Recruiting Reset: Notre Dame quickly turning defensive tackle into a strength

Tyler James
South Bend Tribune

Is a defensive tackle renaissance in full swing at Notre Dame?

It may not be reflected on the field this season, but the Irish have made significant improvements recruiting at the position. There was really nowhere to go but up.

Notre Dame’s best defensive tackle entering the 2017 season, Jerry Tillery, was recruited by the Irish as an offensive lineman in the 2015 class. And in only a matter of weeks, two freshmen, Kurt Hinish and Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa, have moved into contention to play in the rotation this season. That’s a pretty clear picture of the holes that developed through defensive tackle recruiting.

In addition to Hinish and Tagovailoa-Amosa, the Irish signed arguably their best defensive tackle prospect since Louis Nix in 2010. Darnell Ewell, ranked by Rivals as the No. 9 defensive tackle in the country, hasn’t been fast-tracked for early playing time as a freshman, but his size and strength gives him a high ceiling as he learns the technique required to succeed in college.

As impressive as the Ewell signing was for Notre Dame, the Irish may have made an even bigger splash at defensive tackle in the 2018 class. Jayson Ademilola, who committed to the Irish last summer with his twin brother, garnered a lot of praise through the offseason camp circuit. At The Opening Finals, he was named as one of the top six defensive linemen participating in the national camp.

Ja’mion Franklin, Notre Dame’s other defensive tackle commit, competed alongside Ademilola at The Opening Finals. The Irish hadn’t had a single defensive tackle compete in the event since Sheldon Day in 2011.

Commitments

• Jayson Ademilola, 6-3, 288; Jersey City (N.J.) St. Peter's Prep: When the Ademilola twins committed to Notre Dame in the summer of 2016, it was described as an important recruiting victory for the Irish. The twins could give Notre Dame some recruiting momentum in New Jersey and they addressed needs at defensive tackle (Jayson) and defensive end (Justin).

That was before Jayson Ademilola elevated his play on a national level. In the past few months, Ademilola showed flashes of dominance at The Opening Finals, pushed himself up to the No. 4 defensive tackle spot in the class, according to 247Sports, and received invites to play in the Polynesian Bowl and U.S. Army All-American Bowl.

The rise didn’t surprise a lot of college football coaches. Despite a commitment to Notre Dame, Ademilola continued to receive scholarship offers from the likes of Alabama, Clemson and Ohio State. With defensive line coach Mike Elston and defensive coordinator Mike Elko maintaining steady contact with Ademilola, he hasn’t flinched from his pledge.

What makes Ademilola special is a dynamic athleticism at his size. He’s quick off the ball, has advanced knowledge of pass rush techniques and takes advantage of his strength to beat offensive linemen. He’s not massive, but he should fit well at defensive tackle with Ewell and Franklin taking interior responsibilities at nose tackle.

Though 247Sports and Scout have both moved Ademilola into their top 100 lists for the 2018 class, Rivals has been hesitant to make any big moves with Ademilola. He’s still a four-star recruit, but he’s pegged as the No. 21 defensive tackle by Rivals and ranked outside the top 250 nationally.

• Ja’mion Franklin, 6-2, 306; Ridgely (Md.) North Caroline: The Irish sat in a good position with Franklin from the moment he received a scholarship offer. That came back in March, when Franklin made an unofficial visit to South Bend.

Franklin scheduled a return visit for late June and eyed a commitment date of July 1. It turned out he couldn’t wait that long. The three-star recruit committed to Notre Dame on June 6 before making his return to campus later that month.

Franklin’s top contenders included Virginia, Virginia Tech and Wisconsin, but they all fell behind Notre Dame by a significant margin. He cited Notre Dame’s coaching staff — from head coach Brian Kelly to Elko, Elston and linebackers coach Clark Lea — as the top reason for his commitment.

Rivals ranks Franklin as the No. 34 defensive tackle in the class. 247Sports slates him No. 40 at the position.

Franklin’s physical build may prevent him from reaching four-star status. He doesn’t have the longest arms and may be a bit top-heavy. But he’s strong and nimble, a rare combination for interior defensive linemen.

Franklin held his own at The Opening Finals, where he was in the minority as a three-star prospect. He beat some of the best offensive linemen in the country with his relentless motor and quickness.

Missed targets

• PJ Mustipher, 6-2, 275; Owings Mills (Md.) McDonogh School: The mutual interest between Notre Dame and Mustipher, the younger brother of Irish center Sam Mustipher and a frequent campus visitor, started to fade when Franklin became a priority. P.J. Mustipher committed to Penn State earlier this month.

Rivals: Four stars, No. 7 DT. | 247Sports: Four stars, No. 7 DT.

• Aeneas Hawkins, 6-3, 265; Cincinatti Moeller: One of Hawkins’ first scholarship offers came from Notre Dame. Visits to South Bend in 2016 didn’t produce more visits this year. Hawkins also committed to Penn State earlier this month.

Rivals: Four stars, No. 18 DT. | 247Sports: Three stars, No. 26 DT.

• Robert Cooper, 6-2, 377; Snellville (Ga.) South Gwinnett: Cooper had been on the early visitors list for Notre Dame’s Irish Invasion camp in 2016, but he never made the trip. That’s because he committed to Florida State that week instead. Notre Dame’s eventual offer in January didn’t spark any momentum.

Rivals: Four stars, No. 5 DT. | 247Sports: Four stars, No. 14 DT. 

tjames@ndinsider.com

574-235-6214

Twitter: @TJamesNDI

Jayson Ademilola may become the the highest-ranked defensive tackle to enroll at Notre Dame during Brian Kelly's tenure. (AP Photo/Gregory Payan)

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 sixth 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

Offensive line: ND still looking for star power