Sixteen football recruits to watch for Notre Dame in 2016

Tyler James
South Bend Tribune

College football recruiting cycles never stop.

They overlap from class to class and shift into various speeds of activity. So even though National Signing Day for the 2015 class unofficially marked the start of the 2016 cycle, Notre Dame has long been recruiting and evaluating players for its next class.

More than 100 prospects in the 2016 class have already reported offers from Notre Dame. Many more will come as head coach Brian Kelly reshapes his coaching staff. The coaching-staff shuffle has slowed the Irish pace, but it will pick up in March with juniors expected to visit once spring football practice starts.

After bringing in 24, 22 and 23 recruits in the last three cycles, the Irish class should be smaller in 2016. Only unforeseen attrition will allow the total to surpass 20 recruits. Notre Dame currently has one player, offensive lineman Tommy Kraemer, verbally committed to the class.

With that in mind, here’s a closer look at 16 recruits to watch in the 2016 class.

• RB Elijah Holyfield, 5-11, 200; College Park (Ga.) Woodward Academy: The son of world-champion boxer Evander Holyfield has earned four-star status. Holyfield rushed 264 times for 1,735 yards and 25 touchdowns as a junior. He also caught three touchdown passes.

Notre Dame’s coaching staff spent plenty of time around Woodward Academy in its pursuit of 2015 safety Arrington Farrar in January. Holyfield, who received an Irish offer in October, has been in regular contact with tight ends coach Scott Booker. Rivals ranks Holyfield as the No. 5 running back in the 2016 class. 247Sports has him at No. 17.

Highlights of Holyfield here.

• RB Robert Washington, 5-10, 215; Huntersville (N.C.) Southlake Christian: The prolific running back had long been on the radar of former Irish assistant coach Tony Alford. The relationship between the two produced a visit to Notre Dame for Washington last April. It remains to be seen if the Irish can remain a contender for Washington without Alford.

Washington’s production has led to more than 30 scholarship offers. As a junior, he carried 239 times for 2,233 yards and 27 touchdowns. He also caught three touchdown passes. Rivals rates Washington as a four-star prospect and the No. 16 running back. 247Sports has him as a three-star recruit and No. 21 at the position.

Highlights of Washington here.

• WR Ahmir Mitchell, 6-2, 197; Egg Harbor City (N.J.) Cedar Creek: A Friday phone conversation with Brian Kelly reinforced Mitchell’s status on Notre Dame’s radar. The four-star prospect has shown interest in the Irish by including them in a top eight alongside Ohio State, Florida State, Rutgers, South Carolina, Michigan, Michigan State and Virginia Tech.

Mitchell caught 47 passes for 872 yards and 12 touchdowns as a junior. He also scored five rushing touchdowns. Rivals ranks Mitchell as the No. 8 wide receiver. 247Sports slates him as the No. 7 athlete.

Highlights of Mitchell here.

• WR Austin Mack, 6-2, 205; Fort Wayne (Ind.) Bishop Luers: The same school that produced Irish linebacker Jaylon Smith has another talented prospect that Notre Dame would like to land. Mack, a four-star recruit, has been a frequent visitor on Notre Dame’s campus before and after receiving a June offer.

Most Midwest powers are already after Mack. Ohio State, Michigan and Michigan State have also offered the junior who made 69 catches for 1,062 yards and 15 touchdowns last season. He also scored four rushing touchdowns. 247Sports slates Mack as the No. 21 wide receiver in the 2016 class. Rivals ranks him No. 37 at the position.

Highlights of Mack here.

• TE Cary Angeline, 6-7, 230; Exton (Pa.) Downingtown East: A weekend visit to Notre Dame included a Friday offer. Another from Alabama later that day suggests Angeline’s recruitment has truly gone national.

The combination of Notre Dame’s tight end tradition and Angeline having already visited makes the Irish instant contenders. 247Sports slates Angeline as a four-star recruit and the No. 4 tight end in the 2016 class. Rivals rates him as a three-star prospect and No. 16 at the position.

Highlights of Angeline here.

• OL Liam Eichenberg, 6-5, 270; Cleveland St. Ignatius: Kelly and Ohio State’s Urban Meyer will go head-to-head for one of the best offensive line prospects in the Midwest. Eichenberg has visited both campuses multiple times and should have a decision before his senior season. The Irish have regularly landed recruits from St. Ignatius, most recently offensive lineman Jimmy Byrne and former linebacker Dan Fox.

A wide gap between Eichenberg’s rankings from 247Sports and Rivals exists. 247Sports slates Eichenberg as a five-star prospect and the No. 2 offensive tackle in the country. Rivals rates him as a three-star recruit and No. 32 at the position.

Highlights of Eichenberg here.

• OL Parker Boudreaux, 6-4, 278; Orlando (Fla.) Bishop Moore: Few recruits claim as many scholarship offers as this four-star prospect. Boudreaux has reported more than 70 offers from Division I programs.

His offer from Notre Dame should land an unofficial visit this spring or summer. 247Sports slates Boudreaux as the No. 7 offensive guard. Rivals ranks him as the No. 21 offensive tackle.

Highlights of Boudreaux here.

• DT Rashan Gary, 6-4, 287; Paramus (N.J.) Catholic: Plenty of schools are chasing the defensive tackle who chased after Irish quarterback signee Brandon Wimbush in a December state championship game. Gary’s Paramus Catholic team lost to St. Peter’s Prep but prevented Wimbush from playing comfortably in the pocket.

Putting Wimbush and Gary on the same team in college would be a coup for the Irish. Gary had 55 tackles and 14 sacks in his junior season. Both Rivals and 247Sports peg Gary as a five-star prospect and the top defensive tackle in the 2016 class.

Highlights of Gary here.

• DT Dexter Lawrence, 6-5, 290; Wake Forest (N.C.) High: Notre Dame will have to battle against some of the top teams in the ACC and SEC, but Lawrence is a player worth trading punches to try to land. With defensive line coach Mike Elston his primary recruiter and potential position coach, the Irish will try to reach into North Carolina for a five-star recruit.

Notre Dame’s affiliation with the ACC was boasted as a recruiting advantage and competing for guys like Lawrence should be expected. As a junior, Lawrence racked up 55 tackles, 25 tackles for a loss and 10 sacks. Rivals ranks him as the No. 2 defensive tackle. 247Sports slates him fifth at the position.

Highlights of Lawrence here.

• DE Josh King, 6-6, 220; Darien (Ill.) Hinsdale South: Notre Dame’s search for elite defensive ends might not have to extend beyond the Midwest in 2016. King, a four-star prospect, was offered by Notre Dame early in the process. He visited campus last June and in September for the win over Michigan.

He recorded 48 tackles, 11 tackles for a loss and three sacks in his junior season. Rivals ranks him as the No. 4 strongside defensive end. 247Sports slates him fifth at the position.

Highlights of King here.

• DE Auston Robertson, 6-5, 234; Fort Wayne (Ind.) Wayne: Fort Wayne has treated Notre Dame well in the past. The 2016 class has the chance to be fruitful with four-star recruits Robertson and Mack. Both have visited campus multiple times and often together.

Robertson, who converted from wide receiver to defensive end following his sophomore season, tallied 74 tackles, 23.5 tackles for a loss and 10.5 sacks as a junior. 247Sports slates Robertson as the No. 6 weakside defensive end in the class. Rivals ranks him 10th at the position.

Highlights of Robertson here.

• LB Lokeni Toailoa, 6-1, 212; Rialto (Calif.) Wilmer Carter: The four-star linebacker from California has shown consistent interest in the Irish on social media. It’s a good start for Notre Dame’s efforts in trying to pull him away from the West Coast.

Toailoa, who is being recruited by Irish outside linebackers coach Bob Elliott, totaled 98 tackles, 17 tackles for a loss and six sacks as a junior. Rivals ranks him as the No. 2 inside linebacker in the 2016 class. 247Sports slates him fifth at the position.

Highlights of Toailoa here.

• LB Curtis Robinson, 6-3, 215; Santa Ana (Calif.) Mater Dei: The last linebacker Notre Dame recruited out of Mater Dei, Joe Schmidt, has worked out well. Schmidt came to South Bend without a scholarship, but Robinson already holds an offer.

Robinson’s recruitment has heated up since his Irish offer in January. Nebraska, USC and Michigan have all joined the pursuit of Robinson, who recorded 40 tackles, six tackles for a loss and four sacks as a junior. Rivals ranks him as a three-star recruit and the No. 31 athlete in the class. 247Sports has yet to rate Robinson.

Highlights of Robinson here.

• CB Chauncey Gardner, 6-0, 190; Cocoa (Fla.) High: When Gardner withdrew his verbal commitment to Florida in January, Notre Dame became a serious contender in his recruitment. The four-star recruit has offers from the three Florida powers, but the Irish will try to pull him away from home.

Gardner recorded 49 tackles and three interceptions as a junior for the same high school that produced Irish running back Tarean Folston. Rivals ranks Gardner as the No. 3 cornerback in the 2016 class. 247Sports slates him 20th at the position.

Highlights of Gardner here.

• DB Damar Hamlin, 6-1, 185; Pittsburgh (Pa.) Central Catholic: The versatile defensive back could play multiple positions in a secondary. Hamlin plays cornerback in high school but has the size to play safety as well. Most of Hamlin’s offers come from the Big Ten including Penn State, Michigan and Ohio State.

Hamlin, a four-star recruit, totaled 45 tackles and four interceptions in his junior season. Rivals ranks Hamlin as the No. 8 safety. 247Sports slates him No. 16 at cornerback.

Highlights of Hamlin here.

• S Craig Watts, 5-10, 173; St. Petersburg (Fla.) Gibbs: The four-star recruit made plays all over the field as a junior. He accumulated 60 tackles, seven tackles for a loss, seven pass deflections, three forced fumbles and one interception for a touchdown.

Watts received an offer from the Irish on Feb. 2 from Alford, so Notre Dame’s coaching staff will need to make sure a disconnect isn’t formed with Alford’s departure. 247Sports slates Watts as the No. 12 safety in the 2016 class. Rivals ranks him No. 244 regardless of position.

Highlights of Watts here.

tjames@ndinsider.com | 574-235-6214 | Twitter: @TJamesNDI

2016 offensive line target Liam Eichenberg during Irish Invasion football camp on Friday, June 20, 2014, at Notre Dame. (SBT Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN)