Six names Notre Dame fans need to know in 2020 recruiting class

Carter Karels
South Bend Tribune

With Notre Dame’s 2019 class of 22 college football signees finalized, it’s time to look onward.

The Irish have four verbal commitments for the 2020 class — tight ends Michael Mayer and Kevin Bauman, quarterback Drew Pyne and defensive end Alexander Ehrensberger. ND is further along on the defensive line than anywhere else on that side, and it could land another commitment as early as next week.

ND nearly wrapped up its last class before the season opener against Michigan. The early signing period, along with the earlier official visits, allowed the Irish to secure 17 commitments by July 4, 2018. Expect ND to similarly solidify this upcoming class before the 2019 season.

With the quiet period lasting until April 14, the Irish will play host for dozens of recruits over the next few months. The Feb. 23 weekend will be ND’s next junior day.

Below are a handful of Irish targets to know for the 2020 class.

DT Aidan Keanaaina, 6-3, 292; Denver Mullen: Keanaaina could be verbal pledge No. 5 for the Irish. The 6-foot-3, 292-pounder told South Bend Tribune that he will announce his decision on Wednesday, his birthday.

ND, Ohio State, UCLA, Virginia, Wisconsin and Iowa are on Keanaaina’s radar. He appears to be a lean toward the Irish.

“He’s a big time player and one of the best defensive tackles in the country,” said Tom Lemming, a recruiting analyst for CBS Sports Network. “He’s got great feet, great hands. This kid is relentless, very aggressive and born to play football. He’s also a really good student, so he’s a typical Notre Dame-type kid.”

A Polynesian player, Keanaaina comes in as a four-star recruit on Rivals as its No. 17 defensive tackle. 247Sports offered Keanaaina a three-star rating, slating him as its No. 29 defensive tackle and No. 366 overall player.

Keanaaina expressed interest in the Irish last year, taking an unofficial visit over the summer and for the Sept. 29 Stanford game. ND’s staff visited his school multiple times in the last couple months as well. Across nine games as a junior, Keanaaina recorded 69 tackles, 12 tackles for a loss, four sacks, three forced fumbles, three hurries, one interception and a fumble recovery.

DE Braiden McGregor, 6-5, 225; Port Huron (Mich.) Northern: The Irish staff showed more interest in McGregor last month than maybe any other target. They attended his Jan. 15, Jan. 22 and Feb. 1 basketball games.

Last year, McGregor took trips to South Bend in April, June, September and November. ND’s staff has visited his school at least five times since October of 2018. The Irish would be getting 247Sports’ No. 13 strongside defensive end and No. 280 overall player. Rivals lists McGregor as its No. 25 outside linebacker. Both sites rate him as a three-star recruit.

“Not a great player, but a solid player,” Lemming said. “He’s a four-star guy. He’s very productive, good use of hands and runs OK. He’s not a super blazer, which is why he’s not a five-star guy or anything.”

Alabama, Clemson, Michigan and Ohio State have offered McGregor. He tallied 99 tackles, 13 tackles for a loss, eight sacks, 29 quarterback hits, two blocked punts, two interceptions, two forced fumbles and six touchdowns as a junior.

WR Jordan Johnson, 6-2, 182; St. Louis DeSmet Jesuit: The Irish lack speedy, explosive players on the perimeter that can keep defenses in check. Johnson fits that mold.

“Jordan is a guy who could help spread out the defense, so he’s a big time player,” Lemming said. “Those are the kind of guys that the wide receivers coach (DelVaughn Alexander) needs to zoom in on. If you can’t get the five-star guys, and you need to zoom in on the four-star-plus guys that are close but are not yet five stars. He’s a 4.5 (40-yard dash) guy, and he’s a thick-bodied kid. Good size, good speed.”

Johnson is considered a strong lean to the Irish. He made his second unofficial visit to South Bend last month, coming on Jan. 25 amid the polar vortex conditions. Offensive coordinator Chip Long visited DeSmet on Jan. 15.

Alabama, Florida, Auburn and Arkansas have offered Johnson. 247Sports ranks him as the No. 19 receiver and No. 96 overall player. Rivals slates Johnson No. 12 at his position and No. 51 overall. Both sites tab him as a four-star recruit.

Other receivers to keep an eye on are Newport Beach (Calif.) Corona Del Mar’s John Humphreys and Mission (Kan.) Bishop Miege’s Daniel Jackson.

RB AJ Henning, 5-10, 175; Frankfort (Ill.) Lincoln-Way East: Henning represents another need for the Irish: running back. Former running backs coach Autry Denson struggled to haul in blue chippers at the position, forcing the Irish to move former receiver Jafar Armstrong and former quarterback Avery Davis to running back.

“The guys they have now are average,” Lemming said. “As far as talent is concerned, they have average talent there.”

ND added just one running back for 2019 in Kyren Williams. The Irish aim to add a couple running backs for this next class, and Henning will be a high priority. He’s considered a strong lean to ND as well. Will Henning translate as a collegiate running back, though?

“He’s more of a wing-back type of guy that could be a slot receiver,” said Lemming of Henning. “But also a guy that can carry the ball. He’s not really big, so I’m not sure he can take the constant pounding of a running back. But you can throw him into the line, because he’s so fast. You can put him at wide receiver, running back, slot-back. He’s an all-purpose type guy.”

247Sports lists Henning as a receiver, ranking him No. 3 at the position and No. 24 overall. Rivals tabs Henning as an all-purpose back, slating him No. 3 at the position and No. 84 overall. Both sites consider him a four-star recruit, but Henning could achieve five-star status.

The Irish have never landed a five-star running back under head coach Brian Kelly. Henning has been to South Bend on multiple occasions. He even planned to attend ND’s basketball game against Duke on Jan. 28 but backed out due to the weather conditions.

Ohio State appears to be another contender to land Henning. Chester (Va.) Thomas Dale’s Chris Tyree, a running back poised for a five-star rating, will be another target to keep an eye on. St. Louis Trinity Catholic’s Reggie Love included the Irish in his top seven last month.

DE Rylie Mills, 6-5, 250; Lake Forest (Ill.) High: There’s a decent chance the Irish will land all three defensive lineman on this list, which speaks to Mike Elston being ahead of schedule.

Elston impressed in the 2019 class, signing four defensive lineman with at least a four-star rating on Rivals. The Irish had done that just twice before in 2008 and 2011. Rivals named Elston to its top 25 recruiters for 2019, while 247Sports named him No. 47 overall.

Mills could develop into a defensive tackle, and even an offensive tackle, Lemming said.

“When you look at his size, he will be over 300 (pounds),” Lemming said. “I had him as a five-star last year. I think he’s a four-plus. I watched him this year, and he’s still really good, but the competition level is not great.”

247Sports ranks Mills as its No. 7 strongside defensive end and No. 145 overall player. Rivals slates him No. 9 at the position and No. 165 overall. Both sites gave Mills a four-star rating. Alabama, Clemson, Michigan, Ohio State and Georgia have offered him. Mills has been to ND’s campus multiple times.

OL Kevin Pyne, 6-8, 265; Millis (Mass.) Milford: Pyne mysteriously dropped from a five-star to a three-star recruit on 247Sports last season. He’s now the site’s No. 33 offensive tackle and No. 287 overall player. Rivals considers Pyne as a four-star recruit, ranking him as its No. 3 offensive tackle and No. 23 overall player.

“He was all-state this year. Why did they drop him? He’s still a five-star talent,” Lemming said. “He’s like (former Irish tackle) Mike McGlinchey. He’s even farther ahead than McGlinchey was when he got to Notre Dame. He’s got the bloodlines, great size, long arms, he’s tough, he’s aggressive and he’s got the family background.”

Kevin’s cousin, Drew Pyne, committed to the Irish following their visit last April. Drew has since recruited Kevin to join ND, which seems likely. Boston College, Clemson, Florida and Georgia have offered Pyne. Ohio State commit Paris Johnson Jr. and Phoenix Pinnacle’s Tosh Baker are other offensive linemen worth watching.

Notre Dame DE target Braiden McGregor, a 2020 recruit, arrives to the player walk before the Michigan at Notre Dame NCAA football game Saturday, Sept. 1, 2018 at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend, Indiana.