Midwest tough: Chicago area recruits have been a success for Notre Dame

Staff reports
ND Insider

As No. 3 Notre Dame makes the short trek to Northwestern on Saturday, a few prominent Irish players will remind teammates who hails from the more formidable city.

“We can play in four seasons, whereas a lot of people can’t,” said senior receiver Miles Boykin, who attended New Lenox (Ill.) Providence Catholic near Chicago. “California can’t play in that. Florida can’t play in that. Chicago can. We can play in snow and everything. They can’t.”

Cornerback Julian Love considered Northwestern his top option. But once Notre Dame offered, the La Grange Park (Ill.) Nazareth Academy product immediately committed. Love estimated 30 to 40 of his friends bought tickets in advance for Saturday’s game.

He’s one of many who echoes Boykin’s Chicago pride.

“You look across the country, all these teams playing, most likely someone in each game that’s starting is from Chicago, which is special,” Love said. “That concentrated talent is tough. Obviously there are more recruits coming out of Texas, California, Florida — states — but as a city, I think we are pretty tough.

“I like to always say, ‘We are Midwest tough.’ That’s what you get from Chicago guys.’”

Midwest tough is showing. Since head coach Brian Kelly took over following the 2009 season, all of Notre Dame’s 16 Illinois recruits are from Chicago — or at least within 45 miles of it. Since before the 2017 class, 11 of 13 Chicago recruits have started and/or starred for the Irish.

One of the two who did not start was Niles Sykes, the former 2014 signee who quickly changed his mind and went to the University of Indiana. The other is defensive tackle Micah Dew-Treadway, a former 2015 recruit who has played in seven games this season.

Beyond Boykin and Love, other Chicago area players turned multi-year starters were OL Christian Lombard (2010), QB Tommy Rees (2010), WR DaVaris Daniels (2011) and LB Nyles Morgan (2014).

Only Florida (29), Ohio (21) and California (18) have produced more Irish players than Illinois under Kelly. But Chicago is second to none, however, as far as cities go.

“Notre Dame is at the top of the pecking order, the food chain, when it comes to recruiting in Chicago,” said Tom Lemming, a recruiting analyst for CBS Sports Network. “If they put the effort in and work all year at recruiting, they are going to land some pretty good ball players, because they are tough to beat in Chicago.

“Notre Dame is really the local team — more so than Northwestern, Wisconsin, Illinois or Iowa.”

Rees, now Notre Dame’s quarterback coach, hovers over the area from which he came. The most recent Chicago hauls should not be credited to him, though.

The two 2017 signees, tight end Cole Kmet and safety-turned-receiver Isaiah Robertson, signed their letters of intent one month after Rees’ arrival. And 2018 receiver Micah Jones, another consensus four-star, committed around that time as well.

Safety Houston Griffith, Notre Dame’s top-rated 2018 recruit, grew up in Chicago but attended Florida’s IMG Academy (he was excluded from the 16). Defensive end Micah Dew-Treadway and offensive lineman Trevor Ruhland, 2015 recruits, are Chicago contributors this season.

The Irish didn’t land a Chicago-area product in Rees’ first true class. Receiver Kendall Abdur-Rahman, Notre Dame’s lone Illinois commit for 2019, comes from the southern part of the state.

“There’s always, in my mind, five to eight players in the Chicago area that Notre Dame should be recruiting,” Lemming said.

The Irish are targeting three 2020 Chicago players — Frankfort (Ill.) Lincoln-Way East receiver A.J. Henning, Park Ridge (Ill.) Maine South offensive lineman Peter Skoronski and Lake Forest (Ill.) High defensive end Rylie Mills. All three are consensus four-stars.

Perhaps they, too, will one day join in on the prideful Chicago banter.

“It’s special,” said Love of playing in his home state for the first time. “It is close to home, and I’ve trained around there. It is a great feeling. It is easy because Notre Dame is not too far away, so it feels like we are home anyways. But actually being in my city is a great feeling.”

Eyeing another linebacker

Roswell (Ga.) Blessed Trinity Catholic linebacker J.D Bertrand, a consensus four-star, still does not have a Notre Dame offer. He made an unofficial visit for the Oct. 13 Pittsburgh contest and intends on making another for the Nov. 10 Florida State game.

Bertrand plans on making an official visit to Wisconsin this Saturday when it hosts Rutgers.

“Still just trying to feel things out right now,” wrote Bertrand through text.

Space is tight for the Irish, who at this point do not know who will transfer or turn pro after the season. An offer could come later for Bertrand.

The Irish are hoping to poach linebacker Asa Turner, who committed to the University of Washington on July 11, 2018. Special teams coordinator Brian Polian and defensive coordinator Clark Lea attended his game last Friday at Carlsbad (Calif.) High.

247Sports and Rivals tab Turner as a four-star, with the former ranking him as the No. 185 overall player.

All-American Bowl presence

Atlanta Marist’s Kyle Hamilton, a 2019 safety commit, received his jersey for the All-American Bowl on Tuesday.

Three other Notre Dame commits will play in the Jan. 5 game in San Antonio’s Alamodome — Tuscaloosa (Ala.) Hillcrest punter Jay Bramblett, Gibsonia (Pa.) Pine-Richland offensive lineman Andrew Kristofic and Fort Worth (Texas) Nolan Catholic defensive lineman NaNa Osafo-Mensah.

A few primary Notre Dame targets will also participate — Greenwich (Conn.) Brunswick receiver Cornelius Johnson, Kahuku (Hawaii) High offensive lineman Enokk Vimahi, Concord (Calif.) De La Salle defensive end Isaiah Foskey and Carlsbad (Calif.) High linebacker Asa Turner.

• Houston St. John’s Genson Hooper-Price, a three-star 2019 receiver, committed to Northwestern on Tuesday. The Irish were his second choice.

• Avon Old Farms (Conn.) High kicker Harrison Leonard told ND Insider last week that he could also play baseball for the Irish. He spoke with ND pitching coach Chuck Ristano last week. Ristano is not willing to offer anything official at the moment but remains interested in Leonard as a walk-on pitcher.

Tight end Cole Kmet (84) and receiver Miles Boykin (81) are among Notre Dame players that grew up near Chicago.