Notebook: Irish Invasion has become recruiting spectacle

Tyler James
South Bend Tribune

The recruits are coming.

On Saturday, Notre Dame will host its annual Irish Invasion camp for top high school prospects.

Summer camps have long been a recruiting tool for the Irish. Players from across the country have come to South Bend every year with a chance to impress Notre Dame coaches.

Even former Irish head coach Gerry Faust, who resigned after five seasons with a 30-26-1 record, used a summer camp in 1985 to identify Stan Smagala as a recruiting target. Smagala was a little-known running back at the time who transformed into a three-year starter at cornerback under Lou Holtz. Former Irish tight end Tyler Eifert famously convinced Charlie Weis that he was deserving of a scholarship in the summer of 2008.

The examples are many and have carried over into head coach Brian Kelly’s tenure at Notre Dame. But in addition to using the camp series as an evaluation period, Kelly added the Irish Invasion as a recruiting spectacle. The invite-only camp has become the main event of Notre Dame’s summer recruiting calendar.

When Kelly opened up the Irish Invasion to the media in 2014 nearly 40 recruits attended the event. Kelly arrived on a golf cart with two top recruiting targets in tow: linebacker Justin Hilliard and running back Jacques Patrick. Neither ended up coming to Notre Dame — they signed with Ohio State and Florida State, respectively — but the Irish had luck elsewhere.

Instead of landing Patrick, Notre Dame added a commitment from Josh Adams later that month. In Hilliard’s absence, linebacker Te’von Coney eventually committed to the Irish in October. The camp was also attended by seven recruits already committed to Notre Dame’s 2015 class including Shaun Crawford, Jerry Tillery and Tristen Hoge, who all showed their potential as future impact players.

A pair of 2016 recruits who eventually signed with Notre Dame were also at the 2014 Invasion. Offensive lineman Liam Eichenberg watched from the sidelines and linebacker Daelin Hayes impressed the Irish coaching staff enough to add a scholarship offer at the end of the camp.

Last year’s camp brought a significant increase in the quantity and quality of players at the Irish Invasion. Nearly 80 recruits attended the camp, which concluded inside Notre Dame Stadium for the first time. Six of those players in the 2016 class chose to continue their college football career on that field.

Safety Jalen Elliott gave Notre Dame his pledge before taking the field that night. Wide receiver Kevin Stepherson, one of the biggest surprises of this past spring, committed to assistant coaches Mike Denbrock and Scott Booker on the artificial surface immediately following the camp.

Safeties Spencer Perry and Devin Studstill and wide receivers Chase Claypool and Javon McKinley later chose to join the 2016 class. Tight end Brock Wright became the second commitment in the 2017 commitment when he gave his word to the Irish in the week following the camp.

The latest edition of the Irish Invasion should draw similar numbers to last year’s event. Saturday’s camp, which will start at 7 p.m. inside Notre Dame Stadium, will feature a mixture of recruits in the 2017, 2018 and 2019 recruiting classes. As of Thursday night, 26 recruits reporting Notre Dame offers confirmed plans to visit with the Tribune. Check Saturday’s paper for a complete preview of the recruits expected on campus.

Five-star attention

Before the majority of recruits invade Notre Dame’s campus this weekend, the Irish hosted a pair of five-star recruits.

Offensive lineman Wyatt Davis and running back Zamir White were on campus Thursday.

Davis, a 6-foot-4, 328-pound rising senior from Bellflower (Calif.) St. John Bosco, became one of Harry Hiestand’s first offensive line targets in the 2017 class with an offer last June. Colleges all over the country are in pursuit of Davis, including Alabama, LSU, Michigan, Oklahoma and USC.

Both Rivals and 247Sports peg Davis as the No. 1 offensive guard in the 2017 class. Davis teamed with Irish freshman safety D.J. Morgan last season.

White, a 6-1, 210-pound rising junior from Laurinburg (N.C) Scotland County, added a Notre Dame offer earlier this month. The Irish joined an offer list that includes Alabama, Clemson, North Carolina, Florida State and Ohio State.

Both Rivals and 247Sports rate White as a five-star recruit. 247Sports slates him as the No. 1 running back and No. 3 overall in the 2018 class.

In two varsity seasons, White already has rushed for 3,390 yards and 59 touchdowns at the second-highest level of high school football in North Carolina.

tjames@ndinsider.com

574-235-6214

Twitter: @TJamesNDI

Notre Dame freshman defensive end Daelin Hayes received a scholarship offer from ND following his performance as a linebacker at the Irish Invasion camp in 2014. (Tribune Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN)