Notre Dame football recruiting: Transfer boosts Irish prospect

TYLER JAMES
South Bend Tribune

Making the move to Montini Catholic might have changed the football future for Nile Sykes.

In more ways than one, transferring to the Catholic school in Lombard, Ill., has open doors for the 2014 linebacker prospect.

Not only will Sykes have a chance to win a Class 5-A Illinois High School Association state championship on Saturday, but his college options have increased with a successful senior season. Earlier this month, Notre Dame became one of those options when the coaching staff extended him a scholarship offer.

“Everything works out for a reason,” Sykes said. “I made the decision to come to Montini last year and so far everything's worked out perfectly. I wouldn't want to be anywhere else.”

For starters, transferring from Oak Park and River Forest High School to Montini allowed Sykes to make a position switch from defensive end to linebacker. In addition, with his season stretching to 14 games after this week, more colleges have been able to take a look at Sykes. Without those two results, it’s possible that Notre Dame would have never picked up their interest in the senior linebacker.

Irish offensive coordinator Chuck Martin, who recruits in Illinois for Notre Dame, made a stop by Montini during ND’s bye week and was able to watch Sykes practice. Fortunately for Sykes, his team was still alive in the state playoffs, and he could show off his new skillset in person.

“I always knew that if I just kept working it would all work out,” Sykes said. “I made the move to Montini and these coaches have helped me out so much becoming an overall better player."

Sykes has known for a while that linebacker would be his best bet for playing in college. At 6-foot-2 and 225 pounds, he’s better suited physically to play off the line of scrimmage. Even while playing defensive end at his former school, Sykes worked linebacker drills with Core 6 Athletes, a training facility in the Chicago area. With a full season of live action at linebacker, Sykes and college coaching staffs have seen the improvement. He’s totaled more than 80 tackles and 20 tackles for a loss and added 11.5 sacks and two interceptions this season.

"I'm better at reading my keys, playing in space and dropping back into coverage – basically everything having to do with being a linebacker,” Sykes said.

One last week of football, culminating in Saturday morning's championship game against Sacred Heart-Griffin (13-0), separates Sykes from taking two weeks to start narrowing down his choices. After that, the NCAA recruiting dead period kicks in from Dec. 16 through Jan. 15, in which coaches are prohibited from making in-person contact with recruits and are not allowed to host official or unofficial visits on campus. Sykes has already visited Indiana and Illinois previously, but other schools to offer him include Syracuse, Missouri and Iowa State. Still, Sykes said he plans on taking a visit to Notre Dame “as soon as I can.”

The offer from the Irish really made an impact.

"I was ecstatic. An offer from them is a really big offer,” Sykes said. “Not only the academic part, which is outstanding, but the tradition behind Notre Dame football and being a part of that program. If you don't go to the NFL, you could be set for life with a Notre Dame degree.”

Already the Irish have pitched the idea of playing inside linebacker to Sykes. The importance of that position in Notre Dame’s defense wasn’t lost on Sykes, especially when the name of a former hardware winner was thrown around.

"He mentioned that to me in our first conversation,” Sykes said of his talk with Martin. “He let me know and said, ‘We don't mess around with kids. We like to tell them exactly where we see them fitting.’ He said that he sees me fitting in the Manti Te'o position, that Mike linebacker spot."

Sykes owns a three-star rating from 247Sports and Rivals. 247Sports slates him as the No. 34 outside linebacker prospect in the 2014 class and the No. 13 prospect in Illinois. Rivals ranks him as the No. 24 inside linebacker in the country and the No. 20 prospect in the state.

CBS Sports Network national recruiting analyst Tom Lemming holds a higher opinion of Sykes. He said after this season, the gap between Sykes and Nyles Morgan and Clifton Garrett, consensus top-five inside linebackers nationally, isn’t as big as often perceived.

"He's a four-star linebacker,” Lemming said of Sykes. “I'm only surprised that Notre Dame didn't offer him earlier. He's definitely good enough to play at Notre Dame. He has real good ability. He's quick to the ball. He's the same size and has the same production of Nyles Morgan and Clifton Garrett — two bigger names out of the area. When you watch all three of them play, they're all about equal in talent.”

Soon, Sykes will give Notre Dame a closer look and determine if the school and football program fit his factors for a college decision.

"I need to be able to see myself being there for the next four or five years,” Sykes said. “I need to be able to see myself spending time with those coaches, the players and the whole program. Academics are big for me. I want to go to a place where they have a strong business program or sports management program.”

Yeargin visits Clemson

Defensive end/outside linebacker Richard Yeargin III, a 2014 recruit verbally committed to Notre Dame, took a trip to Clemson this past weekend for its game against The Citadel on Saturday.

After the visit, Yeargin reaffirmed his commitment to Notre Dame publicly. On Monday, Yeargin responded to questions about his commitment in a text message to the South Bend Tribune.

“All in With the Irish,” Yeargin wrote.

The 6-foot-3, 225-pound Yeargin made the visit to Clemson following a season-ending loss for University School. The Fort Lauderdale, Fla., program lost 45-17 to Booker T. Washington in the Region 4-4A final on Friday night.

The interest in Clemson reportedly stems from family ties to South Carolina and a former high school teammate at Chaminade-Madonna, freshman cornerback Adrian Baker, on the Tigers roster. Yeargin transferred to University School in January.

In an interview with the Miami Herald in late October, Yeargin addressed his interest in Clemson.

“Clemson weighs a lot on me because of the ties I have in South Carolina, but I’m comfortable with where I’m at,” Yeargin said.

Nile Sykes, a senior linebacker prospect from Montini Catholic in Oak Park, Ill., received an offer from Notre Dame in November 2013. Courtesy of Chicago Tribune/ANTHONY SOUFFLE