Notre Dame hosting pivotal recruiting weekend for 2016 class

Tyler James
South Bend Tribune

Brian Kelly wants to say no, but he knows he can’t.

When it comes to hosting recruits, Notre Dame’s head coach would prefer to keep the quantity of visitors at a reasonable number in the teens. But when the Irish host USC for a primetime kickoff, that limit gets thrown out the window. Notre Dame is expecting nearly 50 recruits in the 2016, 2017 and 2018 classes to attend Saturday’s game.

“Every year we sit down and go, we're only going to take 13 (visitors), we're only going to take 12,” Kelly said, “and then we'll go back into another staff meeting, and then John Smith who runs the 4.2, and benches 700 pounds is available to come up, and we say, ‘OK, let's bring him up.’ I think ideally 12 to 15 is max, and we always seem to go over that.”

The Irish won’t host any Smiths this weekend, but they will host plenty of stars. The official visitors alone — 10 top targets and five Notre Dame commits in the senior class — will reach the proposed limit for an easy recruiting weekend.

The unofficial visitors — those that have to pay for their own travel to the game — will include commitments in the 2016 and 2017 classes, potential offer candidates and recruits who may consider joining the Irish as walk-on players. The process requires detailed organization within Notre Dame’s coaching staff and recruiting office led by director of player personnel Dave Peloquin, coordinator of recruiting operations Aaryn Kearney and recruiting assistant Jasmine Johnson.

“It requires an attention to every single player,” Kelly said. “Now you've got to understand, that's not just the recruited players. We're going to have scholarship players that are up here that we can't treat as though we forgot their name. You have to treat them special as well. Then there is going to be some young men up here that haven't gotten a scholarship yet, that you want to make sure they get face time as well.”

While the attention will be spread to each recruit, the 10 top targets on official visits hold the key to moving Notre Dame’s 2016 recruiting class into the conversation as one of the top 10 in the country. Here’s a closer look at each of those key visitors.

LB Daelin Hayes, 6-3, 239; Ann Arbor (Mich.) Skyline: Notre Dame has been working to break Hayes’ commitment to USC for months. The firing of Trojan head coach Steve Sarkisian did the trick. Now Hayes will visit South Bend for the second time this season — this time as an uncommitted recruit. The timing could lead to a quick pledge to Notre Dame, but the elite linebacker recruit has already scheduled four more official visits to Ohio State, Michigan State, Oklahoma and LSU following this weekend.

“He’s a four-plus linebacker,” said CBS Sports Network recruiting analyst Tom Lemming. “He’s a very good athlete as a linebacker. He’s big. He can hit. He can run. I don’t know if he’s in the Jaylon Smith category coming out of high school, but he’s a very good solid player.”

Notre Dame has been recruiting Hayes as a hybrid outside linebacker/defensive end for potential pass-rush production. Rivals rates Hayes as a five-star recruit, the No. 3 outside linebacker and No. 13 overall. 247Sports slates him as a four-star prospect and the No. 8 outside linebacker.

DE Khalid Kareem, 6-4, 257; Farmington Hills (Mich.) Harrison: The four-star defensive end also backed out of a commitment this week before finalizing visit plans to Notre Dame. Kareem, who had been committed to Alabama, has decided to look elsewhere and the Irish could be the beneficiaries.

Notre Dame has been looking for at least one more defensive end for its 2016 class.

“He can be a pass rusher,” Lemming said. “He’s long-armed, quick-footed and very athletic. He’s a very strong kid.”

Commitments from Hayes and Kareem would dramatically increase the talent on defense in Notre Dame’s recruiting class and mark significant progress for defensive line coach Keith Gilmore, who has helped give the Irish a renewed recruiting effort in Michigan.

“It would be great for Notre Dame to make an impact in Michigan,” Lemming said. “They really have to now because of Urban Meyer in Ohio and Jim Harbaugh in Michigan. They have to start making their own statements.”

247Sports pegs Kareem as the No. 8 strongside defensive end in the 2016 class. Rivals ranks him 19th at the position.

LB Jeffrey McCulloch, 6-2, 230; Houston (Texas) Aldine Davis: The four-star recruit known as “The Shark” has been targeting a trip to South Bend since July. He was unable to line up an unofficial visit in the summer, which led to Notre Dame landing his first official visit. McCulloch also has official visits planned for Florida (Nov. 7), Stanford (Nov. 21) and Michigan (Nov. 28).

“He’s one of the best players in Houston,” Lemming said. “He can run. He can make hits. I think he’s as good or better than Daelin Hayes. He’s a really good ball player. He’s one of those guys that makes a lot plays.”

Rivals ranks McCulloch as the No. 5 inside linebacker in the 2016 class. 247Sports slates him ninth at the position.

McCulloch previews his visit here ($): http://goo.gl/p8IVih

WR Javon McKinley, 6-2, 204; Corona (Calif.) Centennial: Can Notre Dame start to close the book on McKinley’s third visit to campus this year? Arguably the top receiver target remaining for the Irish, McKinley has shown an interest in leaving his home state. He has already made official visits to Washington and Tennessee and has plans for trips to UCLA and Oregon. McKinley isn’t expected to make a commitment decision until the U.S. Army All-American Bowl in January.

“He’s a premier, five-star receiver,” Lemming said. “He’s one of the best wide receivers in the country. He’s had great production. He has great size, really good speed and catches everything within his frame. He could be the impact wide receiver Notre Dame’s been looking for.”

247Sports slates McKinley as the No. 15 wide receiver in the 2016 class. Rivals ranks him 15th at the position. Both rate him as a four-star recruit.

DB Damar Hamlin, 6-1, 180; Pittsburgh (Pa.) Central Catholic: The four-star prospect last visited Notre Dame in July. The Irish could use a strong visit to prevent Pittsburgh, Ohio State and Penn State from pulling away in his recruitment.

“He’s the best player in Western Pennsylvania,” Lemming said. “He’s a four-plus guy. He has the length and quick hands to play corner or safety. He reminds me of Darrin Walls. He would definitely contribute as a freshman at Notre Dame.”

The Irish have limited spots remaining in the secondary, but Hamlin may be as talented as any of the top remaining defensive back targets. Rivals ranks Hamlin as the No. 8 safety in the 2016 class. 247Sports pegs him as the No. 18 cornerback.

ATH Brandon Burton, 6-1, 190; Gardena (Calif.) Serra: The two-way athlete will get his first look at Notre Dame this weekend. Burton has been hesitant to declare whether he’d prefer to play wide receiver or safety and his recruitment remains just as unclear. The Irish will learn if his interest is more than just another trip on his itinerary. Burton has made official visits to Oklahoma and Florida State and has visits scheduled for Alabama and Ohio State.

“He’s outstanding on both sides of the ball,” Lemming said. “He’s a very good athlete at one of the premier schools in California and a national recruit. He can run. He has good size. I think he’s better off playing safety, but he’ll play wherever they feel the bigger need is. He’s a definite four-star player.”

Rivals rates Burton as a four-star recruit and the No. 3 athlete in the 2016 class. 247Sports slates him as a three-star prospect and the No. 25 safety.

S Devin Studstill, 6-1, 180; Palm Beach Gardens (Fla.) High: A strong impression at the Irish Invasion earned Studstill’s first official visit for Notre Dame.The former teammate of freshman linebacker Te’von Coney will return to South Bend, but he also has his eyes on visits to Miami, West Virginia and North Carolina. The Irish are likely to add one or two more safeties to the 2016 class and Studstill remains a top candidate.

“He’s a very good athlete. I was really impressed with him. He’s a legitimate four-star guy. He could contribute as a freshman at Notre Dame.”

247Sports pegs Studstill as the No. 33 safety in the 2016 class. Rivals ranks him as the No. 43 athlete. Both rate him as a three-star prospect.

Studstill previews his visit here ($): http://goo.gl/UypyIh

S Ikenna Okeke, 6-2, 200; Smyrna (Tenn.) High: Okeke seemed destined to be a Notre Dame commit following the Irish Invasion, but the three-star recruit started to look elsewhere. His Saturdays have been filled with game visits to Vanderbilt, Tennessee, Alabama and Auburn already this season. Penn State, Ole Miss and Texas A&M could also receive future visits.

 “He’s a good, solid athlete,” Lemming said. “Notre Dame’s coming back after him again. He’s a pretty good prospect.”

The Irish could push for a commitment from Okeke soon as the safety spots are dwindling. Rivals ranks Okeke as the No. 32 safety in the 2016 class. 247Sports pegs him No. 38 at the position.

Okeke previews his visit here ($): http://goo.gl/D48YBc

CB Troy Pride Jr., 6-0, 175; Greer (S.C.) High: When Notre Dame came to Clemson, the Irish sent two assistant coaches to watch Pride play on a Friday night. Now Pride, a Virginia Tech commit, will return the favor with an official visit to South Bend

“Notre Dame really likes him,” Lemming said. “He’s having a good senior year. He’s coming on strong to close in on being a four-star player. He was a suspect for Notre Dame a year ago, but now he’s a definite prospect.”

247Sports slates Pride as a four-star prospect and the No. 23 cornerback in the 2016 class. Rivals rates him as three-star recruit.

Pride previews his visit here ($): http://goo.gl/fLcECI

RB Deon McIntosh, 5-11, 170; Fort Lauderdale (Fla.) Cardinal Gibbons: The Irish already have one running back in the 2016 class, but the 2015 season has shown the need for multiple options in the backfield. McIntosh, a three-star recruit, could emerge as a complement to fellow Florida native Tony Jones Jr.

“He’s a solid running back,” Lemming said. “He’s played against some great teams in South Florida. He does well against good competition. He’s not a knockout guy, but he’s been solid.”

Rivals ranks McIntosh as the No. 14 all-purpose back in the 2016 class. 247Sports pegs him as the No. 81 running back.

VISITORS LIST

The following recruits are also expected to attend Saturday’s game.

2016 commits

QB Ian Book*

DB Jalen Elliott*

RB Tony Jones Jr.*

OL Tommy Kraemer

CB Julian Love

DE Adetokunbo Ogundeji

S Spencer Perry*

LS John Shannon

WR Kevin Stepherson*

*Denotes official visit

2016 prospects

QB Peter Bush

S Tyler Cochran

CB Darian Cornay

LB Ryan Parker

2017 targets

LB David Adams

DL Jerron Cage

2017 commits

TE Cole Kmet

OL Josh Lugg

2017 prospects

LB Winston Anawalt

WR Chris Bell

OL Matt Bockhorst

DB Kylen Brown

RB Andrew Clair

WR Nico Collins

WR Reggie Crawford

S AJ Harris

DE Jordan Jackson

DB Nick Okeke

QB Sean O’Malley

CB Derrek Pitts

WR Isaiah Robertson

WR Rick Squires

OL Alijah Vera-Tucker

2018 prospects

QB Phil Jurkovec

RB Chance Pride

DB Demetrius Ross

RB Markese Stepp

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

Linebacker Jeffrey McCulloch will be one of 10 top targets in the 2016 class visiting Notre Dame for the USC game. (Photo courtesy of Student Sports)