Notre Dame commits Josh Lugg, Cole Kmet impress during Army Bowl week

Tyler James
South Bend Tribune

Josh Lugg entered the week at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl as Notre Dame’s third-highest ranked commitment on the offensive line.

After a strong showing, which ended Saturday in San Antonio with a 27-17 victory for the East team, Lugg has drawn praise from recruiting analysts. He might still end up slated behind Irish offensive line commits Robert Hainsey and Aaron Banks in the next set of rankings, but he could jump several offensive linemen on the national landscape.

Whatever the result, the week reflects well on offensive line coach Harry Hiestand for continuing to recruit at a high level for Notre Dame and Lugg for improving himself in the last year.

“I saw Lugg last offseason and was not impressed with him at all,” said Josh Helmholdt, Midwest recruiting analyst for Rivals. “Coming out of this week, I have a completely different perspective on him as a player.

“He’s been arguably the East team’s best offensive lineman all week. He’s shown that, yes, he has the ability to play on the edge and has the athleticism to handle the speedy edge rushers while being able to punch with the bigger defensive linemen.”

The 6-foot-7, 293-pound senior from Wexford (Pa.) North Allegheny received a starting spot at right tackle for the East in Saturday’s game. Lugg helped protect East quarterbacks on a pair of long touchdown passes in the victory. He successfully blocked Oklahoma defensive end commit on a 61-yard touchdown pass from Hunter Johnson to Henry Ruggs. He later walled off Jaelan Phillips, a five-star defensive end committed to UCLA, on Jake Fromm’s 76-yard touchdown pass to D.J Matthews.

“He has really good feet and good length,” said Steve Wiltfong, 247Sports director of recruiting. “The great part about him is he has a lot of strength to develop and he still more than held his own down here. He was a top four or five offensive tackle down here throughout the week with the way he competed.

“With some time in the strength and conditioning program and some time with Hiestand, all the traits are there for him to be another high draft pick. He was an eye-opener for me.”

Rivals and 247Sports had almost identical evaluations of Lugg coming into the week. Rivals ranked him as the No. 35 offensive tackle in the 2017 class. 247Sports slated him No. 36 at the position. Both pegged him as a four-star recruit.

Lugg was joined as a starter for the East by Notre Dame tight end commit Cole Kmet. Ranked as the No. 3 tight end in the country by Rivals and 247Sports, Kmet had fewer doubters to prove wrong. But the 6-foot-5, 240-pound senior from Arlington Heights (Ill.) St Viator did answer questions about his ability to block.

Kmet did not make a catch during Saturday’s game, nor was he targeted with a pass. His biggest highlight of the day may have come when he cleared some room as lead blocker for a 13-yard run for Cam Akers. Kmet collided with Baron Browning, a five-star outside linebacker committed to Ohio State, in the hole and created a crease for Akers.

“There were several times in practice where he helped seal that edge off and they hit some big running plays behind him,” Wiltfong said of Kmet. “He’s natural catching the football. He has big hands, big ole paws. He’s going to be a really good player for Notre Dame. One of the best tight ends in the country for sure.”

Helmholdt noticed an improvement in Kmet’s blocking ability as well.

“We already knew he could flex out and be an asset in the passing game, but he’s really shown he has the goods as an in-line blocker too,” Helmholdt said. “He’s filled out his frame really well and not lost any of his speed or athleticism. He’s added strength and can go punch-for-punch with defensive ends.

“Cole’s fought the football a little bit in the receiving game this week. Nothing major. Nothing bad. He just hasn’t shown natural, soft hands. But his speed’s definitely holding up. He’s separating really well.”

Rivals ranks Kmet as the No. 87 recruit regardless of position in the 2017 class. 247Sports slates him No. 88 overall. Both rate him as a four-star recruit.

Saturday didn’t bring all good news for Notre Dame. During the game, a pair of Irish targets announced commitments to other schools. Five-star offensive tackle Foster Sarell picked Stanford, and four-star wide receiver Jamire Calvin picked Oregon State. | 574-235-6214 | Twitter: @TJamesNDI

Notre Dame offensive line commit Josh Lugg impressed during his week at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl. (Photo courtesy of Trib Total Media/Christopher Horner)
Notre Dame tight end commit Cole Kmet makes a catch during the Irish Invasion at Notre Dame Stadium Saturday, June 18, 2016. (ND Insider Photo/MICHAEL CATERINA)