Recruiting Reset: Notre Dame has sights on linebacker talent

Tyler James
South Bend Tribune

With a loaded linebacker depth chart, Notre Dame has the luxury of being choosy with its targets in the 2016 recruiting cycle.

The Irish have done so by pursuing a number of high-profile linebackers with recruitments that could last until signing day. Many of those linebackers are eyeing visits to South Bend.

The Irish already landed a commitment from Jamir Jones, the younger brother of Irish defensive tackle Jarron Jones, but his future at Notre Dame will likely lead him to defensive end. If the Irish swing and miss with the rest of their linebacker targets, they will at least have Jones to fill a position.

Commitment

• Jamir Jones, 6-3, 220; Rochester (N.Y.) Aquinas Institute: A career spent bouncing between different positions has Jones’ future a bit blurry, but the Irish had seen enough to extend a scholarship offer in June. The three-star prospect committed that same day rather than taking up Boston College, Pittsburgh, Rutgers or Syracuse on their offers.

Jones has already played quarterback, wide receiver, linebacker and defensive end in high school. He should be able to better prepare for a career on defense as a senior with his team returning its previously-injured quarterback this season.

Rivals ranks Jones as the No. 41 outside linebacker in the 2016 class. 247Sports slates him No. 75 at the position.

Top targets

• Caleb Kelly, 6-3, 219; Fresno (Calif.) Clovis West: Visit plans have yet to turn into an actual Notre Dame visit for the elite linebacker. Kelly claimed plans to visit South Bend in June and then later in July after missing the first visit. Neither happened but he is expected to make an official visit to see the Irish. 

Fresno hasn’t treated Notre Dame well in recent years. Cornerback Tee Shepard and wide receivers Deontay Greenberry and Michiah Quick all ended up in different programs after long recruitments with the Irish. Notre Dame hopes it can change that luck while battling USC, Oklahoma, Oregon, Michigan, Stanford and Ohio State for Kelly.

Rivals rates Kelly as a five-star prospect and the No. 5 outside linebacker in the 2016 class. 247Sports slates him as a four-star recruit and second at his position.

• Jeffery McCulloch, 6-1, 229; Houston (Texas) Aldine Davis: Plans to visit Notre Dame in late July fell by the wayside when McCulloch’s travel arrangements fell apart. The four-star linebacker still has the October game against USC circled on his schedule.

Notre Dame entered the chase for McCulloch only recently in June, but the Irish have made a strong enough impression on him. He stood out at The Opening in July as a playmaker on the inside. Notre Dame will try to pull him north while Alabama, LSU, Texas, Texas A&M, USC and UCLA will tug him in different directions.

247Sports slates McCulloch as the No. 9 outside linebacker in the 2016 class. Rivals ranks him as the No. 10 inside linebacker.

• Jonathan Jones, 6-1, 209; Orlando (Fla.) Oak Ridge: Jones scheduled an official visit to Notre Dame and then included the Irish in his top five. Michigan, Duke, Stanford and Central Florida rounded out the list. Jones said this summer that the academics

at Notre Dame are an important piece of the puzzle.

Jones, who could play multiple linebacker positions, plans to be at Notre Dame for its home game against UMass on Sept. 26. 247Sports slates him as a four-star recruit and the No. 20 outside linebacker in the 2016 class. Rivals rates him as a three-star prospect and the No. 16 inside linebacker.

• Dontavious Jackson, 6-2, 248; Houston (Texas) Alief Elsik: Notre Dame landed a spot on Jackson’s long list of favorites in July. The four-star recruit included the Irish in a top 12 alongside Alabama, LSU, UCLA, Michigan, Miami, Texas, TCU, Florida State, Fresno State, Oklahoma and Ole Miss. Now Notre Dame will try to land a visit from Jackson.

A heavy hitter in the middle, Jackson recorded 162 tackles in his junior season. 247Sports slates him as the No. 5 inside linebacker in the 2016 class. Rivals ranks him No. 12 at the position.

• Aaron Hansford, 6-2, 210; Washington (D.C.) St. John’s: A visit to Notre Dame has been discussed by Hansford since receiving an offer in June. The Irish will need to get the four-star prospect on campus to be legitimate contenders with Penn State, Ohio

State and others.

The athletic linebacker covers a lot of ground in coverage and has played wide receiver in high school. Rivals ranks Hansford as the No. 19 outside linebacker in the 2016 class. 247Sports slates him No. 22 at the position.

Trojan targets

• Daelin Hayes, 6-3, 254; Ann Arbor (Mich.) Skyline: Hayes seemed destined for Notre Dame after praise for the Irish following an offer last summer. A little more than a month later, he gave his pledge to the rival Trojans. Then a resident of Michigan, Hayes has since moved to California and back to Michigan in an apparent parental tug-of-war.

Hayes will play his senior season in Michigan and has given hints that he may visit Notre Dame again in the future despite his commitment to USC. He reportedly made visits to Michigan and Michigan State in April. Rivals rates Hayes as a five-star recruit and the No. 2

outside linebacker in the 2016 class. 247Sports slates him as a four-star prospect and No. 8 at the position.

• Mique Juarez, 6-2, 226; Torrance (Calif.) North: Add Juarez to the list of USC commits interested in visiting other programs. The Irish would welcome a trip to South Bend from the elite linebacker. Juarez reportedly has interest in Nebraska, Michigan and UCLA as well. Rivals rates Juarez as a five-star prospect and the top outside linebacker in the 2016 class. 247Sports slates him as a four-star recruit and No. 4 at his position.

Missed targets

• Curtis Robinson, 6-3, 215; Santa Ana (Calif.) Mater Dei: A March visit to Notre Dame was trumped by an April trip to Stanford. Days later the four-star recruit from the alma mater of Irish linebacker Joe Schmidt gave his pledge to the Cardinal. 

247Sports slates Robinson as the No. 6 outside linebacker in the 2016 class. Rivals ranks him No. 7 at the position.

• Lokeni Toailoa, 6-2, 240; Rialto (Calif.) Wilmer Carter: Twitter praise for the Irish turned into little of consequence from Toailoa. The four-star prospect chose to

stay out west with a commitment to UCLA in March.

Rivals ranks him as the No. 2 inside linebacker in the 2016 class. 247Sports slates him No. 6 at the position.

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

Notre Dame linebacker signee Jonathan Jones will have to prove himself on the collegiate level this fall. (Photo courtesy of Student Sports)

Part six in a seven-part series breaking down where Notre Dame stands at each position group in the 2016 recruiting class.

Part one: Quarterbacks

Part two: Running backs

Part three: Wide receivers

Part four: Offensive line

Part five: Defensive line