Where can Notre Dame look for a 2016 quarterback recruit?

Tyler James
South Bend Tribune

BEAVERTON, Ore. — If Notre Dame is going to sign a quarterback in the 2016 recruiting class, odds are that he’s spending the week at Nike World Headquarters.

That’s not to say that the Irish are on the brink of landing a commitment from one of the 18 high school quarterbacks taking part in this week’s Elite 11 Finals. It’s simply a reflection of recent history. In every recruiting class since Everett Golson enrolled at Notre Dame in 2011, head coach Brian Kelly has landed a signal caller who was a finalist in the national quarterback competition headed by former Super Bowl champion Trent Dilfer.

Golson, Gunner Kiel, Malik Zaire, DeShone Kizer and Brandon Wimbush all spent time learning under Dilfer and his team of coaches. But predicting which, if any, of the 18 quarterbacks testing their talents this week will end up at Notre Dame is simply speculation. The Irish struck out with the 2016 class in the annual early commitment cycle. Sixteen of the Elite 11 finalists already have given verbal pledges to different schools, many of which were on Notre Dame’s radar at various points.

With the Irish making a strong push for five-star quarterback Hunter Johnson, a Brownsburg (Ind.) High product, in the 2017 class, Notre Dame could simply choose to forgo on signing a quarterback in the 2016 class. The hole in the depth chart could be appealing to a top recruit like Johnson. Yet Kelly has never missed out on adding a quarterback in any recruiting cycle since coming to Notre Dame.

Notre Dame was in a similar situation last summer after losing a commitment from Blake Barnett, who eventually enrolled at Alabama earlier this year. Publicly, the Irish were making a strong push for 2016 quarterbacks like Malik Henry and Jawon Pass with the possibility of skipping the position in the 2015 class. Then a mutual interest between the Irish and then-Penn State commit Brandon Wimbush led to Notre Dame landing one of the gems of its recruiting class in October.

When Mike Sanford joined Notre Dame’s coaching staff as offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach earlier this year, he shifted his focus toward Dwayne Haskins, who visited South Bend in March. But the four-star recruit gave his verbal commitment to Maryland, his home-state school, in May. Since then, most of Notre Dame’s action has come behind the scenes with little action in terms of new offers or visits. Sanford visited the schools of a number of top quarterbacks during the spring evaluation period.

One of those schools was Arlington (Texas) Lamar, the home of Longhorn quarterback commit Shane Buechele. The 6-foot-1, 183-pound recruit has been in touch with Sanford multiple times.

“It’s slowed down a lot,” Buechele said after mentioning Notre Dame as the one school who is still recruiting him other than Texas. “I kind of let him know that I’m pretty strong with Texas, and I think he knows that now. The conversations have been slow, but we still keep in touch. He’s a great coach and a great guy.”

Buechele, a four-star prospect, hasn’t claimed a Notre Dame offer yet. Because he’s committed elsewhere, Notre Dame would likely wait to formalize an offer if he decided to make a visit. Buechele said his conversations with Sanford included an invite to visit campus. Buechele — whose father, Steve, is the bench coach for the Texas Rangers — remains a solid Texas commit. On Tuesday morning, the Elite 11 staff ranked him No. 1 after two days of competition.

“I know what school is best for me and that’s the Longhorns,” he said.

Recruiting someone’s committed quarterback is a tricky proposition. Because few major programs sign more than one quarterback per class, each commitment from a national recruit can cause a domino effect. Hosting committed quarterbacks can force other schools to scramble. When Barnett visited Oregon last year as an Irish commit, it opened the door to an eventual pledge to the Crimson Tide.

Coaching staffs have to figure out which buttons to push in order to convince a recruit to visit while not coming across as too aggressive. The recruiting process can put prospects in uncomfortable situations when other schools come calling.

“It kind of depends on what they’re saying,” Buechele said. “Some coaches have that relationship with you and they just want to know how you’re doing and some coaches want to recruit you and want you at their school. That’s a little awkward because I’m pretty hard at Texas. But a lot of the coaches are just good guys and want to know how you’re doing and how you’ve been.”

Nick Starkel, a three-star Oklahoma State pledge, sounded more open to the conversations he’s had with Sanford. The 6-4, 186-pound product of Argyle (Texas) Liberty Christian said he’s spoken to Sanford on the phone and via social media.

“It’s been good. It’s been positive,” Starkel said. “No offers out there yet. I don’t know if it’s anything serious right now.”

Starkel was conveniently paired with Irish quarterback Malik Zaire as his mentor to start the week.

“He told me that Notre Dame is really nice,” Starkel said. “He’s been awesome. Coach Sanford had told me how awesome Malik was and then when we found out he’s our counselor, it’s been really cool.”

Starkel, who also received a scholarship offer to play for Sanford’s father at Indiana State, doesn’t want to burn any bridges and eliminate any backup plans but remains firmly committed to Oklahoma State. He mentioned Notre Dame and Florida as schools still gauging his interest. If the Irish were to offer, he may have to consider his options.

“Any school that I’ve been talking to hasn’t really been that serious but if they offer me I’d look at it,” Starkel said. “I’d have to value that and talk to my family. Right now I don’t see my flipping to anywhere.”

Oklahoma State quarterback commit Nick Starkel (left) has been in touch with Notre Dame. (Photo courtesy of Nike)

Shane Buechele – Texas commit – Arlington (Texas) Lamar

K.J. Costello – Stanford – Rancho Santa Margarita (Calif.) Catholic

Messiah DeWeaver – Michigan State – Huber Heights (Ohio) Wayne

Jett Duffey – Texas Tech – Mansfield (Texas) Lake Ridge

Jacob Eason – Georgia – Lake Stevens (Wash.) High

Feleipe Franks – LSU – Crawfordville (Fla.) Wakulla

Jarrett Guarantano – Tennessee – Oradell (N.J.) Bergen Catholic

Dwayne Haskins – Maryland – Potomac (Md.) Bullis

Malik Henry – Florida State – Transferring from Bradenton (Fla.) IMG Academy

Brandon McIlwain – South Carolina – Newtown (Pa.) Council Rock North

Patrick O’Brien – Nebraska – San Juan Capistrano (Calif.) San Juan Hills

Jawon Pass – undecided – Columbus (Ga.) Carver

Shea Patterson – Ole Miss – Shreveport (La.) Calvary Baptist

Brandon Peters – Michigan – Avon (Ind.) High

Anthony Russo – Rutgers – Warminster (Pa.) Archbishop Wood

Nick Starkel – Oklahoma State – Argyle (Texas) Liberty Christian

Dillon Sterling-Cole – undecided – Houston (Texas) Wesfield

Jake Zembiec – Penn State – Rochester (N.Y.) Aquinas Institute