Stanford features several former Notre Dame recruiting targets

Tyler James
South Bend Tribune

When Brian Kelly looks out onto the field Saturday, he’ll see plenty of names that got away.

As Stanford has established itself as a national contender in college football, the Cardinal have increasingly butted heads against Notre Dame in pursuit of recruits. The competition has heated up in the past several years with both teams registering their share of wins and losses.

According to the Rivals database, 21 players on Notre Dame’s roster chose to sign with the Irish despite reporting Stanford offers. Eighteen players picked the Cardinal over Notre Dame.

Many of the players who selected Stanford have developed into productive pieces on the 2015 roster. Eleven former Notre Dame recruiting targets are listed on the Stanford depth chart.

Here’s a closer look at each player and how their Notre Dame recruitment unfolded.

RB Christian McCaffrey: Notre Dame will try to tame the “WildCaff” on Saturday, but if former Irish running backs coach Tony Alford had his wish, McCaffrey’s breakout season would be happening in South Bend.

Notre Dame offered McCaffrey, the son of former Stanford wide receiver Ed McCaffrey, in April 2013. A month later he committed to his father’s alma mater. Missing out on McCaffrey was amplified when the Irish failed to sign a single running back in the 2014 class.

Running back Elijah Hood originally committed to the Irish before flipping his pledge to North Carolina. Now Hood leads North Carolina (10-1) with 1,060 rushing yards this season and McCaffrey appears to be a lock as a Heisman Trophy finalist while leading FBS with 2,807 all-purpose yards.

LG Joshua Garnett and LT Kyle Murphy: Stanford beat Notre Dame for three offensive linemen in the 2012 class — Andrus Peat, Garnett and Murphy. Peat was selected in the first round of this year’s NFL Draft and Garnett and Murphy are still anchoring the left side of the Cardinal line.

Notre Dame ended up with Ronnie Stanley, who will likely be a first-round draft pick himself, and Mark Harrell on the offensive line in the 2012 class.

Murphy mentioned Notre Dame in the conversation for official visits, but never made one. Garnett made an official visit in December 2011, but Stanford sealed the deal in January.

TE Austin Hooper: Former Notre Dame defensive coordinator Bob Diaco thought he saw a pass rusher when he recruited Hooper out of Concord (Calif.) De La Salle. He wasn’t alone. Most colleges and recruiting services pegged him as an outside linebacker or defensive end.

But Stanford saw a tight end in Hooper. He committed to Stanford shortly after being accepted into the school. Hooper has made the Cardinal coaching staff look brilliant with a junior season that has landed him as a John Mackey Award finalist.

Hooper visited Notre Dame in July 2012, but the Irish didn’t make the final cut with Stanford, Washington, California and Oregon.

TE Dalton Schultz: The Cardinal made Schultz a priority by making him the only tight end in the 2014 class to claim a Stanford offer. After flirting with Notre Dame and Utah and turning his recruiting process into a YouTube series, Schultz committed to Stanford.

Schultz made an official visit to Notre Dame in December. By the end of the month, the Irish had already secured verbal commitments from Nic Weishar and Tyler Luatua at tight end.

Schultz has played in 10 games as a sophomore after sitting out as a freshman.

DE Solomon Thomas: Notre Dame’s constant struggle to recruit defensive ends came to fruition with Thomas. The Irish found a dynamic player who would fit into the school academically, but he didn’t fall in love with Notre Dame.

Thomas visited South Bend in June 2013, but the Irish fell out of the race before the end of the year when Stanford, Texas, Arkansas, UCLA and Ohio State made his top five. He committed to the Cardinal with a baby tree and nerd glasses in a televised announcement on signing day.

In his first year in the starting rotation, Thomas has recorded 31 tackles and seven tackles for a loss.

CB Terrence Alexander: The Irish lost out on another signing day announcement when Alexander chose Stanford over Notre Dame and Mississippi in 2014. The speedy cornerback recruit took his recruitment the distance with January official visits to all three school. He visited Stanford first, and the Cardinal finished first.

Alexander has played in all 24 games in his two seasons at Stanford and is coming off the best game of his career with 10 tackles against Cal.

RT Casey Tucker: Notre Dame never found momentum with Tucker, who played for former Irish quarterback Steve Belles at Chandler (Ariz.) Hamilton. Tucker originally committed to USC before landing at Stanford.

Tucker, a sophomore, has started all 11 games for the Cardinal at right tackle in his first season as a starter.

RB Barry Sanders: The Irish have found success recruiting sons of famous athletes but not with Sanders. The son of the legendary Detroit Lions running back left Notre Dame out of his plans heading into his senior season of high school. Stanford edged out Oklahoma State, his father’s former stomping grounds.

Notre Dame landed two running backs in the 2012 class — KeiVarae Russell and Will Mahone — but neither ever saw the field on offense for the Irish. Russell found his role at cornerback, and Mahone left the school in 2014 when he was arrested in an incident with police.

Sanders, with 312 rushing yards and four touchdowns this season, has been overshadowed by McCaffrey.

WR Francis Owusu: Notre Dame offered Owusu in March 2012, but the Irish didn’t stand much of a chance with Owusu’s older brother Chris finishing his career at Stanford. The younger Owusu hasn’t found consistent work catching the ball for the Cardinal, but he has played in all 11 games.

His lone touchdown catch of the season was a doozy. Owusu reached around UCLA’s Jaleel Wadood and trapped the ball against his back to secure the pass as he was falling to the ground.

DE Jordan Watkins: A Notre Dame visit was reportedly in the works, but a trip to South Bend never happened in the summer of 2011. Watkins later committed to Stanford over Georgia in September.

Watkins has played in six games for Stanford in the 2015 season as part of the defensive line rotation.

Freshman four: Four players in the 2015 recruiting class gave Stanford the nod over Notre Dame. They have yet to make impacts beyond special teams but will likely have their opportunities in the future against the Irish. All four made official visits to Notre Dame.

Running back Cameron Scarlett visited South Bend for the victory over North Carolina. The Irish joined UCLA, Washington and Stanford in Scarlett’s top four before he chose the Cardinal in December.

The other three recruits played safety – a position the Irish were desperate to improve in their recruiting class in the final months of the 2015 cycle. Ben Edwards saw Notre Dame lose to Louisville in person, but he kept Notre Dame in his top two with Stanford. He pledged to Stanford in December.

Frank Buncom IV visited Notre Dame when the Irish hosted Stanford. Notre Dame won the game, but the Cardinal won the recruitment. The Irish remained as one of his four finalists when he committed in late January.

Justin Reid became one of Notre Dame’s last hopes at the position when he visited in late January, but the Irish lost out to Stanford in a signing day decision.


Twitter: @TJamesNDI

Stanford running back Christian McCaffrey (5) runs behind guard Joshua Garnett (51) and center Graham Shuler (52) during an NCAA college football game against Washington Saturday, Oct. 24, 2015, in Stanford, Calif. McCaffrey and Garnett were Notre Dame targets as recruits. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

The following 18 players chose to sign with Stanford as recruits despite claiming offers from Notre Dame, according to the Rivals database.

2011 CLASS

OL Brendon Austin


LB Noor Davis

OL Joshua Garnett

OL Kyle Murphy

RB Barry Sanders

DL Jordan Watkins

2013 CLASS

TE Austin Hooper

WR Francis Owusu

2014 CLASS

CB Terrence Alexander

RB Christian McCaffrey

TE Dalton Schultz

S Brandon Simmons

DE Solomon Thomas

OL Casey Tucker

2015 CLASS

S Frank Buncom IV

S Ben Edwards

S Justin Reid

RB Cameron Scarlett

Three 2016 recruits have given Stanford commitments while holding Notre Dame offers. Only one Irish commit claimed a Stanford offer. Stanford has the No. 7 recruiting class in the country according to Rivals. Notre Dame is slated No. 12.


CB David Long Jr.

LB Curtis Robinson

S Chaco Ulloa


DE Khalid Kareem