Notre Dame set for last football recruiting weekend of the year

Tyler James
South Bend Tribune

Notre Dame will end its recruiting efforts for the 2014 calendar year with one last hurrah.

Friday’s annual football banquet, now called an awards show, always serves as Notre Dame’s biggest recruiting weekend of December. In a combination of fortunate timing and strategic planning, the Irish are set up to take advantage of an eventful few days.

The NCAA’s recruiting dead period starts on Monday and runs through Jan. 14, meaning this weekend stands as the last opportunity to host prospects before the three weeks leading into signing day.

But the talent rolling into South Bend on Friday is the bigger story. The Irish are expected to host six 2015 recruiting targets and 13 commits from the 2015 class.

Of the seven recruits not committed to Notre Dame, two are considered the top players at their position and the rest are talented players that could fill holes in the Irish recruiting class.

One player, Fresno (Calif.) City College running back Jeremy Smith, became a late scratch from the visitors list. Smith was expected to visit this weekend to pursue the possibility of enrolling at Notre Dame in January following a freshman season at a junior college, but Thursday his coach told the Tribune the visit was canceled and replaced by trips to Louisville and Alabama.

The good news has a chance to outweigh the bad news this weekend for Notre Dame. The Irish have not added a commitment since Oct. 16.

“This could be a fruitful weekend for Notre Dame,” said 247Sports directory of recruiting Steve Wiltfong. “They have a good shot at a lot of these kids. I don't know if it will pay off immediately with some commitments on Saturday or Sunday, but I think they land some guys that are in this weekend."

Below is a breakdown of each recruiting target visiting this weekend with the help of Wiltfong and CBS Sports Network recruiting analyst Tom Lemming.

CB Iman Marshall, 6-1, 195; Long Beach (Calif.) Poly: No recruit visiting this weekend is as highly-regarded as this five-star prospect. Marshall has already been projected as a future first-round pick in the NFL Draft before playing a down of college football.

“Iman Marshall is the best cover corner in the country,” Lemming said. “He's an elite player, one that Notre Dame hasn't landed in quite some time. I can't remember the last time Notre Dame got an elite cornerback. Long Beach Poly is tough to beat USC or UCLA at, but this would be a signature get if Notre Dame lands him. He's a guy that I think can stay three years and be a first-round draft choice."

Both Rivals and 247Sports peg Marshall as a five-star recruit and the top cornerback in the 2015 class. Rivals ranks him No. 4 regardless of position, and 247Sports slates him No. 6 overall.

"That's a long shot coming into the weekend,” Wiltfong said. “Iman's always mentioned Notre Dame, but everyone thinks he's going to stay out west and go to USC. We'll see if Notre Dame can blow him away this weekend.”

TE Alize Jones, 6-5, 220; Las Vegas Bishop Gorman: Believed by some to be the top tight end in the country, the UCLA commit will be making his second visit of the season to Notre Dame. Jones, a four-star prospect, last visited South Bend in September with teammate and Irish safety commit Nicco Fertitta. The two saw the Irish beat Michigan 31-0 in person.

"Notre Dame has a great shot to flip him,” Wiltfong said. “He came up in September and that's when things really started to heat up. I would almost say he's the best bet for the weekend.”

Jones caught 41 passes for 930 yards and 13 touchdowns in an undefeated senior season at Bishop Gorman. 247Sports slates Jones as the No. 1 tight end and No. 134 regardless of position. Rivals ranks him No. 2 at the position and No. 70 overall.

"Alize Jones is the best tight end in the country,” Lemming said. “Notre Dame is Tight End U, so it would be a perfect marriage between Notre Dame and Alize Jones. He can run. He can catch. He's on the national champs at Bishop Gorman, so you know he plays with winners.”

RB Ronald Jones, 5-10, 185; McKinney (Texas) North: The Oklahoma State commit is keeping his options open with other schools and Notre Dame will get the first chance to host Jones after his season ended last week.

"I think Notre Dame is in the top two with USC,” Wiltfong said. “I know he's very excited about the trip. Things have been picking up with Ronald with (defensive backs coach) Kerry Cooks and (running backs coach) Tony Alford, two of Notre Dame's best recruiters, leading the effort.”

Jones, a four-star prospect, rushed for 2,009 yards and 28 touchdowns as a senior at McKinney North. Rivals ranks Jones as the No. 9 running back recruit and No. 79 regardless of position. 247Sports slates him No. 19 at the position and No. 203 overall.

"I love him,” Lemming said. “I made a special trip back to the McKinney area to go see him. He has natural running skills. He's a big-time ball player who can take it the distance. If they don't get Soso Jamabo, there's only a slight drop-off between Ronald Jones and Jamabo. They may even be equal. The kid is fantastic."

S Tyree Kinnel, 5-11, 183; Huber Heights (Ohio) Wayne: One of only several recruits still holding onto their Michigan commitment, Kinnel will take his first look elsewhere this weekend at Notre Dame. Kinnel’s senior season came to a close last weekend with a state final loss to Irish cornerback commit Shaun Crawford and St. Edward.

“He's a safety with good range and good hitting ability,” Lemming said. “He's a take right away. Notre Dame didn't like him early on so he committed to Michigan. Now Notre Dame is coming after him. Notre Dame is the best counter-puncher in the country and it's showing here again. Notre Dame needs help at safety and he could help."

Kinnel, a four-star recruit, received an in-home visit from Irish defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder and defensive line coach Mike Elston on Wednesday night. Rivals ranks Kinnel as the No. 15 safety and No. 211 overall. 247Sports slates him No. 14 at the position.

"Notre Dame has a really good shot with him, too,” Wiltfong said. “He was a guy that was locked in for Michigan, and then they had their issues. When things started to go south at Michigan, Notre Dame immediately became a school that had a shot for Tyree.”

WR Lawrence Cager, 6-5, 207; Baltimore Calvert Hall: (UPDATE: Cager said Friday he had cancelled this weekend's visit to ND) The four-star prospect is one of Notre Dame’s few options remaining for a wide receiver with size in the 2015 class. The Irish will have to beat out Ohio State and Alabama to land Cager.

"Notre Dame is definitely in the top two or three for Cager,” Wiltfong said. “Notre Dame wants to take one more big receiver. You have this young man on the board, and you have Equanimeous St. Brown on the board. It may almost be a first-come, first-serve deal.”

247Sports slates Cager as the No. 17 wide receiver and No. 160 overall. Rivals ranks him No. 36 at the position.

“I really like him,” Lemming said. “He has good hands. He's a good red zone guy. He fits perfectly at Notre Dame. He's not a speedster, but he's a big, strong guy that's tough to bring down."

RB Jordan Cronkrite, 5-10, 196; Palmetto Bay (Fla.) Westminster Christian: The four-star prospect could emerge as a late option for Notre Dame’s second running back in the 2015 class. The former Miami commit is also considering Louisville and West Virginia and potential landing spots.

“He used to be committed to Miami so they might be able to turn him around,” Lemming said. “He's a good, solid back. He's not a B-list guy if they lose out on the other guys."

In 10 regular season games, Cronkrite rushed for 1,405 yards and 15 touchdowns. Rivals ranks Cronkrite as the No. 25 running back. 247Sports slates him No. 22 as a multi-position athlete.

"He's really good,” Wiltfong said. “He's versatile. He's a guy that is an all-purpose back for Notre Dame. Notre Dame wants to take one more running back, and he's one of several talented ones that they're still keeping in communication with and vice versa."

S Gary Jennings, 6-2, 205; Stafford (Va.) Colonial Forge: The three-star prospect received an offer from Notre Dame in late September when the Irish expanded their search for another safety in the 2015 class. Jennings, who is also being pursued by the likes of Vanderbilt, West Virginia and Virginia, could play wide receiver in college as well.

“He’s one of the more versatile players left on board for Notre Dame,” Wiltfong said. “He's a guy that Notre Dame likes a lot. If they get him, he brings that flexibility where Notre Dame can move him around and still fill out their class the way they want to fill it out.”

247Sports slates Jennings as the No. 120 wide receiver. Rivals ranks him No. 25 overall in Virginia.

"He's a solid, two-way player,” Lemming said. “He's a good player. He's another guy that they were reluctant offer early and then they came after him later."

• The following Irish commits are also expected on campus this weekend: LB Josh Barajas, LB Asmar Bilal, WR Miles Boykin, CB Nick Coleman, CB Shaun Crawford, DL Micah Dew-Treadway, S Nicco Fertitta, OL Tristen Hoge, OL Trevor Ruhland, DT Brandon Tiassum, CB Ashton White, QB Brandon Wimbush and K Justin Yoon. | 574-235-6214 | Twitter: @TJamesNDI

Las Vegas Bishop Gorman tight end Alize Jones verbally committed to Notre Dame on Thursday. Jones is ranked as one of the nation's top tight ends in the 2015 class. (Photo courtesy of Las Vegas Sun)