On Senior Day, Notre Dame turns recruiting focus to future

Tyler James
South Bend Tribune

Saturday’s recruiting focus will be on the distant future.

The list of expected visitors is light in the 2017 class but long on talent in the 2018 and 2019 classes. More than 30 recruits with at least one more year of high school left plan to be in attendance when the Irish host Virginia Tech.

On the field, Notre Dame will celebrate its seniors. In the stands, youth will be embraced.

The biggest collection of talent will be at defensive tackle. In addition to Ohio State commit Jerron Cage, the younger brother of Irish sophomore Daniel Cage, attending his sixth home game of the season, Notre Dame will host three more defensive targets: PJ Mustipher, Aeneas Hawkins and Jacob Lacey.

Mustipher, a 6-foot-5, 283-pound junior at Owings Mills (Md.) McDonogh, could choose to follow the same path as his older brother. But if the younger Mustipher decided to enroll at Notre Dame, he would likely end up on the opposite side of the ball as Sam Mustipher, the starting center for the Irish.

PJ Mustipher may even be a better prospect than his older brother. The four-star recruit has already received offers from the likes of Alabama, Ohio State, Michigan and Miami.

“He's quick. He has really good feet. He's smart,” Lemming said. “He could play offense or defense. Sam couldn't."

Rivals ranks Mustipher as the No. 4 defensive tackle in the 2018 class. 247Sports slates him fifth at the position.

Hawkins, a 6-3, 250-pound junior, is a product of the same program (Cincinnati Moeller) as Notre Dame sophomore defensive tackle Elijah Taylor. The two are comparable prospects.

“Almost identical,” CBS Sports Network recruiting analyst Tom Lemming said of the two players. “He has Elijah's type of body and ability. The coaches there think he's very similar to Elijah."

Hawkins, a four-star recruit, has drawn early interest from a number of big-time programs including offers from Ohio State, Florida State, Clemson and Florida. 247Sports pegs Hawkins as the No. 19 defensive tackle in the 2018 class.

Lacey, a 6-2, 290-pound sophomore, received one of the first few offers in the 2019 class from Notre Dame. He reported the offer following his performance at the Irish Invasion in June. Saturday’s trip to South Bend will be his third visit to campus this year.

The Bowling Green (Ky.) South Warren product also reported offers from Tennessee, Louisville, Kentucky and Cincinnati. 247Sports slates Lacey as the No. 4 defensive tackle in the 2019 class.

“Jacob is one of the top defensive tackles in the country for that class,” Lemming said. “He’s a kid Notre Dame should feature because they need impact guys on defense.”

The Irish will also host a pair of talented 2018 kickers on Saturday – Bubba Baxa and Derek Ng. Kohl’s Kicking ranks Baxa, from Pasadena, Texas, as the No. 1 kicker in the 2018 class. Kohl’s Kicking ranked Irish sophomore Justin Yoon as the top kicker in the 2015 class. Chris Sailer Kicking ranks Ng, from Las Vegas, as the No. 16 kicker in the class.

Notre Dame hasn’t extended an offer to any kickers in the 2018 class, but a few have shown up on visitors lists this season including Cameron Dicker (No. 2 in the class according to Kornblue Kicking), Josh Gorball (No. 11 according to Kohl’s Kicking) and Gavin Peddie (No. 25 according to Kohl’s Kicking).

Hicks at Michigan

Michigan already turned one former Notre Dame commit into a Wolverine with defensive lineman Donovan Jeter. The Irish may have to fend off Michigan again with Elijah Hicks.

Hicks, a 6-0, 170-pound cornerback from La Mirada (Calif.) High, committed to Notre Dame a month ago, but he plans to make an official visit to Michigan this weekend.

Notre Dame has been able to hold its 2017 recruiting class together for the most part through the rocky 2016 season. Jeter, a four-star recruit, has been the only defection since the start of the season. The vast majority of Irish commits haven’t even taken visits to other schools since giving Notre Dame their pledge. What comes of Hicks’ visit to Michigan will be worth watching.

Rivals ranks Hicks as a four-star recruit and the No. 27 athlete in the 2017 class. 247Sports slates him as a three-star prospect and the No. 49 cornerback.

VISITORS LIST

The following recruits are expected to attend Saturday's Notre Dame game against Virginia Tech

2017 target

Jerron Cage

2018 targets

DT Aeneas Hawkins

DT PJ Mustipher

2019 target

DT Jacob Lacey

2018 commit

RB Markese Stepp

2017 prospects

QB JD Carney

LB Connor Kerstetter

2018 prospects

TE Brenden Bates

K Bubba Baxa

K Derek Ng

OL Wyatt Blake

S Dallas Craddieth

RB Nolan Edmonds

WR Christian Ford

OL John Harris

LB Josh Marsh

LB Job Mayhue

DE Abi Okonji

OL Rafael Reyes

LS Adam Santi

DT Elijah Teague

RB Ronnie Walker

2019 prospects

OL Will Putnam

LB JD Bertrand

RB Malcolm Brunson

S Sebastian Castro

RB Steele Chambers

WR Cameron Coleman

DT Dallas Culpepper

OL Devontae Dobbs

LB Marvin Ham

DE Jalen Hunt

OL Tyler Johnson

RB Demetrius Mauney

RB Nathaniel Peat

DB Jack Tranquill

QB Mariano Valenti

OL Caedan Wallace

WR Jashon Watkins

WR Kyren Williams

2020 prospects

DE Dallas Fincher

DE Calvin Jones

DT Bryce Mostella

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

PJ Mustipher, a four-star defensive tackle in the 2018 class, could choose to follow his older brother, Sam, to Notre Dame. (Photo courtesy of Rivals)