Notre Dame football recruiting: All about game for ND commits

Tyler James
South Bend Tribune

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- The hoopla didn’t consume the Notre Dame recruits. While others came to the Under Armour All-America Game for the theatrics, the six committed Irish prospects came to work. There was plenty of spectacle surrounding the seven high school seniors that announced commitments to LSU, Texas A&M, Alabama, Arizona, Florida and Florida State. Gloves, hats, a stuffed animal, an angry mother and baby clothes – yes, the outfit of a months-old toddler – were all used as props for prospects picking the college of their choice (for now, at least). The show for the self-named #GoldenArmy14 came between the lines of the gridiron on Thursday and the week of practice leading into the game. Irish wide receiver commit Corey Holmes came to practice this week with a business-like approach, hoping to prove himself after a senior season slowed by hamstring and ankle injuries. “I didn't have any other schools on my mind or recruiting issues on my mind, so I was able to come here and just compete,” Holmes said. Holmes walked away with the most tangible production of any of the Irish commits with two catches for 20 yards in a 31-21 loss for Team Nitro. Five Notre Dame commits — offensive linemen Sam Mustipher and Alex Bars, defensive end Andrew Trumbetti, cornerback Nick Watkins and Holmes – dressed for the losing squad. Tight end Tyler Luatua played for the victorious Team Highlight. “That was cool having the ball in my hands,” Holmes said. “It was a great experience in all. I had fun.” Late in the fourth quarter, Holmes flashed open in the end zone, but quarterback Rafe Peavey, an Arkansas pledge, chose to hit Miami wide receiver commit Braxton Berrios for the six-yard touchdown instead. “I was definitely hoping to get the ball. It would have been good to have a touchdown,” Holmes said. “I'm just glad to be here and glad I had this opportunity.” Bars and Luatua received the first playing time for Irish commits with Bars starting at left tackle for Nitro and Luatua playing tight end on the first series for Highlight. The rest of the future ND signees saw plenty of action in reserve roles and entered the game before the first quarter ended. “It was really cool starting and being the first guy on the field," Bars said. The 6-foot-6, 285-pound tackle admitted to coming out with a little rust after full-speed practice slowed down in the last couple days before the game. He allowed Myles Garrett, a Texas A&M defensive end commit, to record a sack in the first quarter. “In the second half I thought I did a lot better job,” Bars said. With his recruitment behind him, he enjoyed watching the other recruits share their college decision. "It's all fun,” Bars said. “You get to see where those guys committed and go through it with them while playing with the best.” Quiet Watkins As a cornerback, a quiet day wasn’t the worst thing for Irish commit Nick Watkins. He recorded just one tackle in the game but was able to limit any big plays against him. Highlight completed three passing touchdowns of more than 20 yards but none on Watkins’ watch. “I pride myself on not getting beat,” Watkins said. “I pride myself on being able to play man and zone.” Even when it came to actual noise, Watkins was the quiet one in the Nitro secondary. His roommate, cornerback Tony Brown, was the ringleader of the talkative bunch. Brown announced a commitment to Alabama during the third quarter. Another Nitro defensive back, Jamal Adams, used his infant niece to unveil his commitment to LSU in the first quarter. “He's a real flamboyant guy,” Watkins said of Brown. "I just watched them do whatever they do. I'm just quiet.” The 6-foot-1, 180-pound prospect from Dallas, Texas, accomplished his goals coming to Florida. "I think I progressed every day,” Watkins said. “I was coming out here, learning and getting ready for the next level. I think I'm ready.” McKenzie shows flash Wide receiver Isaiah McKenzie showed the elusiveness on Thursday that has led the Irish to wait out his academic challenges before dismissing him as a potential commitment. McKenzie nearly broke two returns – one kickoff and one punt – for a touchdown. His kickoff return of 75 yards in the fourth quarter stood as the longest of the day. "I felt like I was going to break the kick return and the punt return,” McKenzie said. “I got my team down the field and let them do the work.” McKenzie also saw action out of the backfield including a couple snaps in a wildcat formation. He came closest to the end zone on an eight-yard run in the fourth quarter, but Virginia safety commit Quin Blanding corralled him at the two-yard line. “I was kinda upset. I'm used to scoring,” said McKenzie, who scored 20 touchdowns as a senior at American Heritage in Plantation, Fla. “The safety made a good hit, and I just had to take the yards." McKenzie’s recruitment remains status quo as he works to reach the academic standards needed for Notre Dame. He has at least one more SAT scheduled for late January. As he continues to work, McKenzie said other programs like Tennessee and Florida have reached out to him this past week. “I'm going to talk to them a little bit more and see what they have in mind,” McKenzie said of the SEC programs, “but I really want to go to Notre Dame. If everything works out with Notre Dame, I want to go to Notre Dame.” DT Holley still waiting A Penn State commit for now, defensive tackle Thomas Holley can only wait to find out the fate of the Nittany Lion coaching staff after head coach Bill O’Brien left for the same position with the NFL’s Houston Texans. In the meantime, Holley will be flooded by interest from schools that lost out on the race for his commitment last month. The Irish, who have been searching for a defensive tackle in the 2014 class with little success, will likely be one of them. On Thursday, the 6-4, 303-pound Holley said he had heard from Notre Dame but more in the sense of the hordes of fans tweeting at him and the chatter of Irish defensive end Jay Hayes, a fellow Brooklyn, N.Y. native, than any specific coach. News of O’Brien’s departure surfaced Tuesday night. "Notre Dame, I'm waiting to see who they bring in since (defensive coordinator) coach (Bob) Diaco left,” Holley said. “There's plenty of places I could go (if I decommit). I'm going to do the same thing I did throughout the recruiting process and take my time.” Holley, rated as a four-star prospect and ranked as one of the top five defensive tackle prospects by Rivals and 247Sports, could provide a boost to the Irish recruiting class. The pestering from Hayes could come in handy. “Jay Hayes is one of their biggest recruiters. He's always in my ear,” Holley said. “Me and Jay Hayes are like best friends. Every time he comes to my game or I go to his game, he's telling me 'Notre Dame. Notre Dame.’ I felt Penn State was a better fit for me and I really enjoyed it, but things can change. We'll see what happens later.” | 574-235-6214 | Twitter: @TJamesNDI

Notre Dame commit Corey Holmes of St. Thomas Awuinas in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.