Analysis: Late offers can be a risky proposition for Notre Dame recruiting

Mike Vorel
South Bend Tribune

It’s an enduring rule of relationships:

Never, ever rush.

Why is a memorable first date not met with an immediate proposal? Because, if you’re smart, you’ll take the time to get to know your significant other — to make sure there’s a fit. Because a fling is a lot of fun, but forever is a lot more daunting. Because a decision of that magnitude demands a thorough evaluation.

In recruiting, the same rule applies.

Throughout college football, coaching staffs begin sifting through film, hosting camps and developing relationships years before National Signing Day. Before Brian Kelly sells a recruit on Notre Dame, he needs to be sold on that recruit — convinced not only that he’ll contribute to the team but also fit at the university and in the community.

A scholarship offer, like a ring, shouldn’t be a rash decision.

Unless, of course, you’re desperate.

They’re getting desperate at Notre Dame.

On. Jan. 10, less than a month before National Signing Day, the Tribune reported that California cornerback Elijah Hicks was no longer an Irish commit. This came roughly 24 hours after four-star corner Paulson Adebo withdrew his own commitment, adding to a list of current-turned-former Notre Dame pledges that included wide receiver Jordan Pouncey, linebacker Pete Werner and defensive linemen Donovan Jeter and Robert Beal.

Suddenly, while Notre Dame scrambled to replenish its new-look coaching staff, it found itself with just 15 verbal commits and a growing list of glaring needs.

And so, the offers started coming.

Defensive lineman Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa. Defensive end Jalen Harris. Defensive tackle Kendrick Green. Cornerback Noah Daniels. Wide receiver Jafar Armstrong. Cornerback Terrell Bailey. Athlete Demetrius Douglas. Safety Jordan Genmark Heath. Cornerback Tre Norwood. Cornerback Russ Yeast. Safety Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah.

All the aforementioned 2017 prospects reported Irish scholarship offers in January. Essentially, Kelly and Co. were forced to skip the second date and go right for the proposal.

But how many will commit? And what are the chances Notre Dame has actually identified a future contributor?

For help foreseeing the future, let’s look to the recent past.

Around this time in 2014, Notre Dame was searching far and wide for interior defensive linemen. On Jan. 9, 2014, defensive tackle Matt Dickerson flipped his commitment from Notre Dame to UCLA, nearly a year after five-star defensive tackle Eddie Vanderdoes did the same.

Suddenly, the Irish had little time and lots of ground to cover.

And so, just like in this cycle, the offers started coming.

Three years later, let’s revisit the six defensive tackles Notre Dame pursued in the final month.

• Daniel Cage: This is the group’s lone relative success story, proof that Notre Dame can identify and reel in a contributor late in the process. Cage chose the Irish over Louisville, Michigan State and Missouri on signing day, and he has made 32 tackles with five tackles for loss in his three seasons in South Bend.

• Pete Mokwuah: Mokwuah flipped his commitment from Rutgers to Notre Dame immediately after receiving a scholarship offer on Jan. 24, 2014, choosing the Irish without ever visiting campus. In the three years since, the 6-foot-3, 317-pound junior has made one tackle in six games.

• Trey Lealaimatafao: Lealaimatafao redshirted his freshman season at LSU in 2014, before being dismissed from the team after being involved in three off-field incidents and two arrests in roughly a year. The latter was an arrest for simple battery and simple robbery, in which he reportedly dug through the pockets of an unconscious man outside a bar and then punched the man’s girlfriend in the face with a closed fist.

After being dismissed from LSU, Lealaimatafao transferred to Arizona Western College, but his stay there was also brief. In July 2016, he pleaded no contest to a pair of second-degree robbery counts and one carjacking charge following a series of robberies in south Los Angeles.

Lealaimatafao is currently serving a six-year prison sentence.

Now, imagine if he had chosen Notre Dame over LSU.

• Michael Sawyers: Sawyers signed with Tennessee, where he played in four games and made two tackles in 2014. He was dismissed from the team following his freshman season for a “violation of team and athletics department policy.” Sawyers later pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor theft charge stemming from an incident in which he stole an Xbox and three video games from a fellow Tennessee student’s dorm room.

Sawyers played last season at ASA College in Brooklyn.

• Marcus Griffin: Notre Dame showed interest in Griffin, but he never technically received an Irish offer because he didn’t reach the university’s foreign language requirements. In three seasons at Arizona, the 302-pound defensive lineman has made three total tackles.

• Courtney Garnett: Garnett signed with Oklahoma, where he redshirted in 2014 and then missed the 2015 season with a torn ACL. It was widely reported that the 6-1, 301-pound defensive tackle transferred to Grambling State last summer, but he did not appear in a game in 2016 and is not currently listed on the team’s roster.

Add it all together, and what do you get? Two Notre Dame signees. Two dismissals. Four arrests. Besides Cage, six combined tackles.

And, believe it or not, the degree of difficult is much higher three years later. Notre Dame enters the final week before National Signing Day with holes at defensive end, cornerback, safety and wide receiver, plus five new assistant coaches scrambling to complete the class.

The lesson, as always:

Recruiting is never easy, but it’s much harder when you have to rush.


Twitter: @mikevorel

Notre Dame nose guard Daniel Cage (75) continues to expand his role for the Irish. (SBT Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN)