Recruiting Reset: Ewell, Hinish answered Notre Dame's defensive tackle needs

Tyler James
South Bend Tribune

Defensive tackle recruiting has come a long way since the 2014 class for Notre Dame.

At the end of that recruiting cycle, the Irish were extending several late scholarship offers in search for help on the defensive line interior. Notre Dame ended up with a pair of three-star defensive tackles, Pete Mokwuah and Daniel Cage, as the last two players to commit in the class.

Two recruiting cycles later, the Irish felt so flush at defensive tackle, they decided to skip the position entirely in the 2016 class. Notre Dame ended up heavy on quantity — Jerry Tillery, Elijah Taylor, Micah Dew-Treadway and Elijah Taylor — but left with questionable quality.

Skip ahead to the 2017 class and the Irish have found a balance of both. The combination of Kurt Hinish, a three-star recruit, and Darnell Ewell, a four-star recruit, makes sense as a fit in Notre Dame’s defense. Both were identified as targets well before their senior seasons and have remained solid in their pledges to the Irish.

Recruiting coordinator Mike Elston and defensive line coach Keith Gilmore have put Notre Dame in a comfortable position at defensive tackle in the 2017 class despite the commitment loss of Donovan Jeter, who could have played either defensive end or defensive tackle. Adding another defensive tackle to the current class would be more of a luxury than a necessity.

Commitments

• Kurt Hinish, 6-2, 278; Pittsburgh (Pa.) Central Catholic: When five members of Notre Dame’s coaching staff attended Central Catholic's game while in Pittsburgh last November, cornerback Damar Hamlin and linebacker David Adams were the main draws. But Hinish took advantage of the audition and would eventually receive an Irish offer in February.

Hinish committed less than a month later after visiting in March with Adams, who also gave his pledge to Notre Dame over offers from Pittsburgh, Penn State and others. Hinish and Adams have served as the foundation of a Central Catholic defense that has allowed 11.9 points per game and recorded three shutouts this season.

Hinish may be a tad undersized, but his quickness at the snap makes him a problem for offensive linemen. 247Sports slates Hinish as the No. 37 defensive tackle in the 2017 class. Rivals ranks him No. 38.

• Darnell Ewell, 6-4, 295; Norfolk (Va.) Taylor: A July commitment from Ewell gave Notre Dame’s defensive recruiting efforts a heavy dose of legitimacy. Ewell was courted by a number of the top programs in the country, including Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State and Michigan, but he chose Notre Dame.

Defensive line coach Keith Gilmore, who spent four seasons working at Norfolk State, was aided by a connection to one of Ewell’s assistant coaches. Adding Ewell less than a year after helping the Irish sign defensive ends Daelin Hayes and Khalid Kareem has given Gilmore a strong recruiting résumé early in his ND tenure.

Ewell, a four-star recruit, has the size and strength that few high school players possess, and he’s demonstrated it on both sides of the line of scrimmage. Anchoring the Lake Taylor defense, Ewell has helped the Titans limit teams to less than 10 points six times this season.

If Ewell’s ranking holds, he will become the highest-ranked defensive tackle to enroll at Notre Dame since Louis Nix. Rivals, which ranked Nix as the No. 7 defensive tackle in the 2010 class, pegs Ewell eighth at the position in the 2017 class. 247Sports slates him 11th.

Remaining target

• Jerron Cage, 6-2, 279; Cincinnati Winton Woods: The Ohio State commit hasn’t missed a Notre Dame home game this season. That’s because his older brother, Daniel Cage, plays defensive tackle for the Irish. If the younger Cage is going to spend so much time on campus — he even showed up in the postgame interview room after the Nevada game — maybe he’ll decide he belongs in South Bend too?

Jerron Cage has maintained his pledge to the Buckeyes and insists the trips are only to see his brother and not necessarily recruiting visits. But the Irish would be wise to check in every once in a while to see if he wants to change his mind. He’s too talented a player to completely cut off the recruitment.

247Sports slates Cage as a four-star recruit and the No. 10 defensive tackle in the 2017 class. Rivals rates him as three-star prospect and No. 41 at the position.

Missed targets

• Haskell Garrett, 6-2, 292; Las Vegas Bishop Gorman: Notre Dame’s pipeline to Bishop Gorman, which sent Ronnie Stanley, Nicco Fertitta and Alize Jones to the Irish, has started to freeze. Garrett visited Notre Dame in March as an Ohio State commit, but the Irish were unable to sway him away from the Buckeyes.

247Sports: Four stars, No. 3 DT. | Rivals: Four stars, No. 7 DT.

• Greg Rogers, 6-3, 306; Las Vegas Arbor View: The Irish tried their luck with another Las Vegas defensive tackle, but ended up empty-handed. Rogers, who is scheduled to make a decision later this month, eliminated Notre Dame when he named a top six of Colorado, USC, UCLA, Oklahoma, Michigan and Arizona State in May. He made a visit to South Bend a month earlier.

(UPDATE: Rogers committed to UCLA on Nov. 21.)

Rivals: Four stars, No. 10 DT. | 247Sports: Four stars, No. 12 DT.

• Phillip Paea, 6-4, 285; Berrien Springs (Mich.) High: Notre Dame rarely finds local talent that warrants a scholarship offer like Paea. The only problem was Michigan liked what it saw too. Paea visited Notre Dame in March and committed to the Wolverines in April.

247Sports: Three stars, No. 28 DT. | Rivals: Three stars, No. 15 OG.

tjames@ndinsider.com

574-235-6214

Twitter: @TJamesNDI

Notre Dame commit Darnell Ewell could be the highest-ranked defensive tackle to join the Irish since Louis Nix in 2010. (Photo courtesy of Student Sports)

In the coming weeks, the ND Insider Recruiting Reset will take a position-by-position look at Notre Dame’s recruiting efforts in the 2017 class. This story is the sixth in the series.

QB: Streamlined QB recruiting process pays dividends

RB: ND can be picky at running back

WR: Irish have work left to do at wide receiver

TE: ND has nation's best tight end class for 2017

OL: Irish still waiting to wrap up offensive line class