Notebook: Notre Dame enhancing recruiting opportunities with more visits

Tyler James
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND — Getting recruits to visit Notre Dame is only half the battle. Turning those visits into commitments can be the difference between a decent recruiting class and a special signing day.

The marquee recruiting events at Notre Dame have been fruitful in recent recruiting cycles. Eight members of the current freshman class committed to Notre Dame at some point following visits for one of the two night games last year against Texas and USC.

But such productivity hasn’t always been the case during head coach Brian Kelly’s tenure. When Notre Dame played its first night game in Notre Dame Stadium in 21 years, back in 2011, the Irish turned the weekend into a major recruiting event. The impressive recruiting roster included 12 official visitors for the game. Only one — cornerback KeiVarae Russell — ended up signing with the Irish.

“A lot of it has to do with the work that you put in prior to (the visit),” Kelly said. “A lot of the guys that will be visiting have had contact with us for quite a long period of time.”

Ten official visitors made the trip to South Bend this weekend. Half of them already had made an unofficial visit to Notre Dame.

“When I first came here, the big weekend, these guys were visiting for the first time and that’s a lot more difficult to get them focused on more than just the game,” Kelly said. “There are so many other things going on.

“These visits change in the way you kind of present Notre Dame when they come up the second time. I think that that’s helped a lot.”

Each senior is allotted five official visits by the NCAA to be used at different schools. Football programs are allowed to pay for transportation and housing for official visitors. But with recruits making earlier college decisions, unofficial visits are crucial in laying the groundwork to become a contender for a prospect. The Irish have hosted at least 80 recruits with scholarship offers in the 2017 class for unofficial visits.

Those previous experiences in South Bend and relationships with Notre Dame’s staff could bring more commitments to the Irish in the coming weeks.

“An expanded staff, which allows us to stay in constant contact with them, the expansion of our social media contacts and things of that nature have really allowed us to drill deeper into each recruit,” Kelly said, “and build a relationship that has allowed us to make decisions and allow them to make decisions when they come up on their visits now.”

Aggies in town

Wide receiver Hezekiah Jones wasn’t the only Texas A&M commit to visit Notre Dame on Saturday. Safety Keldrick Carper also made a surprise appearance.

The 6-foot-3, 185-pound Carper included Notre Dame as one of his top four schools before committing to the Aggies in June. After making the trip from Plain Dealing, La., the Irish could become major contenders once again.

“He’s one of the better athletes in Louisiana,” said CBS Sports Network recruiting analyst Tom Lemming. “I was really impressed with him. He’s a legit four-star guy that can be an outstanding free safety.”

Carper won the Class 1A state championship in the triple jump (44 feet, 4 inches) in 2015, averaged a double-double (15 points, 10 rebounds) on the basketball court and scored 22 of Plain Dealing’s 25 touchdowns last season as a do-it-all athlete.

Rivals ranks Carper as a four-star recruit and the No. 28 athlete in the class. 247Sports slates him as a three-star prospect and the No. 37 athlete.

Battles with Sparty

Notre Dame and Michigan State crossed paths plenty of times on the recruiting trail in the 2016 class. A few of those former recruiting targets saw the field on Saturday.

Michigan State wide receiver Donnie Corley, who included Notre Dame as one of his five finalists but opted to commit to the Spartans, caught a 38-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter. Notre Dame defensive end Daelin Hayes deflected a Tyler O’Conner pass that led to an interception by safety Devin Studstill. Corley, Hayes and Studstill were all recruited by both schools.

Five freshmen at Michigan State reported Notre Dame offers during their recruitment: defensive ends Auston Robertson and Josh King, wide receivers Justin Layne and Corley, and safety Kenney Lyke. All but Layne made visits to Notre Dame.

Seven Notre Dame freshmen reported offers from the Spartans: defensive ends Khalid Kareem and Hayes, offensive linemen Parker Boudreaux and Liam Eichenberg, safeties Spencer Perry and Studstill, and wide receiver Kevin Stepherson.

Many of the top 2017 prospects in Michigan claim offers from Notre Dame and Michigan State, but Michigan has claimed a few early victories. Defensive tackle Phillip Pea, defensive end Corey Malone-Hatcher and linebacker Josh Ross have all committed to the Wolverines over offers from the Irish and Spartans.

Three recruiting targets from Detroit — wide receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones, cornerback Ambry Thomas and safety Jaylen Kelly-Powell — still have commitment decisions to make with Notre Dame, Michigan State and Michigan all on their offer lists.

Notre Dame commit Pete Werner, a 2017 linebacker, walks into Notre Dame Stadium with other recruits on Saturday, Sept. 17, 2016, at Notre Dame in South Bend. Tribune Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN