Notre Dame football set for star-studded junior day recruiting event

Tyler James
South Bend Tribune

Coaching staff changes interrupted the natural recruiting cycle for Notre Dame football in February.

After the 2015 class was secured on signing day, action in the 2016 cycle slowed with the Irish replacing departed assistant coaches. Now with the four new coaches in place and spring practice underway, Notre Dame will host its first big recruiting weekend of the spring.

With more than 20 prospects expected on campus for Saturday’s junior day, Notre Dame will try to make up on lost time.

“The timing all came together well,” said 247Sports director of recruiting Steve Wiltfong. “They thought about doing something earlier in the process, but they ended up not doing it. Now they’ve made some exciting assistant coaching hires, Notre Dame has a promising football team going into the fall, and there’s a lot of buzz going on and these guys will feel the excitement when they get on campus.”

Even Notre Dame’s success on the basketball court, in both the men’s and women’s NCAA tournaments, can help provide momentum on the football recruiting trail. But the hard work in Notre Dame’s recruiting office and the communication between the Irish coaches and recruits have helped set up a big weekend for the football program.

The focus has shifted to the 2016 class, and the visitors lists shows as much. In addition to Notre Dame’s lone verbal commitment, offensive lineman Tommy Kraemer, the Irish will host 10 2016 recruits with offers for a junior day event.

“A lot of these guys are top of the board recruits for Notre Dame,” Wiltfong said. “They’re able to get their prime targets to campus for really an exciting time at Notre Dame. There’s going to be a lot of great players on campus together. They know that. It’s a promising weekend.”

The Irish started the busy weekend early by hosting four-star prospects A.J. Taylor and Curtis Robinson earlier this week. Taylor, a versatile athlete from Kansas City, Mo., visited Wednesday but left campus without a Notre Dame offer. Robinson, an outside linebacker from Santa Ana, Calif., visited Thursday with an offer already in hand.

The weekend will also bring a handful of 2017 recruits to campus — most notably defensive ends A.J. Epenesa and Corey Malone-Hatcher.

Epenesa, who 247Sports pegs as a five-star prospect and the top strongside defensive end in his class, received a Notre Dame offer in late January. Malone-Hatcher of St. Joseph, Mich., has visited Notre Dame a number of times but has yet to receive an offer. Nine other schools have offered Malone-Hatcher, with the latest coming this week from Mississippi State and Kentucky.

As Notre Dame pushes forward to build its 2016 class, this weekend may have a big impact on where the Irish sit heading into the summer and even into next February’s signing day. Asked which visitors Notre Dame has the best chance of eventually landing, Wiltfong named six recruits with offers and another five prospects if they were to receive offers.

“I don’t think they need to get commitments this weekend, but they’re really going to have an opportunity to put their best foot forward with a lot of these guys,” Wiltfong said. “They can continue building early momentum that they have with some. I think that you’re going to see some of these guys that are visiting this weekend ultimately be a part of Notre Dame’s class.”

Below is a breakdown of each of the 10 junior recruiting targets visiting this weekend, with the help of CBS Sports Network recruiting analyst Tom Lemming.

QB Dwayne Haskins, 6-2, 185; Potomac (Md.) Bullis: The four-star quarterback will return to Notre Dame’s campus for the second time. Haskins made his first visit to South Bend last June. It’s a good sign for the Irish in a recruitment gone national.

Haskins claims offers from schools in every major conference. Some of his top offers include Ohio State, LSU, Oklahoma, Clemson and UCLA. 247Sports slates Haskins as the No. 3 pro-style quarterback in the country. Rivals ranks him fourth at the position. As a junior, Haskins completed 159 of his 259 passes for 1,936 yards and 22 touchdowns.

“He’ll be in my top 10 quarterbacks in the country,” Lemming said. “A very confident kid. He’s checking out everything. He grew up an Ohio State fan, but since the Buckeyes brought in the kid last year from Florida (Torrance Gibson), I think he’s looking around a little bit more. He can run and he’s a very good all-around athlete and a team leader.”

Watch highlights of Haskins here.

RB Elijah Holyfield, 5-11, 200; College Park (Ga.) Woodward Academy: The four-star running back is near the top of Notre Dame’s board at the position. And yes, he’s the son of boxing legend Evander Holyfield.

The Irish have had success recruiting the sons of professional athletes in recent years. They would gladly make room for Evander Holyfield in the famous dads section of Notre Dame Stadium. However, the elder Holyfield is a noted Georgia fan. The pursuit for Elijah Holyfield includes the Bulldogs and more than 20 other schools, including Auburn, Tennessee, Florida and Michigan.

 “He’s the No. 1 running back in Georgia,” Lemming said. “He’s a Notre Dame kid. He’s a real good kid. He can run.”

Holyfield rushed for 1,735 yards and 25 touchdowns in his junior season. Rivals ranks him as the No. 5 running back in the 2016 class. 247Sports slates him ninth at the position.

Watch highlights of Holyfield here.

RB Tony Jones Jr., 6-0, 210; Bradenton (Fla.) IMG Academy: Notre Dame’s annual search for running back recruits has led the coaching staff back to Florida. Soon after receiving an Irish offer earlier this month, Jones scheduled a visit to Notre Dame.

In a crowded backfield for one of the most talented teams in the country, Jones rushed for 771 yards and 12 touchdowns on limited carries as a junior. Jones claims offers from Miami, Kentucky, Ole Miss and South Carolina, among others.

“I have him listed as the No. 1 running back in Florida,” Lemming said. “He averages over 10 yards per carry.”

247Sports slates Jones as a four-star recruit and the No. 12 running back in the country. Rivals rates him as a three-star prospect and No. 29 at the position.

Watch highlights of Jones here.

WR Donnie Corley, 6-2, 178; Detroit Martin Luther King: The four-star wideout was a major Midwest prospect the last time he visited Notre Dame. Offers from LSU, Alabama and Ole Miss since then have expanded his recruiting profile.

Corley received his Notre Dame offer back in October while on campus for the North Carolina game. He went on to finish his junior season with 47 catches for 1,087 yards and 18 touchdowns.

 “He’s one of the better players, top four or five, in Michigan,” Lemming said. “He’s a real good athlete. He’s got the height, the long arms, great hands, and he can run.”

Rivals ranks Corley as the No. 12 wide receiver in the country. 247Sports slates him No. 13 at the position.

Watch highlights of Corley here.

WR Austin Mack, 6-2, 205; Fort Wayne (Ind.) Bishop Luers: The four-star receiver from Fort Wayne has been a frequent visitor in South Bend. But Mack hasn’t been back to Notre Dame since October and has spent quite a bit of time at Ohio State.

Many believe the Buckeyes are the favorite to land Mack. He recently told the Tribune that Ohio State isn’t necessarily in the lead, but the Buckeyes have recruited him the hardest. Michigan and Michigan State are also trying to get in on the tug-of-war for Mack. He visited the Wolverines last weekend.

“He’s the No. 1 player in Indiana,” Lemming said. “He’s a go-to type of receiver. He has great ability.”

Mack caught 69 passes for 1,062 yards and 15 touchdowns as a junior for Irish linebacker Jaylon Smith’s alma mater. 247Sports slates Mack as the No. 23 wide receiver in the 2016 class. Rivals ranks him 38th at the position.

Watch highlights of Mack here.

OL Michael Jordan, 6-7, 298; Canton (Mich.) Plymouth: The four-star offensive tackle is already physically bigger than the NBA legend of the same name. Jordan is carving his own legacy at the same high school as former Irish kicker Kyle Brindza.

“He’s the best offensive lineman in Michigan,” Lemming said. “He has good feet and a great frame. A lot of people think he’s the best offensive lineman in the state since Steve Elmer.”

The Irish will try to steal Jordan away from the host of Big Ten teams pursuing him, including Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State, Penn State and Nebraska. 247Sports slates Jordan as the No. 20 offensive tackle in the country. Rivals ranks him No. 21 at the position.

Watch highlights of Jordan here.

DE Khalid Kareem, 6-4, 240; Farmington Hills (Mich.) Harrison: The four-star prospect gave a verbal commitment to Michigan State in early February but backed off his pledge a couple weeks later. It opened the door for more offers including those from Alabama, Stanford and Missouri.

Kareem became a hot commodity in the Midwest after recording 18 sacks as a junior. Both Rivals and 247Sports peg Kareem as the No.  13 weakside defensive end in the 2016 class.

 “He’s one of the top five, maybe top three, players in Michigan,” Lemming said. “He’s an explosive ball player. He has good size and will need to fill out. He could play outside linebacker right now, but he’s a really good defensive end prospect.”

Watch highlights of Kareem here.

DE Auston Robertson, 6-5, 234; Fort Wayne (Ind.) Wayne: The four-star recruit has also been showing a strong interest in Ohio State. But with the Buckeyes already grabbing commitments from a pair of defensive ends in this recruiting cycle, Robinson may be swayed to look elsewhere.

The two other schools to host Robertson most frequently are Notre Dame and Michigan State. The Irish will get another chance to impress the former wide receiver.

“He’s also one of the top players in the state,” Lemming said. “He’s an athletic kid that moved to defensive end. A real good prospect.”

Rivals ranks Robertson as the No. 9 weakside defensive end in the country. 247Sports slates him 10th at the position.

Watch highlights of Robertson here.

LB Cameron Brown, 6-5, 200; Potomac (Md.) Bullis: What Haskins is to the Bullis offense, Brown is to the Bullis defense. The lanky linebacker tallied 94 tackles, 12 tackles for a loss, and four forced fumbles as a junior. Brown has netted more than 20 offers of his own, including North Carolina, Penn State and Virginia Tech.

“He has great height, long arms and I think he can be a real good one,” Lemming said. “He’s a legit four-star linebacker who can run and he’s going to fill out. He has a basketball build on him, and he’s explosive.”

Rivals rates Brown as a four-star recruit and the No. 23 outside linebacker in the 2016 class. 247Sports slates him as a three-star prospect and 25th at the position.

Watch highlights of Brown here.

DB Damar Hamlin, 6-1, 185; Pittsburgh (Pa.) Central Catholic: The four-star recruit brings versatility in the secondary. Hamlin plays cornerback in high school but could play safety in college because of his height. Rivals ranks Hamlin as the No. 9 safety in the country. 247Sports slates him No. 17 at cornerback.

Hamlin’s host of Big Ten offers, which include Penn State, Michigan State, and Ohio State, were joined by Miami, Clemson, Auburn and Stanford in March.

“One of the top three players in Western PA,” Lemming said. “He’s got real good height. He has the length that you look for in a corner. He has real good cover skills. He has loose hips he can turn so he’s quick in transition. He’s one of the better guys in the country at that position.”

Watch highlights of Hamlin here.


In addition to the 10 offered 2016 targets, the following recruits are also expected to visit Notre Dame on Saturday.

2016 ND commit: OL Tommy Kraemer

2016 prospects: LB Noah Burks, DT Naquan Jones, CB Julian Love, S Kenny Lyke, QB Tylin Oden, QB Brandon Peters, RB Martell Pettaway, LS John Shannon

2017 target: DE A.J. Epenesa

2017 prospects: DE Corey Malone-Hatcher, TE Brock Wright | 574-235-6214 | Twitter: @TJamesNDI

Senior running back recruit Elijah Holyfield recently committed to Georgia. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)