Junior football recruits invading Notre Dame

Tyler James
South Bend Tribune

Work has long been underway on Notre Dame football’s 2019 recruiting class. The Irish coaching staff and recruiting office already have established relationships with top targets across the country.

On Saturday, Notre Dame will magnify the focus on those high school juniors. The Irish have scheduled the first junior day of 2018 with an impressive visitors list. At least 17 recruits who have been offered by Notre Dame, including defensive tackle commit Jacob Lacey, are expected on campus throughout the weekend.

Lacey, a four-star recruit, became part of Notre Dame’s official start to the 2019 class in July when he followed quarterback Cade McNamara as the second verbal commitment for the Irish. Notre Dame hasn’t added a commitment since Lacey, but the Irish have continued to lay the groundwork for a weekend like this one.

Junior days have been staples of the last three Notre Dame recruiting classes. Last February, the Irish added commitments from offensive lineman Cole Mabry and wide receiver Micah Jones in the 2018 class shortly after a junior day event. Cornerback Kalon Gervin also committed to the Irish that week, but unlike Jones and Mabry, he didn’t end up sticking with his pledge.

The 2017 class landed four commitments in the week following a junior day in March 2016: quarterback Avery Davis, linebacker David Adams, linebacker Drew White and defensive tackle Kurt Hinish. The 2016 class added a trio of commitments following a junior day in March 2015: cornerback Julian Love, long snapper John Shannon and running back Tony Jones Jr.

The change in the recruiting calendar brought on by December’s first early signing period has allowed for Notre Dame to push for a big junior day in January rather than waiting for February or March. There will still be time to host more juniors in those months, but coaching staffs around the country are finding it easier to focus on 2019 recruits with so many 2018 recruits already signed.

Whether this weekend’s junior day will produce as many commitments in recent years remains to be seen. For the first time starting this April, juniors will be allowed to make official visits paid for by schools.

Before the early signing period was introduced to football, official visits were only available to senior recruits.

The potential for official visits this spring could lead to recruits holding off on commitments with easier access to schools coming soon.

But patience isn’t always a strong suit for high school football players, and some of Notre Dame’s visitors have been to campus previously. Here’s a brief look at each of the 2019 targets expected to attend Notre Dame’s junior day.

• DE Joseph Anderson, 6-4, 253; Murfreesboro (Tenn.) Siegel: Anderson was on Notre Dame’s campus last April for sophomore day following an offer in March. This weekend will be his third trip to Notre Dame.

247Sports: Four stars, No. 8 SDE. | Rivals: Four stars, No. 11 DT.

• DE NaNa Osafo-Mensah, 6-4, 215; Fort Worth (Texas) Nolan Catholic: Osafo-Mensah will make his first visit to Notre Dame since receiving an offer last May. Defensive line coach Mike Elston has been leading his recruitment.

247Sports: Four stars, No. 5 WDE. | Rivals: Four stars, No. 6 OLB.

• DL Hunter Spears, 6-4, 267; Sachse (Texas) High: Spears already has a commitment date set for his 18th birthday on Sept. 15. He visited Notre Dame in October for the USC game after receiving an offer last June.

247Sports: Four stars, No. 9 DT. | Rivals: Four stars, No. 17 WDE.

• DT Mazi Smith, 6-3, 290; East Kentwood (Mich.) High: Smith has been a frequent campus visitor before and after his Notre Dame offer came in June. He visited the Irish four times last year.

Rivals: Four stars, No. 7 DT. | 247Sports: Four stars, No. 12 DT.

• CB Wesley Walker, 6-1, 180; Nashville (Tenn.) Ensworth: Walker will make his first Notre Dame visit since receiving an offer last March.

247Sports: Four stars, No. 9 CB. | Rivals: Four stars, No. 18 CB.

• CB K.J. Wallace, 5-10, 182; Atlanta Lovett: Wallace lined up a visit to Notre Dame shortly after receiving an offer earlier this month.

247Sports: Four stars, No. 19 CB. | Rivals: Three stars, No. 48 ATH.

• S Ronnie Hickman, 6-1, 198; Wayne (N.J.) DePaul Catholic: Hickman, a two-way star, caught 44 passes for 809 yards as a junior. He was offered by the Irish in April.

247Sports: Four stars, No. 12 ATH. | Rivals: Four stars, No. 16 ATH.

• S Kenyatta Watson II, 6-2, 168; Loganville (Ga.) Grayson: Watson parted ways with his commitment to Florida State earlier this month, and quickly lined up his first visit to Notre Dame. The Irish offered last April.

Rivals: Four stars, No. 10 CB. | 247Sports: Three stars, No. 32 S.

• TE Hudson Henry, 6-5, 225; Little Rock (Ark.) Pulaski Academy: The Irish offered Henry, who teams with 2018 offensive line commit Luke Jones, last month. Henry’s oldest brother, Hunter, plays tight end for the Los Angeles Chargers.

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

• TE Jude Wolfe, 6-5, 237; Bellflower (Calif.) St. John Bosco: Notre Dame offered Wolfe last October. He plays at the same California powerhouse that sent sophomore D.J. Morgan to the Irish.

Rivals: Three stars, No. 10 TE. | 247Sports: Three stars, No. 15 TE.

• WR Kam Brown, 6-0, 170; Colleyville (Texas) Heritage: When Notre Dame offered Brown earlier this month, he was committed to UCLA. He’s since ditched that pledge. He caught 79 passes for 1,190 yards and 19 touchdowns as a junior.

247Sports: Four stars, No. 19 WR. | Rivals: Four stars, No. 25 WR.

• WR Joe Ngata, 6-3, 205; Folsom (Calif.) High: Ngata’s first visit to Notre Dame will come a little less than four months since receiving an offer. He totaled 81 receptions for 1,777 yards and 26 touchdowns as a junior.

Rivals: Four stars, No. 22 WR. | 247Sports: Four stars, No. 21 ATH.

• WR TJ Sheffield, 5-10, 164; Thompson's Station (Tenn.) Independence: Following a junior season with 56 receptions, 840 yards and five touchdowns, Sheffield received an offer from Notre Dame earlier this month.

247Sports: Four stars, No. 32 WR. | Rivals: Three stars, No. 45 WR.

• WR Jake Smith, 6-0, 185; Scottsdale (Ariz.) Notre Dame Prep: A prolific junior season landed Smith on Notre Dame’s radar. He received an offer in December after recording 1,135 rushing yards, 1,055 receiving yards and 26 offensive touchdowns last season.

Rivals: Four stars, No. 18 ATH. | 247Sports: Four stars, No. 44 WR.

• WR Kyren Williams, 5-10, 187; Kirkwood (Mo.) St. John Vianney: Williams tried to prove his talent at the Irish Invasion last June. He followed that up with 51 receptions for 774 yards and 12 touchdowns and 922 rushing yards and 22 touchdowns as a junior. The Irish responded with an offer earlier this week.

Rivals: Four stars, No. 46 WR. | 247Sports: Three stars, No. 85 WR.

VISITORS LIST

These recruits are also expected to visit Notre Dame on Saturday for junior day.

2019 commit

DT Jacob Lacey

2019 prospects

RB Sampson James

LB Keith Maguire

S Jayvon Thrift

2020 target

TE Michael Mayer

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

Kyren Williams catches the ball during Irish Invasion Saturday, June 10, 2017, inside Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend. Tribune Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN