VanGorder links to NFL key asset for Notre Dame

BOB WIENEKE
South Bend Tribune

Long before Brian VanGorder was hired as Notre Dame's defensive coordinator, Irish commit Nile Sykes had been well aware of the school's tradition of producing NFL players, not to mention the post-football networking possibilities.

Once VanGorder, a former assistant with the Jacksonville Jaguars, Atlanta Falcons and, most recently, the New York Jets, was named, Sykes realized the potential net had widened.

"That's huge," said Sykes, who signed with ND in February. "Notre Dame already has a ton of connections, not only with the football aspect but just in getting a job in general. Having a coach, defensive coordinator and linebackers coach from the NFL, that's even a bigger connection because I'm sure he still talks to those guys from the NFL."

The 6-foot-2, 220-pound Sykes made a couple of visits to ND for spring practice and was able to sit in on one of VanGorder's meetings with players.

"He really gets down to detail and makes sure that the guys know where they're supposed to be, what they're supposed to be doing," Sykes said. "He doesn't let anybody slip up and he's tough on the guys to be accountable for their responsibilities, so I really like that."

Sykes, who played at Montini Catholic in Lombard, Ill., committed to Notre Dame when Bob Diaco was the defensive coordinator, and had been projected by Diaco as a WILL linebacker. Diaco has since taken the head coaching job at Connecticut, and Sykes' depth chart destination is a bit less clear. VanGorder told Sykes that he wants to wait to see him practice in person before assigning him a definite spot.

"I could get bigger, smaller, whatever," Sykes said. "And he says he wants to see me in practice and he's going to use me to my strengths. He's going to try to put me in the best position to do what I'm good at. So whether that be the WILL or whatever, he said he's going to put me in the position to succeed."

Cage's dream

His freshman season is still months away, but defensive tackle signee Daniel Cage already has designs on his post-football future.

The 6-foot-2, 305-pound Cage would someday like to operate a gym, and a little bit of the groundwork has already been laid.

"I've already had connections in order to start my own business. My teacher used to work at a gym and he knows people that can sell me weights at a discount," Cage, a senior at Winton Woods High School in Cincinnati, said. "I love gyms. I always had a vision of having one."

Cage, who plans to study entrepreneurship, already has a name picked out. The Cage.

"That would be nice," Cage said, "to have a gym in my name."

Early, early returns

Signing day is a nine months away, but the recruiting machine never stops.

As of Friday morning, Notre Dame ranked 12th in the Rivals.com team rankings, 18th by 247Sports. Both sites list Notre Dame's seven-man class as having three four-star players and four three-star players.

Alabama ranks as the top school by both sites. Nick Saban's class, which has 15 commitments, could be even better. Saban originally had a commitment from five-star quarterback Ricky Town of Ventura, Calif., but Town a few months ago flipped to USC.

Target picks NU

A recent offer from Notre Dame apparently didn't sway defensive lineman Jordan Thompson. The 6-foot-3, 250-pound junior from Cincinnati LaSalle announced a verbal commitment to Northwestern on Friday.

The Irish offered the three-star prospect during the start of the spring evaluation period in late April. He decided to make a commitment elsewhere before visiting Notre Dame. Rivals ranks Thompson as the No. 31 strongside defensive end in the 2015 class. 247Sports slates him as the No. 36 defensive tackle.

Another RB offer

Notre Dame reached into North Carolina to offer another 2015 running back on Thursday. Nyheim Hines, a 5-9, 178-pound recruit from Garner, N.C., reported the offer after a conversation with defensive line coach Mike Elston.

Hines, who holds offers from Clemson, Florida and Ohio State, among others, rushed for 3,137 yards and 49 touchdowns as a junior. 247Sports slates Hines as the No. 2 all-purpose back and No. 77 overall in the country. Rivals rates him as a three-star prospect and the No. 43 athlete in the class.

Tyler James contributed to this report.

Nile Sykes, a senior linebacker prospect from Lombard (Ill.) Montini, likes the NFL connections that defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder brings to the Irish. (Chicago Tribune/ANTHONY SOUFFLE)