Irish Invasion drawing nation's elite football recruits to Notre Dame

Tyler James
South Bend Tribune

Brian Kelly took a calculated risk.

Instead of taking his coaching staff on the road for a trendy satellite camp circuit, the Notre Dame head coach decided to build his summer recruiting season around one major event on campus.

That major event, Irish Invasion, will take place under the lights of Notre Dame Stadium on Friday night. The two-hour camp, slated to start at 8 p.m. EDT, headlines a weekend built around getting elite prospects to visit Notre Dame.

At least 80 recruits have confirmed plans to be on campus Friday to compete in the camp or soak in the atmosphere. It’s the culmination of months of work by the coaching staff and the recruiting office to invite prospects and convince them to make the trip.

“Getting it on these kids’ radars early is key,” said 247Sports director of recruiting Steve Wiltfong. “Making Irish Invasion a priority when you’re going out and recruiting kids helps them get it scheduled and planned for their summer. It was a really great effort because there are players from all over the country coming.”

The visitors list includes Irish commits, top recruiting targets in the 2016 and 2017 classes and prospects heading into their sophomore, junior and senior seasons. They will come from different parts of the country — California, Florida, Texas, Massachusetts, etc. — and even Canada.

Notre Dame’s coaching staff had to coax recruits to schedule a trip in which the recruit has to pay for travel as an unofficial visit and a camp fee of $55. The camp allows recruits, who will wear helmets but not shoer pads, to impress the staff and receive hands-on coaching.

Recruits started to arrive on campus as early as Thursday night to meet with coaches and explore Notre Dame’s campus. Friday morning will include much of the same as the day builds to the night's main event.

Last year, Notre Dame hosted its first Irish Invasion camp open to the media and roughly 60 recruits attended the event. Inviting recruits to participate in a camp isn’t a new concept, but turning it into a spectacle is the new trend.

“As recruiting continues to change and develop, having marquee events on your campus that get a lot of buzz are big now,” Wiltfong said. “Irish Invasion has quickly become one of the more notable events in the country in just its second year being a public deal. Last year they had a strong list. This year, it’s even better. Notre Dame not only has a chance to make a run at some of their key 2016 guys, but they’re going to have an opportunity to really make an impact on some 2017 guys and get ahead."

The group of 14 targets with Notre Dame offers in the 2016 class is heavy on wide receivers and defensive backs. Four have received four-star ratings from 247Sports and Rivals: wide receivers Marquez Callaway, Javon McKinley and Donnie Corley and cornerback Joejuan Williams. The other 10 are slated as three-star recruits.

The 2017 class is headlined by stars. All seven of the recruits holding Irish offers are rated as four-star recruits by 247Sports. Quarterback Hunter Johnson and tight end Brock Wright are ranked as the top players at their position by 247Sports.

“It’s a good group,” said CBS Sports Network recruiting analyst Tom Lemming. “I like the idea of the Invasion. Not only do you get all these kids on campus now, but the key to having great years is having the kid visit several times so they can get comfortable with the staff, the players and the academic support system. That’s the key to recruiting.” 

Notre Dame could use some recruiting momentum in the form of a commitment coming out of this weekend. The last Irish pledge came from offensive lineman Liam Eichenberg on April 19. Eichenberg and fellow commits Tommy Kraemer, Dillan Gibbons and John Shannon will also be on campus to help recruit.

Last year’s Irish Invasion included three eventual commitments: running back Josh Adams, linebacker Te’von Coney and Eichenberg. But Lemming insisted that an immediate commitment wouldn’t spell bad news for the Irish. As long as the camp helps produce quality commitments down the line, it’s working in Notre Dame’s favor.

“No urgency,” Lemming said. “It all comes down to if there’s some great players that want to commit. You don’t want to take B-list guys early. Sometimes the fans get mad, but you should never follow social media if you’re a college coach.”

This weekend, however, should produce positive buzz on social media. Recruits have been tweeting about the Irish Invasion throughout the week. As their visits end, more good news could be on the way.

VISITORS LIST (updated Friday)

The following recruits are expected to be on campus for Friday’s Irish Invasion.

2016 commits

LS John Shannon

OL Liam Eichenberg

OL Tommy Kraemer

2017 commits

OL Dillan Gibbons

2016 targets

WR Marquez Callaway

WR Javon McKinley

WR Donnie Corley

WR Chase Claypool

WR Kevin Stepherson

CB Joejuan Williams

CB Eric Cuffee

CB Carlos Becker

DB Jalen Elliott

S Ikenna Okeke

S Spencer Perry

S Chacho Ulloa

S Devin Studstill

DE Tomon Fox

2017 targets

QB Hunter Johnson

TE Brock Wright

DE Robert Beal

DE Vandarius Cowan

DE Corey Malone-Hatcher

DB Tyrell Ajian

OL Jedrick Wills

2016 prospects

WR Rontavius Groves

LB Chase Pine

LB David Reese

TE Noah Turner

RB Malik Staples

RB Toks Akinribade

WR Emmanuel Rugamba

LB Amen Ogbongbemiga

DB Mason Alstatt

LB Alexander Gagnon

RB Gabriel Brooks

WR Brandon Wadley

S Christopher Schilling

CB Jordan Jones

2017 prospects

QB Sean Clifford

QB Jake Allen

OL Matt Bockhorst

RB A.J. Dillon

QB Chris Katrenick

QB Tyler Lytle

WR Russ Yeast

TE Cole Kmet

QB Lindell Stone

TE Matt Dotson

WR Jaevon McQuity

DB Demarquez Trotter

WR Joshua Palmer

QB Dante Sparaco

TE Keegan Cossou

RB Chase Hayden

WR Scott Nelson

CB Ambry Thomas

QB Walker Wood

DE James Hudson III

RB Mike Warren

DB Mitch West

RB Charles Jones Jr.

QB Robbie Blosser

RB Elijah Barnwell

TE Trevor Kent

WR Jalen Datil

OL Trevor Campbell

OL Josh Lugg

DE Josh Maize

LB Ben Mason

DB Brandon Sebastian

QB Noah Vedral

DB Nick Okeke

WR Oliver Martin

DB Cameron Weems

QB Ben Brooks

2018 prospects

ATH Houston Griffith

RB Bryce Ray

RB Steven Livers | 574-235-6214 | Twitter: @TJamesNDI

Four-star wide receiver Donnie Corley will be one of the top recruits attending Notre Dame’s Irish Invasion camp Friday night. (Photo courtesy of Student Sports)