Notre Dame football enjoys a late rush on signing day

Tyler James
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND — As Brian Kelly carefully detailed each freshly signed prospect in Notre Dame football’s 2017 recruiting, a phone sitting on the podium started to ring.

He looked at the phone, told reporters gathered at his press conference that he needed to answer it, and momentarily left the room.

On the other line? Safety Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah. In a moment far too perfect to not be planned, the three-star recruit called to inform Notre Dame’s head coach that his National Letter of Intent had been submitted.

“Well, I got an announcement to make,” Kelly said as he returned to the auditorium inside the Guglielmino Athletics Complex. “We can add another one to the list. Announce Jeremiah (Owusu-Koramoah) is committed. We have his paperwork.”

Later in the press conference, Kelly was interrupted again. This time, Jasmine Johnson, Notre Dame’s coordinator of on-campus recruiting, stopped his discussion.

“Excuse me, Coach,” she said before handing him a piece of paper. “We have just one more piece of news for you.”

Kelly then announced the addition of another commitment: Three-star defensive end Kofi Wardlow had also signed with the Irish.

It was that kind of day for Notre Dame. Three new commitments — defensive lineman Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa, Owusu-Koramoah and Wardlow — on signing day pushed the Irish recruiting class to 21 members with 16 signing on Wednesday and five already enrolled on campus.

Notre Dame covered a lot of ground in a mad scramble in the final weeks of the recruiting cycle. After the Irish lost commitments from cornerbacks Paulson Adebo and Elijah Hicks in the middle of January, the class shrank to 15 commitments. Notre Dame rebounded by closing with six commitments from recruits who visited campus within the last two weeks.

“There was one point in the middle of January where I wasn’t sure we were going to get another commitment,” said recruiting coordinator Mike Elston. “Because things were going well, but they just ... dead end, dead end. Then you’re building a relationship with them, but it’s not enough time.”

Time didn’t seem to be too much of a factor in the end. The Irish ended up signing six of the 10 official visitors in January. The only Wednesday decision that didn't fall Notre Dame's way was in-state cornerback Russ Yeast, who stuck with his three-month commitment to Louisville.

Notre Dame even scored a victory in a battle against distance. Tagovailoa-Amosa, a 6-foot-4, 270-pound senior at Kapolei (Hawaii) High, became the first Hawaiian recruit to sign with the Irish since defensive lineman Kona Schwenke in 2010. The year prior produced Manti Te’o and wide receiver Robby Toma from the islands to Notre Dame.

The presence of those families in Hawaii, Elston said, helped Notre Dame recruit Tagovailoa-Amosa. So did former Irish offensive lineman Ronnie Stanley coaching him in the Polynesian Bowl earlier this month in Hawaii.

Throw in special teams coordinator Brian Polian’s familiarity recruiting in the state and coordinator of recruiting operations Aaryn Kearney’s work in lining up the logistics for Tagovailoa-Amosa’s family to visit in the middle of last week, and you have the recipe for a big Irish victory.

Tagovailoa-Amosa recorded 34 tackles for a loss and 18 sacks as a senior, but he didn’t surface on Notre Dame’s radar until November. Elston said the Irish noticed him in the tunnel of Los Angeles Coliseum when Notre Dame played at USC and his recruitment picked up from there.

“Myron is a special player,” Elston said. “He’s going to add so much versatility with his athleticism and the way he can rush the quarterback. He’s already well-trained with rush angles and how to use his hands. He plays very physical, and he’s got a relentless effort.”

247Sports slates Tagovailoa-Amosa as a four-star recruit and the No. 10 strongside defensive end in the 2017 class. Rivals ranks him as a three-star recruit and the No. 39 defensive tackle.

Tagovailoa-Amosa started the wave of good news when his signature came in shortly before 1 p.m. Then came Owusu-Koramoah’s moment with the phone call. The 6-2, 188-pound product of Hampton (Va.) Bethel projects as a fit at the hybrid safety/linebacker position termed as a rover in defensive coordinator Mike Elko’s 4-2-5 scheme.

“Another one of those guys that really fit what we were looking for, especially in Coach Elko's defense, that safety position that can come down close to the line of scrimmage,” Kelly said. “Plays physical.”

Owusu-Koramoah had been committed to Virginia before taking visits to Michigan State and Notre Dame. While in South Bend, Kelly said, Owusu-Koramoah spent hours watching film with junior linebacker Nyles Morgan.

247Sports slates Owusu-Koramoah as the No. 20 athlete in the 2017 class. Rivals ranks him as the No. 40 outside linebacker.

Fittingly, Wardlow ended up being the last member of the class. The search for another defensive end to join three-star recruit Jonathan MacCollister took every last hour up to signing day.

“We were looking for one more pass rusher,” Kelly said. “We think Kofi has some elite skills at the defensive end position where he can grow and develop. We really liked his athleticism and his size. Really impressed with him in person.”

Elko and Elston both made trips to visit with the 6-3, 240-pound Wardlow, who remained verbally committed to Maryland until signing day, at Washington (D.C.) St. John’s College High. As a senior, Wardlow totaled 84 tackles, 28 tackles for a loss and 9.5 sacks.

Notre Dame’s surge in the final weeks of the recruiting cycle secured a respectable recruiting class for the Irish. Both Rivals and 247Sports pegged Notre Dame’s 21-man class as 13th-best in the country as of Wednesday night. CBS Sports Network recruiting analyst Tom Lemming put the Irish at No. 10.

“Notre Dame fans were panicked,” Lemming said. “It looked like the world was ending because they lost the five commits (since the 2016 season started), but they replaced them with pretty good players. In the long

run, getting defensive players could help them. It shows you that Notre Dame still has a lot of power. Once they put their mind to it, they can still do well.” | 574-235-6214 | Twitter: @TJamesNDI

Three-star defensive end Kofi Wardlow became the last signee in Notre Dame's 2017 recruiting class on Wednesday. He flipped his commitment from Maryland to the Irish on signing day. (Photo courtesy of Rivals.)

Rivals                   247Sports

1. Alabama           1. Alabama

2. Ohio State        2. Ohio State

3. Georgia             3. Michigan

4. Michigan           4. USC

5. Florida State     5. Georgia

6. USC                  6. Florida State

7. Oklahoma          7. LSU

8. LSU                   8. Auburn

9. Florida               9. Oklahoma

10. Texas A&M       10. Stanford

11. Miami               11. Tennessee

12. Penn State        12. Texas A&M

13. Notre Dame       13. Notre Dame

14. Auburn              14. Florida

15. Tennessee          15. Miami