Monster recruiting weekend could direct finish of Notre Dame's 2018 class

Tyler James
South Bend Tribune

Game visits produce commitments.

It's a simple fact of college football recruiting. The best time to show off a campus typically comes on one of only a few Saturdays every season.

Host a night game against a marquee opponent and expect the visitors list to grow. The more recruits on campus, the better your chances to add a commitment.

Notre Dame has nailed down that blueprint in the past several years. Since night games became an annual staple for the Irish in 2011, the big recruiting weekends have been easy to identify.

That won't be much different this year. Notre Dame's first big recruiting event of the season will come Saturday when the Irish host Georgia for a 7:30 p.m. kickoff. Next month's night game against USC will also serve as a recruiting bonanza.

Winning isn't a requirement for a successful recruiting weekend, but Saturday's game might be an exception. After last year's 4-8 season, the Irish need big wins to recapture the attention of high school recruits.

Last season's losses took a toll on in-season visitors. Only one recruit in the 2017 class — offensive lineman Aaron Banks — signed with Notre Dame after visiting for an Irish home game before making his commitment. The 16 other 2017 recruits with Notre Dame offers who visited for games last season signed elsewhere.

To put together a strong finish to the 2018 class, the Irish will need to prove last season to be an anomaly. Game visits have worked in the past. They helped produce nine eventual signees in the 2016 class during the 2015 season and five signees in the 2015 class during the 2014 season.

Notre Dame's 2018 class already has garnered 16 verbal commitments — 10 of which are expected on campus this weekend. Six other targets in the 2018 class will also be on campus looking to decide if Notre Dame is a fit for them too.

2018 targets

• OL Jamaree Salyer, 6-4, 327; Atlanta Pace Academy: UPDATE 9/8 - Salyer tweeted Friday night that he has cancelled his visit due to "family issues."

• DB Houston Griffith, 6-0, 181; Bradenton (Fla.) IMG Academy: The Chicago product and son of former NFL fullback Howard Griffith had been a frequent Notre Dame visitor as a young recruit. But the younger Griffith hasn't been back on campus since March.

Saturday's official visit, as long as his travel plans don't get interrupted by Hurricane Irma, will be the first sign of hope for the Irish with Griffith in the past few months. Florida State, who hosted Griffith for a visit in June and is scheduled for an official visit next weekend, has emerged as a potential favorite. The four-star recruit named a top seven of Florida State, Penn State, Texas, Alabama, Nebraska, Ohio State and Notre Dame in June.

"He was the No. 1 player in Chicago before he went down to IMG,” Lemming said. “His dad was a big-time college and pro player. This is the kind of guy that Notre Dame normally gets. He's a very talented defensive back who is academically oriented. He's a mature ball player who seems to know his way around the football field."

Griffith has been projected as both a cornerback and safety, and the Irish have needs at both positions. Rivals ranks Griffith as the No. 6 safety in the class. 247Sports slates him as the No. 15 cornerback.

• WR Chase Cota, 6-4, 195; South Medford (Ore.) High: Oregon is home for Cota, and it's also the place where his father, Chad, played college football. But the Ducks have major competition for the younger Cota, and the Irish are one of the top contenders.

The four-star recruit will make his official visit to Notre Dame this weekend. His previous trip to South Bend for the Blue-Gold Game in April helped the Irish land in Cota's top seven alongside Oregon, USC, UCLA, Alabama, California and Georgia.

“He's outstanding,” Lemming said. “He's a Jeff Samardzija-type wide receiver. That's who he reminds you off. He even has the hair like Samardzija. He's a good-sized kid with better than average speed and great hands. His dad played pro ball, so he's a kid that knows how to play the game. He's a man among boys when he plays."

Cota caught 42 passes for 754 yards and 10 touchdowns as a junior. 247Sports slates Cota as the No. 13 wide receiver in the class. Rivals ranks him No. 21.

• CB Kalon Gervin, 5-10, 180; Detroit Cass Tech: The former Notre Dame commit will turn his renewed interest in the Irish into action this weekend. Gervin, who ditched his three-month pledge to the Irish in May, will make an unofficial visit to Notre Dame this weekend. He plans to save his official visit to Notre Dame for the USC game next month.

Notre Dame has yet to receive a commitment at cornerback since Gervin left the class. Seven months after not signing any cornerbacks in the 2017 class, the need at the position is obvious. The combination of need and Gervin's talent makes his interest worth pursuing.

"Notre Dame's weakest spot is defensive back in this recruiting class,” Lemming said. “They need some depth and good DBs. He's a good cover corner. He's a good athlete with decent height.”

Signing a recruit who once backed off his commitment to the same school is never easy. Former Irish defensive end Stephon Tuitt famously did so with Notre Dame in the 2011 class.

Rivals ranks Gervin as the No. 14 cornerback in the 2018 class. 247Sports slates him as the No. 18 cornerback.

• S Julius Irvin, 6-2, 181; Anaheim (Calif.) Servite: Notre Dame's working from a position of strength with Derrik Allen already committed at safety, but the Irish could use more help on the back end of the secondary. Irvin, who will make an official visit, stands as one of the top remaining options to join Allen.

In July, Irvin named a top five of Michigan, Notre Dame, USC, Utah and Washington. He attends the same school that previously sent former tight end Troy Niklas and current wide receiver Equanimeous St. Brown to Notre Dame.

"Good athlete. He's another good defensive back,” Lemming said of Irvin. “He's fundamentally sound. He's a good, solid player."

Irvin's father, LeRoy, who played cornerback for the Los Angeles Rams and Detroit Lions, said they have scheduled official visits to Washington and USC, and may set one up with Michigan.

Rivals rates Irvin as a four-star recruit and the No. 26 safety in the class. 247Sports slates him as a three-star recruit and the No. 32 safety.

• WR Geordon Porter, 6-2, 175; Rancho Cucamonga (Calif.) Etiwanda: The need for speed has driven much of Notre Dame's search for more receivers in the 2018 class. Porter, who ran a 100-meter dash in 10.68 seconds this past track season, fits that requirement.

The three-star recruit has put together a fast start to his senior season. In two games, he totaled 11 receptions for 328 yards and four touchdowns.

"He's a good, solid wide receiver” Lemming said. “He has good hands and speed. He's probably not in the top 10 in southern California, but he's still a good player. They have some good ones out there."

Notre Dame's in a seven-team chase for Porter with California, Arizona State, UCLA, Utah, Colorado and Alabama.

247Sports slates Porter as the No. 53 wide receiver in the class. Rivals ranks him No. 67 at the position.

• S Paul Moala, 5-11, 200; Mishawaka (Ind.) Penn: The local target will return for his second game of the season. After receiving an offer from Notre Dame at the Irish Invasion in June, Moala has been keeping a close eye on the Irish.

Moala has shown flashes of brilliance to start his senior season at Penn. In three games, he's scored on a 34-yard reception, blocked a field goal, intercepted a pass and returned a kickoff 96 yards for a touchdown.

With Griffith, Irvin and Moala all visiting Notre Dame as potential safeties for the Irish, the future at the position could start to sort itself out this weekend.

247Sports slates Moala as a three-star recruit and the No. 35 safety in the class. Rivals rates him as a two-star recruit.

2019 targets

The Irish also will host a number of recruits in the 2019 class who already have Notre Dame offers.

• DE Joseph Anderson, 6-4, 265; Murfreesboro (Tenn.) Siegel: The four-star recruit received an Irish offer in March and visited in April. Clemson, Georgia, Michigan, LSU and Ohio State are also on his early offer list.

Rivals ranks Anderson as the No. 7 defensive tackle in the class. 247Sports slates him as the No. 8 strongside defensive end.

• WR David Bell, 6-2, 190; Indianapolis Warren Central: The four-star recruit attended a game last season and returned for an unofficial visit in April. Notre Dame extended Bell an offer in January. Michigan State, Iowa, Northwestern, Indiana and Purdue have done the same.

247Sports slates Bell as the No. 11 wide receiver in the class. Rivals ranks him No. 13.

• DE George Karlaftis, 6-4, 243; West Lafayette (Ind.) High: The four-star recruit named a top three of Michigan, Miami and Purdue in August, but he's still showing interest in the Irish. Notre Dame extended Karlaftis an offer when he visited in April. He returned for the Irish Invasion in June.

Rivals ranks him as the No. 18 strongside defensive end in the class. 247Sports slates him No. 23.

• RB Chez Mellusi, 6-0, 185; Naples (Fla.) High: The four-star recruit will attempt to get out of Florida this weekend for his first visit to Notre Dame. The Irish extended an offer to Mellusi in June. His offer list also includes Miami, USC, Michigan, North Carolina and Ole Miss.

Both Rivals and 247Sports peg Mellusi as the No. 15 running back in the class.

• DT Mazi Smith, 6-3, 290; East Kentwood (Mich.) High: The four-star recruit has been on campus multiple times. Smith's latest trip in June resulted in an offer from the Irish. Alabama, Michigan, Michigan State, Pittsburgh and Virginia Tech are among the other schools pushing for Smith.

Rivals ranks Smith as the No. 8 defensive tackle in the class. 247Sports slates him No. 11.

VISITORS LIST

The following recruits are expected to attend Notre Dame's game against Georgia on Saturday.

2018 targets

WR Chase Cota*

CB Kalon Gervin

DB Houston Griffith*

S Julius Irvin*

S Paul Moala

WR Geordon Porter*

2018 commits

S Derrik Allen*

LB Bo Bauer

OL John Dirksen

WR Micah Jones

QB Phil Jurkovec

LB Jack Lamb*

OL Cole Mabry

LB Ovie Oghoufo

RB Markese Stepp

TE George Takacs

*indicates official visit

2019 targets

DE Joseph Anderson

WR David Bell

DE George Karlaftis

RB Chez Mellusi

DT Mazi Smith

2019 commits

DT Jacob Lacey

QB Cade McNamara

2020 target

QB Drew Pyne

2019 prospects

DE Darius Alexander

DE Spencer Bono

ATH Jase Bowen

ATH Lance Dixon

S Jalen Graham

RB Eric Gray

LB Richie Hagarty

CB Rod Heard Jr.

DB Arthur Hendon III

OL Jeremy James

WR Dayron Johnson

OL Trevor Keegan

LB Jack Kiser

DE Desmond Little

RB Michael Love

QB Peyton Matocha

CB Cameron Mitchell

DE Noah Potter

OL Keegan Vaughan

DE J.J. Weaver

RB Anthony Williams Jr.

LB Cameron Williams

WR Craig Young

2020 prospects

DE Dallas Fincher

K Parker Hannon

RB Deondre Jackson

DE Bryce Mostella

RB Jordon Simmons

tjames@ndinsider.com | 574-235-6214 | Twitter: @TJamesNDI

Four-star defensive back Houston Griffith made an official visit to Notre Dame for the Georgia game. (Photo courtesy of Rivals)