Recruiting Reset: Notre Dame still looking for star power on offensive line

Tyler James
South Bend Tribune

The words feel weird to type.

Harry Hiestand has yet to add a four-star commitment to Notre Dame’s 2018 football recruiting class.

Sure, the Irish have already received pledges from offensive linemen Cole Mabry and John Dirksen, but neither have received the same amount of acclaim typically attached to recruits who eventually signed with the Irish under Hiestand.

The offensive line coach routinely replenishes his group with well-regarded prospects. Four of the five full recruiting classes to sign with Notre Dame under Hiestand have included at least three four-star offensive linemen, according to Rivals' rankings. He’s undoubtedly been the most consistent Irish recruiter of the Brian Kelly era.

Yet in what’s considered a down year nationally for top-notch offensive line talent, Hiestand has landed more projects than sure things. That doesn’t mean Hiestand is finished. He’s still shooting for some of the best offensive linemen in the country to complete the class.

Commitments

• Cole Mabry, 6-6, 270; Brentwood (Tenn.) High: A Notre Dame offer from Hiestand can be hard for an offensive lineman to dismiss. That proved to be the case with Mabry.

The three-star recruit received an offer from the Irish during an unofficial visit in February. Three days later, he committed to Notre Dame.

The competition for Mabry was minimal when Notre Dame made its move. The Irish were only the fifth FBS program to offer Mabry. Memphis, Indiana, Colorado State and Cincinnati joined Mabry’s offer list before Notre Dame.

Rivals has ranked the top 60 offensive tackles in the 2018 class, and Mabry has yet to make the list. 247Sports slates Mabry as the No. 61 offensive tackle.

In Mabry, Hiestand found a big and athletic offensive linemen. Those two aspects alone make him an intriguing prospect for Hiestand to mold.

But he’ll have his hands full. Mabry has a tendency to hold players — though not always flagged for a penalty — and has plenty of room to grow with technique, strength and consistency.

• John Dirksen, 6-5, 290; Maria Stein (Ohio) Marion Local: The three-star lineman came to Notre Dame in March to watch a spring practice. He left campus committed to Notre Dame.

It certainly didn’t hurt that former Irish offensive linemen and current pros Zack and Nick Martin were also at practice that day. The Martin brothers helped Hiestand in practice drills and served as a convenient reminder of what the future could look like for visiting recruits.

From a school in the second-smallest division of high school football in Ohio, Dirksen could have easily gone unnoticed by Notre Dame. But the Irish, like a few other schools, discovered him following his junior season. At the time Dirksen committed to Notre Dame, his offer list included the likes of Michigan State, Kentucky, Northwestern, Boston College and Iowa State.

Gauging Dirksen’s talent is complicated by the lack of equal competition he plays against on a weekly basis. And unlike many of the top recruits in the country, Dirksen stays away from the offseason camp circuit.

On film, Dirksen has shown the ability to dominate lesser opponents. He’s a bruising offensive lineman who may end up playing at guard. Run-blocking is Dirksen’s greatest strength.

247Sports slates Dirksen as the No. 43 offensive tackle in the 2018 class. Rivals ranks him No. 57 at the position.

Remaining targets

• Jamaree Salyer, 6-4, 327; Atlanta Pace Academy: Another round of camp domination gave Salyer the deserved title as best offensive lineman nationally in the 2018 class. Every program would love to add the potentially transcendent prospect. Fortunately for Notre Dame, he keeps making visits to South Bend.

Salyer, who has already been on campus three times, plans to return to Notre Dame for the Georgia game on Sept. 9. His most recent visit to South Bend came in June with his parents.

The Irish will likely have to fight for Salyer all the way into 2018. He doesn’t plan to make a commitment until after his senior season. Clemson, Ohio State, Alabama, Stanford and Florida State are among the many programs hoping to get Salyer on campus for good.

Rivals: Five stars, No. 1 OG. | 247Sports: Five stars, No. 1 OG.

• Sam Taimani, 6-2, 293; Salt Lake City East: Notre Dame invited Taimani’s head coach, Brandon Matich, to speak its coaches clinic in March. Four months later, Taimani made a trip to see the Irish as well.

Taimani’s July visit to Notre Dame made such an impression that he’s already working on planning an official visit to ND. The Irish originally recruited Taimani as a defensive tackle, but the bigger need exists on the offensive line, where Taimani has played regularly in the past two seasons.

Top contenders for Taimani include Alabama, Oregon, Tennessee, UCLA, Utah and Washington.

Rivals: Four stars, No. 12 OG. | 247Sports: Three stars, No. 17 OG.

• Nicholas Petit-Frere, 6-6, 260; Tampa (Fla.) Berkeley Prep: Petit-Frere attended the same Notre Dame spring practice that convinced Dirksen to give his pledge to the Irish. Also like Dirksen, Petit-Frere has kept pretty quiet on the details of his recruitment.

Getting Petit-Frere back on campus for an official visit should be a priority for Notre Dame. The Irish will have to work hard to pull him away from the top SEC programs.

Back in March, CBS Sports Network recruiting analyst Tom Lemming compared Petit-Frere to former Irish offensive tackle Ronnie Stanley, a first-round NFL draft pick of the Baltimore Ravens in 2016. Petit-Frere has since climbed the rankings elsewhere. 247Sports recently upgraded Petit-Frere to five-star status.

247Sports: Five stars, No. 1 OT. | Rivals: Four stars, No. 13 OT.

• Chris Murray, 6-3, 290; Santa Ana (Calif.) Mater Dei: An August offer to Murray was the latest sign that Notre Dame has work left to do on the offensive line. Hiestand seems to have found a good candidate as Murray recently received a rankings bump from Rivals, and he’s already working to schedule an official visit to Notre Dame.

Notre Dame is the biggest program trying to pull Murray away from the West Coast. Stanford, UCLA, Washington and others will try to keep him in the Pac-12.

Targeting a program familiar with Notre Dame, such as Mater Dei, should help the Irish. Former linebacker Joe Schmidt most recently made the transition from Mater Dei to prominence at Notre Dame. The current roster includes multiple recruiting targets, including wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown, the youngest brother of ND wide receiver Equanimeous St. Brown.

247Sports: Four stars, No. 6 OG. | Rivals: Four stars, No. 17 OG.

Missed targets

• Ryan Hayes, 6-7, 250; Traverse City (Mich.) West: Multiple visits to Notre Dame weren’t enough to convince Hayes to leave Michigan for South Bend. The resurgent Wolverines added Hayes to their recruiting class in May.

247Sports: Four stars, No. 12 OT. | Rivals: Three stars, No. 51 OT.

• Jackson Carman, 6-6, 290; Fairfield (Ohio) High: Notre Dame took advantage of its proximity to Ohio and hosted Carman during the 2016 season. Meanwhile, Carman’s recruitment started to turn national. Ohio State seems to be the most likely destination for the elite offensive tackle who has yet to make a commitment decision.

Rivals: Five stars, No. 1 OT. | 247Sports: Four stars, No. 2 OT.

• Will Craig, 6-5, 276; Granite Bay (Calif.) High: A Notre Dame offer in June made Craig reconsider a commitment decision before his senior season. However, the four-star recruit stuck to his original timeline and committed to California in July without scheduling a visit to see the Irish.

Rivals: Four stars, No. 14 OT. | 247Sports: Four stars, No. 19 OT.

• Warren Ericson, 6-4, 317; Suwanee (Ga.) North Gwinnett: Notre Dame received a winter visit from Ericson, and offered him as a result. The home-state influence was too much to overcome when Georgia followed with an offer of its own. Ericson committed to the Bulldogs in June.

Rivals: Four stars, No. 13 OG. | 247Sports: Three stars, No. 31 OG.

tjames@ndinsider.com

574-235-6214

Twitter: @TJamesNDI

Cole Mabry is one of two three-star offensive lineman committed to Notre Dame's 2018 class. (Photo courtesy of Rivals)

In the coming days, the ND Insider Recruiting Reset series will take a position-by-position look at Notre Dame’s recruiting efforts in the 2018 class. This is the fifth story of the series.

Quarterback: Early work paying off at QB

Running backs: Irish packing a powerful punch

Wide receivers: With size in hand, ND left looking for speed

Tight ends: Irish not settling for less