Notre Dame moves on to 2018 class with junior day weekend

Tyler James
South Bend Tribune

Ten days ago, Notre Dame football secured its 2017 recruiting class on national signing day.

Less than two weeks later, the Irish coaching staff has pivoted its attention to the 2018 class.

The Notre Dame coaches will spend this weekend doing the same thing they spent the final weekends in January doing — hosting recruits.

Saturday will serve as Notre Dame’s first junior day of 2017. All six recruits who have already verbally committed to Notre Dame and five top targets in the 2018 class are expected on campus.

While Notre Dame’s 4-8 season and offseason coaching staff shuffle left the Irish scrambling in the final weeks of the 2017 recruiting cycle, the start of the 2018 class should have Notre Dame’s coaches feeling a bit more comfortable.

The number of commitments alone puts Notre Dame ahead of any pace it’s had in head coach Brian Kelly’s tenure in South Bend. The six commitments in the 2018 class at the start of February is one ahead of where the 2017 class sat a year ago. But the 2017 class encountered its first defection — four-star defensive end Robert Beal — before the month ended.

The accelerated recruiting pace aligns with the national trend of recruits making commitments earlier in high school, but it also aligns with Mike Elston taking over as recruiting coordinator.

In the two classes (2017 and 2018) in which Elston and the Irish coaching staff have been able to work ahead — since he took on the new role — Notre Dame has garnered 11 verbal commitments combined a year or more before that cycle's signing day. In the previous six recruiting classes combined, Notre Dame had lined up only nine commitments a year or more in advance.

But the Irish aren’t just winning a numbers game. The current class of six commitments are talented players.

Four commitments — quarterback Phil Jurkovec, linebacker Bo Bauer, running back Markese Stepp and defensive tackle Jayson Ademilola — are rated as four-star recruits by both Rivals and 247Sports. Both recruiting services slate the two remaining commitments — defensive end Justin Ademilola and linebacker Ovie Oghoufo — as three-star recruits.

Jurkovec and Bauer are considered top-five players nationally at their respective positions. The Ademilola twins added offers from Clemson on Friday. And Stepp and Oghoufo have shunned major interest from programs like Michigan and Michigan State. That haul to date ranks No. 6 nationally according to both Rivals and 247Sports. 

This weekend will be the first chance for the 2018 commits to all be on campus at the same time and for more than one day. All of the commits and most of the targets were scheduled to arrive on Friday or Saturday and will be staying until Sunday.

The 2018 commits have been very active on social media in trying to get Notre Dame’s targets interested in the Irish. This weekend they will help the Notre Dame coaching staff recruit the five four-star targets also visiting for junior day.

• LB Dallas Gant, 6-3, 208; Toledo (Ohio) St. John’s: The Irish set their sights on Gant with an offer at the Irish Invasion last summer. Now Gant will get his first look at Notre Dame’s rearranged defensive coaching staff. Elston has been leading Gant’s recruitment, which has included multiple visits to Notre Dame, but he will need to learn more about how he fits in defensive coordinator Mike Elko’s scheme.

Gant’s recruitment could play out as a battle between Notre Dame and Ohio State, but he also has offers from potential contenders Penn State, Michigan and Michigan State.

247Sports slates Gant as the No. 2 outside linebacker in the 2018 class. Rivals ranks him No. 15 at the position.

• CB Kalon Gervin, 5-11, 180; Detroit Cass Tech: The last time Gervin visited campus, he accompanied his head coach, Thomas Wilcher, who was speaking at Notre Dame’s coaches clinic in April. Gervin returned on Friday, just days after receiving an offer from the Irish.

Cornerback will be a main priority in Notre Dame’s 2018 class after signing zero recruits at the position earlier this month. Gervin could be a prime candidate to fill that void.

Rivals ranks Gervin as the No. 11 cornerback in the 2018 class. 247Sports slates him as the No. 9 athlete.

Notre Dame has struggled to pull Cass Tech players away from Michigan and Michigan State in the past, including safety Jalen Kelly-Powell and wide receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones in the 2017 cycle. Like his former teammates, Gervin has drawn national attention, with offers also from LSU, Oklahoma and Louisville.

• DT Aeneas Hawkins, 6-3, 255; Cincinnati Moeller: The same school that produced Notre Dame defensive tackle Elijah Taylor features another star defensive tackle recruit. Hawkins has continued to reel in big-time scholarship offers from Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State, Oklahoma and others.

Hawkins last visited Notre Dame for the Virginia Tech game in November and received an offer from the Irish on a visit last April.

Rivals ranks Hawkins as the No. 16 defensive tackle in the class. 247Sports slates him No. 19.

• WR Micah Jones, 6-5, 195; Gurnee (Ill.) Warren Township: The Chicagoland receiver has been a frequent visitor as a high school recruit and earned his scholarship offer following his performance at the Irish Invasion last summer.

Jones plans to make a commitment decision in April, so a weekend visit spanning from Friday night to Sunday should go a long way in shaping Notre Dame’s fate. Jones has also received offers from the likes of Ole Miss, Michigan State, Iowa, Northwestern and Illinois.

Rivals ranks Jones as the No. 27 wide receiver in the class. 247Sports slates him No. 46.

• ATH Braden Lenzy, 6-0, 160; Portland (Ore.) Tigard: Lenzy will give Notre Dame’s junior day a bit of a national flavor with the other targets visiting from the Midwest. Many of Lenzy’s offers come from West Coast programs such as Oregon, Stanford and UCLA, but the Irish recognized him as a target in December.

Lenzy, who has been timed at 4.47 seconds in the 40-yard dash, could play cornerback or wide receiver, but he said Notre Dame has lately been recruiting him as a wide receiver with new coach DelVaughn Alexander.

247Sports slates Lenzy as the No. 14 athlete in the class. Rivals ranks him as the No. 21 athlete. | 574-235-6214 | Twitter: @TJamesNDI

Linebacker Dallas Gant, a 2018 recruit, runs a drill during the Irish Invasion at Notre Dame Stadium Saturday, June 18, 2016. ND Insider Photo/MICHAEL CATERINA