong for the Pocatello, Idaho native.

“I was expecting a great experience, but it just blew me away anyway,” Hoge said. “I had never experienced something like that in my life. It was such an awesome experience.”

The 6-foot-5, 285-pound center prospect is in line to become the second verbal commitment in Notre Dame’s 2015 recruiting class, joining offensive lineman Jerry Tillery from Shreveport, La. A planned visit to Florida for Thanksgiving weekend is the main obstacle separating a pledge between Hoge and the Irish.

“I was close (to committing), but I still have an obligation to be at the University of Florida this Thanksgiving,” Hoge said. “I’m going to hold up until then.”

Offensive line coach Harry Hiestand and the Notre Dame staff may have to show some patience for Hoge, but a prospect of his stature would be worth the wait.

CBS Sports Network recruiting analyst Tom Lemming ranks Hoge as the No. 1 center and No. 18 prospect overall in the 2015 class. 247Sports also slates Hoge as the top center along with a No. 92 overall ranking. Hoge is the nephew of former NFL running back Merril Hoge, who played for the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Chicago Bears.

Hoge firmly planted himself on Notre Dame’s radar back in June when he visited for a summer camp and received an offer. Others, like LSU, Stanford and UCLA, have joined the race for Hoge, but the Irish have remained a favorite during his junior season at Highland High.

The two-day visit last Friday and Saturday helped propel the Irish yards ahead of the competition. Hoge and his parents made it into town in time for the pep rally Friday to see former Irish coach Lou Holtz work the crowd.

“The pep rally, that was really amazing to experience,” Hoge said. “That was such an authentic experience. I can’t use words to describe how it was.”

The visit was also highlighted by conversations with coaches, players and fellow recruits. He joined the team on the Irish walk into the stadium and enjoyed a Notre Dame victory over USC.

“The game itself was so much fun to watch,” Hoge said. “It was definitely a great game.”

He spoke with 2014 offensive line commit Alex Bars, who also was in town for an unofficial visit.

“I met Alex and his family and got to pick his brain and talk to him a little bit,” Hoge said. “He’s a great guy and that would be the kind of guy I’d want to play with.”

Leading the push for Hoge from Notre Dame is Hiestand, his potential position coach. The two keep in touch on a regular basis, and the visit reinforced Hoge’s opinion.

“I think he’s a fantastic coach and a great person,” Hoge said of Hiestand. “He definitely is brushed up on his knowledge of the offensive line and that’s a good thing. Even asking the players what they think about him, they have a good rapport as well. I would definitely enjoy playing under him for four years.”

Hoge’s signing day won’t come until February 2015, but the Irish may learn their fate with the elite prospect before the new year.

TJames1@SBTinfo.com

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Twitter: @TJamesNDI

Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly watches during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Oklahoma, Saturday, Sept. 28, 2013, in South Bend, Ind. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)