Notre Dame shifts focus to 2017 for junior day

Tyler James
South Bend Tribune

As college football programs across the country prep to sign their 2016 recruits, coaches keep an eye on the 2017 class.

Notre Dame has extended scholarships to several juniors as the coaches have traveled across the country this month. On Saturday, the focus on 2017 will become even greater.

Notre Dame is expected to host at least 10 confirmed recruits — five targets, three commits and two prospects — Saturday for a junior day event. The concept isn’t new to Irish recruiting, but the timing is tweaked. In the past two years, Notre Dame has waited until after February to have a sizable junior day.

Last year’s junior day event in March landed three commitments immediately following the weekend: long snapper John Shannon, cornerback Julian Love and running back Tony Jones Jr.

This junior day event may not churn out instant commitments, but it’s viewed as a smart move to keep momentum in the 2017 class.

“I like the fact that they’re doing this so early,” said CBS Sports Network recruiting analyst Tom Lemming. “The key to recruiting anymore is having as many junior days as possible. Notre Dame, because they recruit nationally, could have themes. Maybe make one junior day all Illinois kids or something with Indiana.”

Though Notre Dame is expected to host recruits from Georgia, Illinois, Florida, Texas and Pennsylvania, the visitors list has a distinct Michigan flavor. Three recruits from the Detroit area and one from St. Joseph are expected on campus.

It’s a reflection of the relationships defensive line coach Keith Gilmore has in the state.

“He did a great job in 2016, and he’s already on top of these guys,” Lemming said. “He’s impressed everyone with his recruiting.”

Notre Dame’s strong start to the 2017 recruiting class includes five commitments. Three of them, offensive linemen Josh Lugg and Dillan Gibbons and tight end Cole Kmet, will be on campus this weekend.

247Sports slates Notre Dame’s 2017 class as the fifth-best in the country behind Ohio State, Alabama, Miami and Baylor, all of which have at least seven commitments to date.

Below is a closer look at the top 2017 recruits expected on campus Saturday.

2017 targets

• WR Donovan Peoples-Jones, 6-2, 190; Detroit Cass Tech: Few recruits in the 2017 class are as athletically gifted as Peoples-Jones. He proved that in July when he won the Nike Football Rating Championship at The Opening against a field of mostly 2016 recruits. His performance included a 4.42-second 40-yard dash and a 42-inch vertical jump.

Peoples-Jones already claims offers from Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Alabama and Stanford, among others. Both Rivals and 247Sports peg him as a four-star recruit and the No. 3 wide receiver in the 2017 class.

• CB Ambry Thomas, 5-11, 168; Detroit Martin Luther King: The four-star recruit visited Notre Dame for a game last season with teammate Donnie Corley, a 2016 wide receiver who enrolled at Michigan State.

Thomas claims offers from LSU, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State and Tennessee, among others. 247Sports slates Thomas as the No. 11 cornerback in the class. Rivals ranks him No. 16 at the position.

• S Jaylen Kelly-Powell, 6-0, 183; Detroit Cass Tech: Notre Dame extended offers to Kelly-Powell and Thomas on the same day in November. They would make for a nice combination in a future Irish secondary.

Kelly-Powell reports offers from Michigan, North Carolina, Stanford, Tennessee and UCLA, among others. 247Sports pegs him as a four-star recruit and the No. 15 safety in the class. Rivals rates him as a three-star prospect and No. 21 at the position.

• ATH Jamyest Williams, 5-9, 172; Lawrenceville (Ga.) Archer: He may be the shortest target visiting Notre Dame on Saturday, but the four-star prospect isn’t short on talent. Alabama, Clemson, Georgia, Stanford and USC are among the schools to have already offered Williams.

Williams rushed for 1,249 yards and 23 touchdowns in his junior season. Williams also plays defensive back.

247Sports slates him as the No. 2 athlete in the class. Rivals ranks him as the No. 12 athlete.

• DE Corey Malone-Hatcher, 6-3, 246; St. Joseph (Mich.) High: The four-star recruit has been a frequent visitor at Notre Dame. His proximity to campus and talent at a position of need make him a perfect combination for the Irish.

Malone-Hatcher is well-traveled and highly coveted. He’s closing in on 20 scholarship offers with Alabama, Michigan, Ohio State and UCLA already on the list. He already has visited three of those schools with UCLA being the exception.

247Sports slates Malone-Hatcher as the No. 9 weakside defensive end in the class. Rivals ranks him as the No. 13 strongside defensive end.

2017 prospects

• WR Isaiah Robertson, 6-2, 185; Naperville (Ill.) Nequa Valley: The four-star prospect visited Notre Dame in October and returns hoping to land an offer. His double-digit offer list includes Penn State, Wisconsin, Vanderbilt and Syracuse.

Rivals rates Robertson as the No. 23 wide receiver in the class. 247Sports slates him 26th at the position.

• CB LeAnthony Williams, 6-0, 177; Roswell (Ga.) High: The Irish checked on Williams during the evaluation period, so Williams plans to return the favor. It could result in a Notre Dame offer for the four-star prospect.

The Irish would join an offer list that includes Georgia, Auburn, Alabama and Clemson. Rivals ranks Williams as the No. 10 cornerback in the class. 247Sports slates him No. 18 at the position.

Gutwald visiting

Notre Dame may be close to adding a commitment from a preferred walk-on candidate. Matthew Gutwald, a senior offensive lineman from Dublin, Calif., will visit the Irish this weekend.

The 6-4, 275-pound prospect has received walk-on interest from Notre Dame and Stanford. The Irish have three offensive linemen committed to the 2016 class and are no longer recruiting scholarship players at the position. Head coach Brian Kelly stopped by his school in November.

“If that feels like that’s home, I’m there,” Gutwald said in a message regarding a potential commitment to Notre Dame.

Rivals rates Gutwald as a three-star recruit.

Junior wide receiver recruit Donovan Peoples-Jones will visit Notre Dame this weekend. (Photo courtesy of Student Sports)