Notre Dame looking to add depth to stars with LB recruits
Notre Dame has found its stars at linebacker.
In 2013, it was outside linebacker Jaylon Smith. The Fort Wayne (Ind.) Bishop Luers product proved his five-star status as a freshman last season.
In 2014, it was inside linebacker Nyles Morgan. Regarded as one of the top linebackers in the country for his class, Morgan is expected to challenge for playing time as a freshman this fall.
In the 2015 recruiting class, the Irish didn’t take long to find a star. When outside linebacker Josh Barajas flipped his commitment from Penn State to Notre Dame in May, Notre Dame once again found a linebacker to build its recruiting class around. The four-star recruit serves as the anchor while the Irish coaching staff looks to add depth around him. Already Notre Dame has put itself in a good spot with a number of talented prospects at the position.
• Josh Barajas, 6-3, 212; Merrillville (Ind.) Andrean: Notre Dame’s fortunes at the position were reversed when Barajas backed out of his commitment to Penn State and joined the Irish in May. Before his brief commitment to the Nittany Lions, it appeared he was Notre Dame’s recruit to lose.
Barajas, who lives in Valparaiso, less than an hour west of South Bend, is an important grab not only because of his proximity in the state but his skill set. His long, athletic frame allows him to be both a physical presence as a tackler but cover a lot of ground. During a Class 3-A state championship run last season, Barajas recorded 92 tackles, five sacks and two interceptions.
The commitment from Barajas continues Notre Dame’s dominance recruiting the top players in the state. 247Sports slates Barajas as the nation’s No. 2 inside linebacker and Indiana’s top prospect. Rivals ranks him No. 2 in the state and the No. 14 outside linebacker in the country.
• Asmar Bilal, 6-3, 201; Indianapolis Ben Davis: If Notre Dame can hold off a charging effort from Michigan, Bilal should end up in the Irish recruiting class. Notre Dame offered the Ben Davis star following an April visit, and he followed that up with a return trip to South Bend in June.
Few linebackers are more athletic than Bilal, who will add some weight in college. He possesses a frame similar to a big wide receiver, but plays with the toughness needed at linebacker. His instincts as a defender have him constantly tracking down the ball.
As a junior, Bilal tallied 106 tackles and 4.5 sacks. 247Sports slates him as a four-star prospect and the No. 3 inside linebacker in the class. Rivals rates him as a three-star recruit and the No. 30 outside linebacker.
• Te’von Coney, 6-1, 220; Palm Beach Gardens (Fla.) High: Following his first Notre Dame visit for the Irish Invasion, Coney named the Irish co-leaders as they moved themselves into a tie with Florida. Plenty of work is left to do to pull the four-star prospect out of SEC country, but the Irish made a good start in June.
Coney’s junior highlight reel is titled “Born to play football.” It’s easy to see why when the hard-nosed linebacker is punishing quarterbacks and running backs. Coney brings a physical presence to the position as he overpowers linemen trying to impede his path to the ball.
His 172 tackles, 14 sacks, six forced fumbles and two interceptions seem like video game numbers. Rivals ranks Coney as the No. 9 inside linebacker in the country. 247Sports slates him No. 11 at the position.
• Osa Masina, 6-4, 230; Salt Lake City Brighton: The biggest of the linebacker recruits included the Irish in his top eight in May. The four-star prospect hasn’t been in South Bend since a visit last July, but could return to Notre Dame before making a decision. Utah, Michigan, Stanford, UCLA and USC all figure to be contenders for Masina’s signature.
Masina does it all for his Brighton team. Last season he accumulated 1,683 yards and 26 touchdowns as a running back with 87 tackles on defense. The package of size and athleticism make Masina a monster linebacker prospect. Rivals ranks him as the No. 3 outside linebacker prospect in the country. 247Sports slates him No. 10 at the position.
• Adonis Thomas, 6-4, 215; Lawrenceville (Ga.) Central Gwinnett: Notre Dame made Thomas’ top five in May, but the Irish likely trail at least Alabama and Florida in a group that also includes Georgia and LSU. Thomas scheduled a trip to South Bend for June but never made it to campus. The Irish hope connections to Thomas’ coach, who previously coached former Irish wide receiver TJ Jones, and the announced Georgia series can help keep the four-star linebacker interested.
The size and speed of Thomas make him a threat in the backfield and coverage. He evens played some wide receiver as a junior in high school. 247Sports slates Thomas as the No. 11 outside linebacker in the country. Rivals ranks him No. 16.
OTHERS TO WATCH
• Bo Wallace, 6-4, 210; River Ridge (La.) John Curtis: Notre Dame’s heavy interest in the powerhouse John Curtis program continues this year with Wallace. The three-star prospect visited South Bend in June to gauge whether he will return for an official visit. Players in the John Curtis program typically take their time in their recruitment as a directive from its head coach, who frowns on flipping commitments.
Plugging into the John Curtis program with a commitment could be huge for Notre Dame. Last cycle, the Irish tried to recruit several of its players, including wide receiver Malachi Dupre and cornerback Terrence Alexander. Rivals ranks Wallace as the No. 21 outside linebacker in the class. 247Sports slates him No. 28 at the position.
• Dominic Sheppard, 6-1, 225; Miami Gulliver Prep: One of the talented players the Irish are recruiting at Gulliver Prep in the 2015 and 2016 classes, Sheppard included the Irish in a top eight alongside Alabama, Clemson, Miami, Ohio State, Stanford, Tennessee and Wisconsin. The three-star prospect would be a good secondary target if some of the top linebackers look elsewhere. Rivals ranks Sheppard as the No. 29 outside linebacker. 247Sports slates him No. 46 at the position.
• Arthur McGinnis, 6-2, 224; New Orleans Warren Easton: Notre Dame continues to try to pipe into the talented state of Louisiana. Like most prospects in the state, McGinnis figures to stay in the SEC. But interest in UCLA and Arizona shows a slight chance for McGinnis to leave the region.
A versatile talent, McGinnis might be best suited as a defensive end if he were to grow. Currently he’s a brick wall at linebacker who plays best against the run. Rivals rates McGinnis as a four-star prospect and the No. 17 outside linebacker. 247Sports slates him as a three-star prospect and No. 47 at the position.
• Justin Hilliard, 6-2, 225; Cincinnati St. Xavier: Hilliard broke the hearts of many Notre Dame fans when he chose to commit to Ohio State on Wednesday. A frequent visitor in South Bend, Hilliard ended his recruitment with the Irish in second place. Notre Dame will always keep an eye on the talented Hilliard, but with Ohio State slated for another big season, it’s hard to anticipate any change in his commitment.
247Sports slates Hilliard as a five-star prospect and the nation’s top inside linebacker. Rivals ranks him as a four-star prospect and the nation’s top outside linebacker.
• Jerome Baker, 6-1, 205; Cleveland Benedictine: A late offer earned Notre Dame a spot in Baker’s top eight, but a scheduled decision on July 11 isn’t pointing in the direction of the Irish. The four-star prospect was unable to make a visit to June’s Irish Invasion and appears destined for Ohio State. The high school running back and linebacker ranks as the nation’s No. 3 athlete prospect according to Rivals. 247Sports slates him as the No. 5 athlete.
TJames1@SBTinfo.com | 574-235-6214 | Twitter: @TJamesNDI
Wednesday: Offensive line/Tight ends
Part six in a seven-day series bringing a position-by-position analysis of Notre Dame's 2015 football recruiting efforts.