Notre Dame staying in hunt for LB target Caleb Kelly

Tyler James
South Bend Tribune

Caleb Kelly has changed his top list of schools before, but this time, he insists, he’s closer to making a decision.

The elite linebacker prospect released a top seven of Notre Dame, USC, Oklahoma, Oregon, Michigan, Stanford and Ohio State last week at The Opening Finals in Beaverton, Ore. Each school, he said, has a legitimate shot at landing him.

“It’s been good to get that out there. With the top 10, because I posted two of them, people didn’t take it seriously,” Kelly said. “Now with the top seven it’s better. We’ll just figure it out there and narrow it down even more.”

Notre Dame was the first school Kelly listed, though he noted that didn’t indicate the Irish were his top school. However, Notre Dame has found a way to stay on Kelly’s mind. Even before he received an offer from the Irish, he was thinking about Notre Dame.

“My grandpa actually sent me something about Notre Dame’s academics and then I got offered like the week after,” Kelly said.

Then when Kelly arrived in Oregon last week, Irish offensive line commit Tommy Kraemer was one of the first people he saw at the airport. Kraemer proceeded to pitch Notre Dame to the 6-foot-3, 219-pound recruit.

Kelly’s interest in Notre Dame actually stemmed from unorthodox sources: former Notre Dame recruits who ended up elsewhere. The Irish have had a steady recruiting presence in Kelly’s hometown, Fresno, Calif., in the last several years with little to show for it.

Wide receiver Michiah Quick, who signed with Oklahoma in 2014, and cornerback Tee Shepard, a former Notre Dame commit who left months after enrolling in January 2012, have both encouraged Kelly to take a look at Notre Dame.

“It would be smart to go out there and check it out,” Kelly said. “The academics are high. It’s an all-around pretty good school. My coach, Coach (Tony) Perry, he really wants me to go out there and check it out.”

Kelly wanted to visit Notre Dame for its Irish Invasion camp in June but had to cancel the trip when plans fell through. He’s currently working on setting up a visit for late July. If he doesn’t get to campus before the season starts, he will try to visit for a game in the fall.

After landing a trio of four-star linebackers in the 2015 class, Notre Dame can be choosy at the position in the current recruiting cycle. The Irish have pursued a number of the top linebackers in the country including Kelly. Rivals rates Kelly as a five-star recruit and the No. 5 outside linebacker in the 2016 class. 247Sports slates him as a four-star recruit and No. 3 at the position.

Competing in the seven-on-seven tournament at The Opening Finals can be a challenge to most linebackers, but Kelly looked natural in coverage. His week was highlighted by an interception returned for a touchdown. As the week wore on, quarterbacks targeted his area less.

Kelly said he could play a number of linebacker positions for Notre Dame.

 “I have good size, so being able to move and cover how I do with my size, they see that as being very versatile,” Kelly said.

The expectations for his Notre Dame visit are high and he’s ready to learn more about the Irish.

“Maybe a little about the tradition, a little bit more about the academics,” Kelly said, “and hopefully I can see if I really like it.”

Below are Kelly's junior highlights via Hudl.

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

Five-star linebacker Caleb Kelly plans to visit Notre Dame later this month. (Photo courtesy of Student Sports)