Sizing up Notre Dame's recruiting efforts in the secondary

Tyler James
South Bend Tribune

Notre Dame’s coaching staff identified the secondary as a huge position of need in the 2016 recruiting class. As a result, the Irish have landed four commitments from defensive backs to date — the latest coming Sunday from safety D.J. Morgan.

But there are plenty of secondary targets still left for the Irish to pursue. Adding three or four more defensive backs to the class could be a possibility.

“They’re going to take a big class,” said 247Sports director of recruiting Steve Wiltfong. “They’re going to take as many difference makers in the secondary as possible. The outside perception is that defensive line was the biggest need, but I think inside The Gug it’s the secondary.”

The Gug, as it’s known by those around the football program, is short for the Guglielmino Athletics Complex, which houses the Irish football facilities. The four secondary recruits who have committed to walk its halls next season will bring a combination of size, athleticism and coverage skills to Notre Dame.

Morgan and safety Spencer Perry, both 6-foot-3, bring length and a physical style of play that can be utilized near the line of scrimmage at times. Cornerback Julian Love has shown playmaking skills on both sides of the ball. Defensive back Jalen Elliott, who could play safety, cornerback or nickelback, may be the most versatile of the group. All four are three-star prospects according to 247Sports.

“Jalen Elliott is their best commit in the secondary,” Wiltfong said. “He’s a fantastic player — a guy that can play safety or corner. He can cover. He has all the intangibles. He came to Irish Invasion and backed up everything that everybody thought about him. He’s a smart kid, a competitor and a gritty player.”

With the recruiting calendar shifting a month closer to signing day, here’s a look at where Notre Dame stands with some of the remaining top targets in the secondary.

• CB Donte Vaughn, 6-3, 195; Memphis (Tenn.) Whitehaven: Notre Dame finds itself in a two-team race with Tennessee for the tall cornerback. Vaughn, who visited South Bend three times since the start of June, will visit Tennessee on Oct. 10 before announcing his decision two days later.

The Irish have been looking for a cornerback with size to help complete the secondary class. Rivals ranks Vaughn as a four-star recruit and the No. 18 safety. 247Sports slates him as a three-star prospect and the No. 31 cornerback.

• S Devin Studstill, 6-1, 183; Palm Beach Gardens (Fla.) High: A former teammate of Irish freshman linebacker Te’von Coney, Studstill visited Notre Dame this summer and is expected to return for the USC game later this month. No secondary target remaining, Wiltfong said, is bigger than this three-star recruit.

“Safety is the biggest need that they have in this class,” he said. “While they have addressed it, Devin Studstill is a dynamic player on the back end of a defense. He’s a guy that could be a game-changer for Notre Dame in their secondary.”

Miami and West Virginia are considered to be Notre Dame’s top competition for Studstill. 247Sports slates him as the No. 33 safety in the 2016 class. Rivals ranks him as the No. 43 athlete.

• DB Damar Hamlin, 6-1, 180; Pittsburgh (Pa.) Central Catholic: The four-star recruit could serve as a shutdown cornerback or a blanketing safety. Hamlin last visited Notre Dame in July and is also expected to return for the USC game.

The Irish are facing stiff competition for Hamlin including Ohio State, Penn State and Pittsburgh. Rivals ranks Hamlin as the No. 8 safety. 247Sports slates him as the No. 18 cornerback.

• DB Jordan Fuller, 6-2, 205; Old Tappan (N.J.) Northern Valley Regional: Notre Dame was one of the last schools to host the four-star recruit this summer when he visited in July. Earning one of Fuller’s five official visits will likely be necessary to land him.

Fuller, whose older brother plays at UCLA, has avoided naming favorites but has visited a long list of schools including TCU, Penn State, Stanford, Michigan and Ohio State. 247Sports slates Fuller, who has played quarterback in high school, as the No. 6 athlete. Rivals ranks him as the No. 17 athlete.

• CB Eric Cuffee, 5-11, 190; Waco (Texas) High: Notre Dame received Cuffee’s first official visit for the season opener, but the programs in Texas will likely prove to be tough to beat in his recruitment. Baylor, TCU, Texas A&M and Texas are all contenders for the three-star prospect.

Rivals ranks him as the No. 36 cornerback. 247Sports slates him No. 57 at the position.

• S Brandon Burton, 6-1, 190; Gardena (Calif.) Junipero Serra: Burton isn’t ready to pick a position — he also plays wide receiver — or a school, but he has scheduled his five official visits. He starts his traveling this weekend at Oklahoma. He plans to visit Notre Dame for the USC game as well as Florida State, Alabama and Ohio State in the next two months.

If Burton chooses to stay out west, UCLA and Arizona appear to be the front runners. Rivals rates Burton as a four-star recruit and the No. 3 athlete. 247Sports slates him as a three-star prospect and the No. 25 safety.

• S Ikenna Okeke, 6-2, 200; Smyrna (Tenn.) High: Notre Dame nearly landed Okeke during the Irish Invasion, but a few teams have surged into contention for the three-star recruit. Okeke has visit plans for Missouri and Penn State in addition to a return trip to Notre Dame for the USC game. Tennessee and Stanford are also in the mix.

Rivals ranks Okeke as the No. 32 safety in the class. 247Sports slates him 38th.

Notre Dame commit Jalen Elliott, standing on the sidelines during Irish Invasion, could be key in the future Irish secondary. (SBT Photo/BECKY MALEWITZ)