Nighttime sets up Notre Dame for another big recruiting weekend

Tyler James
South Bend Tribune

When the sun sets on a game in Notre Dame Stadium, the stars usually come out. But the sky has nothing to do with it.

Ever since Notre Dame starting scheduling annual night games in 2011, the Irish have used late kickoffs for marquee recruiting events. It will be no different Saturday night.

The stars will be hard to count with at least 27 recruits with Notre Dame offers expected to attend the Top 25 matchup with Michigan State. The crowd should include 10 top targets in the 2017 class, six in the 2018 class and 11 recruits already committed to the Irish in either class.

Last year, Notre Dame hosted a bevy of recruits for its night games against Texas and USC. Eight recruits who signed with Notre Dame in the 2016 class eventually committed to the Irish after visiting for one of those games: Devin Studstill, Daelin Hayes, Khalid Kareem, Javon McKinley, Donte Vaughn, Troy Pride Jr., Deon McIntosh and D.J. Morgan.

The 2017 targets visiting South Bend on Saturday could become future impact players in blue and gold if they chose to follow the Irish path.

• CB Shaun Wade, 6-2, 179; Jacksonville (Fla.) Trinity Christian: One of the best recruits in Ohio State’s class will be making his second visit of the year to Notre Dame. Wade, who has been committed to the Buckeyes since January 2015, made the trip to South Bend with a number of recruits from the Jacksonville area in June. A return trip signifies serious interest.

Notre Dame isn’t the only school trying to pull Wade away from Ohio State. A player of his caliber is worth the effort, said CBS Sports Network recruiting analyst Tom Lemming. He ranks Wade as the No. 6 recruit in the entire 2017 class.

"Shaun is a prep superstar,” Lemming said. “Most people stay away from his side of the field when he’s playing corner.

“He’s the kind of guy that could step in and be what they always thought Max Redfield would be in the secondary even though Shaun plays corner. He’s big enough to play either corner or safety.”

Both Rivals and 247Sports peg Wade as the No. 4 cornerback in the 2017 class. Rivals rates him as a five-star recruit. 247Sports slates him as a four-star prospect.

• CB Thomas Graham, 5-11, 177; Rancho Cucamonga (Calif.) High: The last time Graham visited Notre Dame in March, he was still committed to USC. But the four-star recruit ditched his Trojans pledge in April and remains on the open market.

Nebraska received his first official visit when the Huskers opened the season against Fresno State despite not receiving a spot in his top 10 schools in June. Oklahoma, UCLA, Arizona, Oregon, LSU, Alabama, Utah and Arizona State, in addition to Notre Dame and USC, made the original cut.

Graham doesn’t have the same size as Wade, but he’s not far behind in cornerback rankings. Rivals ranks him as the No. 7 cornerback in the class. 247Sports slates him 11th.

“He’s a big-time, two-way player, but they like him for defense,” Lemming said. “Notre Dame needs to bring in more defensive guys like him.”

• ATH Salvon Ahmed, 6-0, 185; Kirkland (Wash.) Juanita: Notre Dame will get the last chance to impress Ahmed before he makes his scheduled announcement on Sept. 23. That also means the Irish will have to leapfrog his other four top schools — Washington, Oregon, USC and Stanford — in the final week.

Ahmed, who can play any number of positions, may make the most sense as a cornerback at Notre Dame. But his offensive skills can’t be denied. The four-star recruit accounted for 90 rushing yards, 43 receiving yards and one touchdown in the first game of his senior season.

 “He’s one of the top three players in Washington and probably top three overall in the Pacific Northwest,” Lemming said. “They need him in the secondary.”

His biggest asset: speed. Ahmed tied cornerback Darnay Holmes for the fastest 40-yard dash time (4.32 seconds) recorded at The Opening Finals at Nike World Headquarters in July.

247Sports slates Ahmed as the No. 1 athlete in the 2017 class. Rivals ranks him as the No. 9 athlete.

• WR Hezekiah Jones, 6-0, 193; Stafford (Texas) High: Though his commitment has changed, one thing has stayed the same for Jones: an interest in the Irish. The Texas A&M pledge, who was previously committed to Baylor, received a Notre Dame offer when he visited for the Blue-Gold Game in April.

His return could mean hope for the Irish to add to their two-man wide receiver haul of Michael Young and Jordan Pouncey. Jones would probably beat both in a foot race. He won the 2015 Class 4A state championship in Texas in the 200-meter dash with a time of 21.35 seconds. Jones transfers that speed onto the field as a big-play threat. In the first three games of his senior season, the four-star recruit caught nine passes for 153 yards and three touchdowns.

“Outstanding athlete. I liked him a lot,” Lemming said. “The kid can fly and he’s big. He has all the tools for future stardom.”

Rivals ranks Jones as the No. 17 wide receiver in the 2017 class. 247Sports slates him 28th.

• WR Jeremiah Holloman, 6-2, 192; Covington (Ga.) Newton: Opinions vary greatly on the talent of Holloman, but the Irish have identified him as a top wide receiver target since April. He’s proved to be productive in the first three games of his senior season with 17 catches for 337 yards and four touchdowns.

His first visit to South Bend will help him figure out if he sees himself catching passes at Notre Dame in the future. The Irish were joined by 11 other schools on Holloman’s top list in July: Tennessee, Miami, Georgia, Penn State, Auburn, Michigan State, LSU, Oklahoma State, USC, North Carolina and Oregon.

“He’s a good, solid athlete,” Lemming said. “He has good hands. He’s not a speed burner, but he’s a good athlete.”

247Sports slates Holloman as a four-star recruit and the No. 11 wide receiver in the 2017 class. Rivals ranks him as a three-star prospect and the No. 41 athlete.

• OL Aaron Banks, 6-7, 344; El Cerrito (Calif.) High: It’s hard to avoid the obvious when discussing the four-star recruit. He’s earned the Twitter handle @bigaaronbanks.

“That’s a big tackle,” Lemming said. “Aaron is a massive kid.”

His list of top schools has some size too. In late August, Banks named a top 10 of Arizona State, Arkansas, California, Florida, Michigan, Nebraska, Notre Dame, UCLA, Oregon and USC.

The Irish still have room for Banks despite three offensive line commitments. He’s become the latest name of interest since receiving an offer in June and visiting in August.

Rivals ranks him as the No. 15 offensive tackle in the 2017 class. 247Sports slates him 24th.

• LB Jacob Phillips, 6-3, 220; East Nashville (Tenn.) Magnet: Three weeks into the college football season, Phillips will make his third official visit. With a top five set in July, the four-star linebacker isn’t wasting time in trying to find a future home. Notre Dame will get the chance to surpass the standard set by trips to Oregon and Oklahoma to start the season.

Many believe Oklahoma has emerged as the leader for Phillips, and his Twitter feed — filled with Sooners retweets — could easily be classified as proof. But the Irish have been serious contenders for Phillips since his visit in March, and an Alabama visits looms.

Notre Dame already has three linebackers committed in the 2017 class, but the Irish are willing to find room for Phillips. If he could become a potential edge rusher, it would only be a bonus.

“Not real tall, but a thumper,” Lemming said of Phillips. “He can run. He can hit. He could really fill out Notre Dame’s linebacker group very well. He’s physical, quick to the ball and very productive.”

Rivals ranks Phillips as the No. 2 inside linebacker in the 2017 class. 247Sports slates him eighth.

• DT Jerron Cage, 6-2, 279; Cincinnati Winton Woods: A week after the Ohio State commit wandered into the postgame interview room to watch his older brother, sophomore defensive tackle Daniel Cage, hold court, the younger Cage will return to Notre Dame Stadium. Despite his pledge to the Buckeyes, Jerron Cage has been a regular visitor in South Bend.

The Irish will likely be happy to host the younger Cage as a recruit as long as it means an outside chance of flipping his commitment.

“A lot of people think he’s better than his brother,” Lemming said. “He’s very difficult to move out of the way. He has quick feet, is very strong and has an aggressive style.”

247Sports slates Cage as a four-star recruit and the No. 10 defensive tackle. Rivals rates him as a three-star prospect and No. 41 at the position.

• DL Donovan Jeter, 6-5, 250; Beaver Falls (Pa.) High: Can Notre Dame pull another recruit out of Western Pennsylvania in the 2017 class? The four Irish commits from the area certainly haven’t been shy about recruiting Jeter to join them.

They helped convince the four-star recruit to make a visit to Notre Dame despite not including the Irish in what Jeter termed his final five — Alabama, Pittsburgh, Penn State, Ohio State and Tennessee — in July.

While many projected Jeter as a defensive tackle, a recent weight loss could keep him on the outside at defensive end. Lemming said he could play either position.

“He’s the kind of guy that I think will be in the NFL, the kind of guy that Notre Dame needs to get,” Lemming said. “He has size. He has speed. He’s aggressive. He’s the kind of guy that Notre Dame doesn’t usually get.”

Both Rivals and 247Sports peg Jeter as the No. 14 defensive tackle in the 2017 class.

• S Jaiden Cole, 6-1, 195; Monroe (La.) Neville: Notre Dame found a high school quarterback to turn into a safety in Jalen Elliott in the 2016 class. Could Cole be the 2017 version?

Cole, a three-star recruit, does a little bit of everything in high school. But when the Irish expanded the defensive back target list in August, Cole added a Notre Dame offer. The competition for the versatile Cole includes Arkansas, Tennessee, Texas A&M, Houston and Arizona State.

“He’s a good athlete,” Lemming said. “He’s played quarterback, wide receiver, running back, corner and free safety. He’s played them all.”

Rivals ranks him as the No. 44 athlete in the class. 247Sports slates him 49th.

VISITORS LIST

The following recruits are expected to visit Notre Dame for Saturday's game against Michigan State.

2017 targets

ATH Salvon Ahmed

OL Aaron Banks

DT Jerron Cage

S Jaiden Cole

CB Thomas Graham

WR Jeremiah Holloman

DL Donovan Jeter

WR Hezekiah Jones

LB Jacob Phillips

CB Shaun Wade

2018 targets

CB Derrik Allen

OL Jackson Carman

LB Dallas Gant

DE Leonard Taylor

CB Christian Tutt

DE Malik Vann

2017 commits

LB David Adams

OL Dillan Gibbons

TE Cole Kmet

OL Josh Lugg

LB Pete Werner

LB Drew White

TE Brock Wright

2018 commits

LB Bo Bauer

QB Phil Jurkovec

LB Ovie Oghoufo

RB Markese Stepp

2017 prospects

WR Mac Hippenhammer

LB Zander Horvath

DE Esezi Otomewo

LB Brendan Brown

2018 prospects

OL Verdis Brown

WR Dashon Bussell

OL Emil Ekiyor

TE Ryan Hayes

LB Cameron Hoelscher

TE Tyneil Hopper

DT Lawrence Johnson

LB KJ Phillips

RB Bryce Ray

DE Tyreke Smith

S Garrison Vaughn

OL Colin Woodside

2019 prospects

OL Logan Brown

CB Moses Douglass

OT Isaiah Gibson

DT Stephen Herron Jr.

DT Mazi Smith

OL Peyton Young

2020 prospect

OL Dallas Fincher

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

Ohio State cornerback commit Shaun Wade will be the highest-ranked official visitor on Notre Dame's campus this weekend. (Photo courtesy of Rivals)