Notre Dame coaches impress four-star CB Damar Hamlin

Tyler James
South Bend Tribune

PITTSBURGH — As Damar Hamlin jogged onto the field at Cupples Stadium, Notre Dame recruiting coordinator Mike Elston stood right next to the entrance to make his presence known.

Elston, the tallest of Notre Dame’s five coaches who attended Hamlin’s game, couldn’t be missed in his white jacket with an ND monogram. Hamlin, one of the top cornerback recruits in the 2016 class, made eye contact with the coach. Head coach Brian Kelly, tight end coach Scott Booker, defensive backs coach Todd Lyght and defensive line coach Keith Gilmore watched nearby.

“As soon as I came out of the locker room and I saw them all, I just got real excited to play in front of them,” Hamlin said.

The goal of sending five coaches to see Hamlin was to emphasize his importance. Being noticed was all that was needed. Mission accomplished.

As Hamlin’s Pittsburgh Central Catholic team cruised to a 49-0 lead in the first half, the Irish coaches slipped out of the stadium. But Kelly couldn’t leave without being noticed. He waved to the cheering crowd as he exited the field.

The presence of the coaching staff added an extra buzz to a lopsided first-round matchup of the WPIAL Class AAAA playoffs. Central Catholic (9-1) will meet next week with North Allegheny (9-1) and junior offensive tackle Josh Lugg, an Irish commit.

Notre Dame took advantage of another trip to western Pennsylvania by attending the Pittsburgh Central Catholic game, which also featured 2017 linebacker target David Adams, and sending offensive coordinator Mike Sanford to watch 2018 quarterback prospect Phil Jurkovec of Pine-Richland.

Hamlin wanted to put on a show for the Irish coaches, but his impact was limited while his teammates took care of all the scoring. He locked up in man coverage for the entire first half against the Upper St. Clair wide receivers. The opposing quarterback never threw his direction. 

Hamlin also saw playing time at wide receiver and as a punt returner. He returned one punt inside the 20-yard line, but he couldn’t reach the end zone. On another punt, Hamlin ran from one side of the field to the other trying to find a running lane.

“Everyone else was making plays around me, so I was actually trying to get one for myself,” Hamlin said of trying to score in front of the Irish coaches. “I was trying real hard, but I guess it wasn't meant to be."

The 6-foot-1, 180-pound cornerback didn’t need to improve his standing with the Notre Dame coaches. Booker, Lyght and Kelly have all kept in touch with Hamlin as they’ve identified him as one of the top cornerback targets on their recruiting board.

“One thing they've really pitched to me is early playing time,” Hamlin said. “They tell me that they need DBs to come in and play right away. And if I'm ready, then I have a real good chance of playing right away. They're not guaranteeing anything. I'm going to have to come in and work."

Hamlin made multiple visits to Notre Dame — most recently an official visit for the USC game last month — and said he plans to return for another visit. The Irish have grabbed his attention on those trips.

“Just understanding what Notre Dame can do for you in the long run,” Hamlin said. “They sold out their stadium for I don't even know how many years now. Those two things. I love playing in front of big crowds, and football is going to end one day so you need that degree to fall back on."

Conversations with Booker, a fellow Pittsburgh native, have given Hamlin a sense of comfort with the Irish coaching staff.

“Coach Booker is the coolest coach ever,” Hamlin said. “I feel like I could talk to him like he's one of my boys. I keeps it real with me. I feel like I can say anything to him. That's how I want all of my relationships to be."

Notre Dame knows where it stands with the four-star recruit: squarely in his top four alongside Pittsburgh, Ohio State and Penn State. Hamlin plans to visit all four schools again and could take a fifth official visit to either Clemson, UCLA or Arizona State.

Pittsburgh head coach Pat Narduzzi has helped push Pittsburgh into a prime spot with Hamlin.

“The new coaching staff is the main reason I'm considering Pitt,” Hamlin said. “Before the new staff, I wasn't even thinking about going to Pitt at all. I was recruited by them, but not as well as coach Narduzzi is doing and all the other coaches. If I do make a decision to go there, that will play a big part.”

Ohio State’s coaching staff has also made a strong impression.

“They're some of the best coaches in the nation,” Hamlin said. “One time I was up there, we were shown film on some of the guys they have now on how they first came in and then how they play now just to show how their coaching is affecting players. It's just phenomenal. You can't go wrong up there."

Hamlin had to take the SAT on Saturday morning before catching the Pitt-Notre Dame game. Three years from now, Hamlin could be on the field when the two teams meet again.

But first the coveted cornerback will have to make a decision. He’s just not sure when he will settle on a school.

"I really don't (know), but I do want to make something soon,” Hamlin said. “I'm not into waiting. You never know what can happen."

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

Five Notre Dame coaches, including head coach Brian Kelly, watched senior cornerback recruit Damar Hamlin play Friday night for Pittsburgh Central Catholic. (Photo courtesy of Trib Total Media/Chaz Palla)