Rush hour arrives; DE Khalid Kareem commits to Notre Dame
A little over a week since leaving Alabama’s recruiting class, Khalid Kareem found a new home.
And likely a relatively unimpeded path to early playing time.
The four-star defensive end prospect from Farmington, Hills, Mich., verbally committed to Notre Dame on Friday, giving the Irish a camera-ready, impactful pass-rusher in its 2016 class. And he’ll get an early start by enrolling in January, after graduating from Harrison High in December.
“Thank you to all the colleges that recruited me and the other schools that overlooked me,” Kareem posted Friday on his Twitter account.
“As an early enrollment student/athlete, the combination of great academics and great football is most important to my family & I. I’m 100% committed to further my education and play college football at the University of Notre Dame Fighting Irish.”
He is the 17th commitment in a class that will likely top at out 23 or 24 players and comes at the greatest position of need.
The 6-foot-4, 257-pounder is rated the No. 8 strongside defensive end nationally by 247Sports. Rivals.com has him rated 19th at the position.
CBS Sports recruiting analyst Tom Lemming has him as a “four-star-plus” and compares his career arc favorably to the trajectory former Irish star ends Stephon Tuitt and Aaron Lynch were on coming out of high school five recruiting cycles ago.
“This is a big-time ball player,” Lemming said of Kareem. “He had 44 tackles for loss last year, 18 quarterback sacks. He was first-team all-state in a very competitive state. Twenty-three ACT.
“Very quick off the ball. Long arms, strong. Aggressive. And exactly what Notre Dame needed coming off the edge. Because they don’t have that right now. That’s why they’re not getting to the quarterback.”
Notre Dame ranks 87th nationally among the 127 FBS schools in team sacks, at 1.71 per game. Team leader Romeo Okwara, with three sacks, is the only edge player who exhausts his eligibility at the end of the 2015 season.
Lemming for one believes Kareem’s commitment could give the Irish recruiting momentum for other top edge defensive players, especially fellow Michigan high school product Daelin Hayes.
Hayes is a 6-foot-3, 254-pound outside linebacker from Skyline High School in Ann Arbor, Mich., who decommitted from USC right about the time the school was firing head coach Steve Sarkisian. He made an official visit to ND last weekend highlighted by a 41-31 Irish victory over the Trojans.
The Irish are now considered the frontrunner, though Hayes has some other visits planned.
“He’s got some shoulder issues right now,” Lemming said. “But when Daelin Hayes is healthy, I believe he can be in the Jaylon Smith kind of category.”
Still on the periphery of ND’s recruiting picture but gaining steam with the Irish on Friday is another elite defensive end, Oluwole Betiku.
Betiku is a 6-foot-4, 240-pound defensive end from Junipero Serra High in Gardena, Calif., a pipeline for talent in recent years for USC.
The Trojans are indeed in the picture after Betiku decommitted from UCLA on Friday. But so are the Irish, Texas A&M, Florida and Florida State.
The five-star prospect per 247Sports and No. 6 player overall in the class regardless of position has an official recruiting visit scheduled to ND for the last home-game weekend of the season (Wake Forest, Nov. 14).
"At this time I have decided to open up my recruiting," Betiku tweeted on his Twitter account. "It is in my best interest to take my time with the recruiting process and weigh my options carefully. It's a lifetime decision and I pray God guides me to make the best decision."
Rivals rates him as a four-star recruit, the No. 4 strongside defensive end and No. 36 regardless of position.
“He’s the most muscular kid I saw all year,” Lemming said. “He looks like a body builder who’s 30 years old. If ND could get both of those kids — Kareem and Betiku — it would be like getting Lynch and Tuitt all over again.
“They’re not as tall as those two guys. But they’re just as athletic and every bit as heavily recruited.”
Not as highly recruited are three edge players looked upon as more long-term prospects in the Irish class. Among them only Julian Okwara (6-4, 220), Romeo’s younger brother, garnered a ranking higher than three stars.
The others are Irish nose guard Jarron Jones’ younger brother, Jamir (6-4, 210), and Adetokunbo Ogundeji (6-5, 220).
Kareem had been in Alabama’s class since June, though it appeared the Crimson Tide staff was steering him toward playing outside linebacker rather than defensive end. His long offer listed included Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Tennessee, Stanford and Oregon as well as Harvard and Yale.
Like Hayes, Kareem visited Notre Dame USC weekend.
"It's a good defense to play in,” Kareem said after the visit. “I would fit pretty well. I would play a five- or six-technique. It's kind of similar to what I'm playing now. It would be a pretty easy transition."
Lemming said Irish first-year defensive line coach Keith Gilmore played a prominent role in landing Kareem, as did head coach Brian Kelly, who visited the Detroit area during a bye week cross-country recruiting blitz.
The 11th-ranked Irish (6-1) resume play Halloween night against Temple (7-0) at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, trying to stay in the college football playoff conversation.
Friday put them right back in the discussion for a strong finish and possibly a Top 10 class overall when Feb. 3 National Signing Day wraps up the latest cycle.
The Irish made offseason headlines when it came to edge pass rushers for unflattering reasons. Bo Wallace was granted a release in May from his national letter-of-intent and ended up enrolling at Arizona State, where he is redshirting as a freshman.
Sophomores Kolin Hill (Texas Tech) and Jhonny Williams (Toledo) each decided to transfer out this summer.
Lemming and other analysts believe Kareem brings a higher ceiling than all of them.
“It just goes to show you, everybody, including myself, was looking at Notre Dame defensive line-wise, and they weren’t doing very well,” Lemming said. “The kids they‘d gotten are average or below average. And now they’ve got one who’s exceptional.
“And there may be more on the way. It may finally be their time.”