Notre Dame football recruiting: Who's left on ND's list for 2014
With a little less than a month left in the 2014 recruiting cycle, Notre Dame’s finish has come into focus.
With the addition of linebacker Nyles Morgan on Saturday, the Irish have secured 23 verbal commitments. Two of those recruits – defensive end Andrew Trumbetti and wide receiver Justin Brent – will enroll at Notre Dame later this month. The other 21 are slated to sign their national letters-of-intent on the Feb. 5 signing day.
The two early enrollees give the Irish flexibility in stretching the scholarship maximum to 27 for the current recruiting class, as head coach Brian Kelly said in December.
What’s left for Notre Dame is to weigh the remaining recruiting options against fifth-year seniors, while also anticipating transfers and potential medical or academic casualties.
The Irish sit at a projected 81 players on scholarship (85 is the FBS maximum) when including the current verbal commitments and players returning for their sophomore, junior and senior seasons. Four fifth-year seniors – offensive lineman Christian Lombard, safety Austin Collinsworth, linebacker Kendall Moore and defensive lineman Justin Utupo – appear to be in roster limbo. Some will be expected to return, while others may not be asked back if scholarships are needed for recruits.
But who remains on Notre Dame’s recruiting target list? Roughly eight prospects remain as legitimate options for the Irish. The list will change in the coming month, but here’s a breakdown of where the Irish stand with each of those eight recruits.
ATH John “JuJu” Smith, 6-1, 206; Long Beach (Calif.) Poly High
Rivals: Five-star, No. 2 S | 247Sports: Five-star, No. 2 ATH | Highlights
Six teams remain in the running, but USC and Notre Dame appear to be the frontrunners for Smith’s who is expected to wait until Signing Day to announce. Smith will make his final official visit on Jan. 17, a trip to USC, before trimming his list of six (USC, Notre Dame, UCLA, Ohio State, Alabama and Oregon). Smith’s relationships with his recruiter, Irish wide receivers coach Mike Denbrock, and tight end commit Tyler Luatua are working in Notre Dame’s favor.
WR Isaiah McKenzie, 5-8, 160; Plantation (Fla.) American Heritage
247Sports: Four-star, No. 36 WR | Rivals: Three-star, No. 54 WR | Highlights
McKenzie remains committed to Notre Dame in the sense that he wants to play football for the Irish in 2014. However, academic hurdles remain. As of last week, McKenzie said he was awaiting SAT results from December with plans to take the test again in late January. The Irish have remained patient as McKenzie works to reach an acceptable level for admissions. McKenzie said Tennessee, Florida and Ole Miss have recently reached out to join West Virginia, Rutgers and Wake Forest as potential backup plans.
WR Michiah Quick, 6-0, 170; Fresno (Calif.) Central East High
Rivals: Four-star, No. 5 ATH | 247Sports: Four-star, No. 7 ATH | Highlights
News from Quick’s camp has remained quiet in the past month or so. He took official visits to Oklahoma, Notre Dame and Alabama during the season and UCLA has emerged late as another contender. USC’s new coaching staff could push the Trojans into the mix as well. The Sooners, who have former teammates L.J. Moore and Hatari Byrd helping lure Quick to Norman, appear to be the favorite. Notre Dame will need a final push with in-home visits to swing him to South Bend.
WR Charles Nelson, 5-9, 170; Dayton Beach (Fla.) Seabreeze High
247Sports: Three-star, No. 35 ATH | Rivals: Three star, no position rank | Highlights
The Irish offered Nelson following his senior season as they continued to search for a slot receiver and someone who can help with kickoff and punt returns. As reflected in the 247Sports Crystal Ball, a prediction feature used on the recruiting website, the Irish jumped to the top as a favorite. All 12 predictions slated Nelson for Notre Dame. Nelson used an official visit to South Bend in December, but still has plans for visits to Florida, USC, West Virginia and Oregon. With Quick and McKenzie likely given priority by the Irish, a decision from Nelson shouldn’t come until closer to signing day.
TE Dalton Schultz, 6-6, 235 ; South Jordan (Utah) Bingham High
Rivals: Four-star, No. 2 TE | 247Sports: Four-star, No. 4 TE | Highlights
The Irish already are loaded with returning tight ends (assuming Troy Niklas is back) and two commitments (Nic Weishar and Tyler Luatua) in the 2014 class, but Schultz’s talent could be hard to pass up. Schultz will likely stay out West, but the Irish emerged as contenders following his official visit in December. Stanford, where he will visit again for an official visit later this month, remains the forecasted favorite, with Utah and Oregon State also in his top group.
OL Braden Smith, 6-6, 285; Olathe (Kan.) South High
Rivals: Four-star, No. 5 OT | 247Sports: Four-star, No. 8 OG | Highlights
Smith has kept his recruitment out of the media for much of his high school career, but his official visits before signing day will likely make plenty of headlines. The monster offensive line prospect has visits slated for Notre Dame, Texas A&M, TCU and Auburn. The Irish already have four committed offensive linemen, but room for a fifth could be found if Smith wanted to join. Many have TCU, where his older sister throws shot put and discus, as the favorite for Smith. He visits Notre Dame on Jan. 17.
CB Terrence Alexander, 5-10, 180; River Ridge (La.) John Curtis Christian
247Sports: Four-star, No. 28 CB | Rivals: Three-star, No. 32 CB | Highlights
Alexander became the latest name to surface as a Notre Dame target in the past couple weeks. The Irish offered a number of his teammates – wide receiver Malachi Dupre, linebacker Kenny Young, defensive back Mattrell McGraw – earlier in the cycle, but waited to move on Alexander until recently. Alexander has expressed plans for official visits to Stanford, Notre Dame and Ole Miss this month with the trip to South Bend set for Jan. 17. Nick Watkins is the only cornerback, a position of low priority for the Irish this cycle, committed to Notre Dame.
DT Thomas Holley, 6-4, 303; Brooklyn (N.Y.) Lincoln High
Rivals: Four-star, No. 3 DT | 247Sports: Five-star, No. 5 DT | Highlights
Head coach Bill O’Brien leaving Penn State may have reopened the door for Notre Dame with Holley. The defensive tackle committed to Penn State earlier in December, but uncertainty has followed O’Brien’s departure. Holley said he remains committed until he learns the makeup of the new coaching staff. Defensive line coach Larry Johnson, who was named interim head coach, will play a crucial role. As for the Irish, Holley said he would need to see who replaced defensive coordinator Bob Diaco, who recruited Holley, before deciding if Notre Dame could be a legitimate option once again. Programs like Florida and Ohio State would also be expected to push for Holley if he steps away from his commitment.
A handful of Notre Dame targets have fallen off the board in the last month or so. Here’s a look at how those recruitments have played out:
Safety Payton Hendrix committed to Texas Tech as the Irish wait to learn their fate with JuJu Smith.
Defensive ends Solomon Thomas and Andrew Williams eliminated Notre Dame from their top groups. Thomas named Ohio State, Arkansas, Stanford, Texas and UCLA as his top five. Williams has Ole Miss, Auburn, Clemson and South Carolina at the top of his list.
Defensive tackle Matt Elam eliminated the Irish to narrow his decision to Alabama and Kentucky. Elam had planned to announce his decision at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl but backed out to take more time.
Wide receiver Allen Lazard remains firmly committed to Iowa State and hasn’t shown signs of swaying from his pledge. Another wide receiver, Erik Brown, flipped his commitment from Washington to California in November.