Notre Dame Irish Invasion hosts plenty of talent


South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND — When Brian Kelly rolled onto Notre Dame’s practice fields with two highly-touted 2015 recruits riding along in his golf cart, Friday night’s Irish Invasion camp was ready to begin.

Linebacker target Justin Hilliard sat shotgun with running back Jacques Patrick seated in the back. Two of the top players at their positions in the country, they didn’t need to compete like many of the other campers. The Irish are well aware of their physical acumen.

Instead, they were being sold on the atmosphere at Notre Dame. During the two-hour camp, accompanied by music from local entertainer DJ J Daddy, the two spent time speaking with coaches and current and future Notre Dame players.

Hilliard, visiting with his father, hung around defensive line commits Elijah Taylor (both are from Cincinnati) and Brandon Tiassum. Patrick stayed close to Notre Dame’s pair of Florida running backs — sophomore Tarean Folston and Greg Bryant.

On the field, a mix of commits, recruiting targets and unoffered prospects competed to show their abilities against the collected talent.

Cornerback commit Shaun Crawford and safety commit Nicco Fertitta shut down opposing receivers in one-on-one drills. Crawford put together the best performance of the camp, proving his ability to lockdown in man coverage. The 5-foot-9, 170-pound Crawford primarily plays safety at St. Edward High in Lakewood, Ohio, but looked the part of a cover corner.

On most reps, Crawford stayed step for step with the opposing receiver and showed explosive closing speed to make plays on the ball. On one rep, he blanketed his receiver so well that the quarterback refused to throw the ball — a rarity in one-on-one drills.

Notre Dame’s coaches made sure to challenge Fertitta’s size by matching him up repeatedly with 6-5, 230-pound Jake Hausmann, a 2016 tight end with an Irish offer. The two traded victories with some passes placed perfectly where the 5-10, 175-pound Fertitta couldn’t make a play and others where Fertitta knocked the ball away or came away with an interception. Fertitta’s highlight came when he intercepted a pass while diving backwards away from Hausmann. Both showed why the Irish coaching staff extending offers their way.

Offensive line commits Jerry Tillery and Tristen Hoge worked with coach Harry Hiestand in a number of individual drills. Tillery, who met with the Rev. Ted Hesburgh, Notre Dame’s president emeritus, earlier Friday, showed quick feet and nice athleticism for his 6-6, 315-pound frame. Hoge, a more compact 6-5, 287-pounder, showed the strength and flexibility needed to play center. Fellow 2015 offensive line commit Trevor Ruhland, watched closely from the side as he didn’t dress to participate. Liam Eichenberg, a 2016 offensive lineman from Cleveland with an Irish offer, also didn’t take part in drills, but looked as imposing as any of the senior offensive lineman competing.

Defensive end target Austin Bryant, a 2015 recruit from Thomasville, Ga., was the lone standout along the defensive line. With room to grow on his 6-5, 245-pound frame, Bryant could emerge as one of the elite pass-rushers the Irish covet in this class. He moved well and showed a suddenness on the snap of the ball.

At the quarterback position, 2016 target Malik Henry didn’t shine in throwing to a bunch of receivers he didn’t know but showed the mechanics, the arm and mobility that Kelly looks for in his signal-callers. The 6-2, 174-pounder from Westlake Village, Calif., received one of Notre Dame’s first 2016 quarterback offers in March. Logan Byrd, a 2016 prospect from Kathleen, Ga., looked the part at 6-3, 229 pounds with a strong arm and nice touch on his passes.

The Notre Dame staff handed out one offer following the camp. That went to 2016 linebacker Daelin Hayes. The 6-3, 225-pound junior-to-be at Orchard Lake (Mich.) St. Mary’s drew premature comparisons to Irish star linebacker Jaylon Smith, but the similarities are visible. Hayes owns versions of the length and athleticism needed to make plays in coverage and in the backfield. Like Smith, he also plays running back in high school. Hayes will likely end up as one of the most sought-after recruits in the Midwest in his class.

Another pair of 2016 prospects caught the eyes of onlookers and could have made impressions that lead to eventual offers: tight end Luke Farrell and cornerback Roderick Campbell. Farrell, a 6-foot-6, 240-pound recruit from Perry, Ohio, stood out physically on a field littered with stars. He excelled in high-pointing passes and looked comfortable in the end zone. Campbell drew whispers from multiple gathered media members trying to figure out who he was. The 6-0, 170-pounder only holds offers from Kentucky and Indiana, according to Rivals, but showed dynamic athleticism. His quickness and leaping ability combine to make him an intriguing corner prospect moving forward.

A pair of previously unmentioned 2015 Notre Dame targets, running back Josh Adams and linebacker Tevon Coney, didn’t take part in the camp but were seen watching from the sidelines and interacting with some of Notre Dame’s current players in attendance.

Notre Dame’s revamped camp drew roughly 60 prospects from across the country. Positive reviews from recruits could aid the Irish in making the camp bigger and better next year. ¦ 574-235-6214 ¦ Twitter: @TJamesNDI

2015 offensive line commits Jerry Tillery and Tristen Hoge during Irish Invasion football camp on Friday, June 20, 2014, at Notre Dame. (SBT Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN)