Reassessing Notre Dame's 2020 cornerback recruiting after tough April

Carter Karels
South Bend Tribune

Notre Dame’s football program will look back on April as a recruiting success.

The Irish hosted nine recruits on official visits through the first two weekends. That led to receiver Jordan Johnson and defensive end Jordan Botelho, both four-star recruits, committing to ND. Alex Peitsch — the nation’s best long snapper per Kohl’s Kicking Camps — verbally pledged to the Irish last Wednesday.

Cornerback recruiting looks like ND’s biggest blemish in an otherwise lucrative month. Three of its top targets at the position — Dontae Manning, Ryan Watts and Jalen Kimber — committed elsewhere over the last couple weeks. Watts and Kimber visited South Bend in April.

Manning chose Oklahoma (April 14), as did Watts a week later. Kimber verbally pledged to Georgia on April 17. 247Sports considered all three as four-star cornerbacks. Rivals slates them as three-star recruits.

Their commitments left the Irish in need of going back to the drawing board. Arlington (Texas) High’s Jahari Rogers and Winter Park (Fla.) High’s Ethan Pouncey, both 2020 cornerbacks, added ND offers on April 18 and April 25, respectively.

A majority of ND’s cornerback targets — including a handful of their highest-coveted recruits at the position — are now verbally committed to other schools. However, that doesn’t mean the Irish are necessarily in a bad place with their remaining targets.

ND’s most notable uncommitted cornerback targets are detailed below.

Clark Phillips III, 5-10, 178; La Habra (Calif.) High: Even before Manning, Kimber and Watts committed elsewhere, Phillips seemed like ND’s No. 1 cornerback target. Irish cornerbacks coach Todd Lyght compares Phillips to Julian Love, ND’s all-time leader in pass breakups who was a consensus All-American in 2018.

Phillips even met Love, now a New York Giant, during his first ND trip late last month.

“We talked for a while,” Phillips told the Tribune. “We spoke about Todd Lyght and his style, the program, exactly how he got out and was able to make so many plays, life, what it’s like to be a Notre Dame athlete that plays football, what schooling was like a just about everything.”

That made an impression on Phillips. He reaffirmed with the Tribune on Saturday that the Irish rank in his top three schools. He’s eyeing an ND official visit either in the summer or during the season.

None of ND’s eight commits rank higher than Phillips on 247Sports or Rivals. He’s approaching five-star territory on both recruiting sites. 247Sports considers Phillips as its No. 3 cornerback and No. 24 overall player, while Rivals slates him as its No. 4 cornerback and No. 54 overall player.

Lovie Jenkins, 6-1, 180; Ocoee (Fla.) High: Notre Dame extended an offer to Jenkins just last month. Yet, he considers the Irish as his No. 1 school.

“When they offered me, it was kind of the same day they hit me up,” Jenkins said. “It was out of the blue. It was kind of exciting, because I haven’t gotten many opportunities like Notre Dame. It was really big.

“I was excited and couldn’t stop smiling.”

Jenkins will take a June 21-23 official visit to Notre Dame. He also expects to take a June 14-16 official visit to Pittsburgh. His top three schools from first to third are ND, Pitt and Tennessee. Jenkins plans to announce a commitment following his ND trip.

None of ND’s other cornerback targets rank lower than Jenkins. 247Sports tabs Jenkins as a three-star recruit, ranking him as its No. 85 cornerback and 1,069 overall player. He’s not ranked on Rivals.

The Irish, though, have not treated Jenkins like a lower-rated recruit since offering him. Safeties coach Terry Joseph trekked to Ocoee (Fla.) High on April 24 to secure Jenkins’ official visit. That will be his first ND visit.

The Irish project Jenkins as a versatile player that could play anywhere in the secondary.

“He told me I’m a top target,” Jenkins said.

Landen Bartleson, 6-0, 185; Danville (Ky.) Boyle County: Bartleson has been to South Bend three times since November. Bartleson reported an Irish offer after attending ND’s Nov. 10 home game against Florida State. He also came to ND’s Feb. 23 junior day and made an April 6 unofficial visit.

Chuck Smith, Bartleson’s head football coach, said Notre Dame appears high on his list. Ohio State, Kentucky, Louisville and West Virginia are among his favorites as well.

“Landen was really complimentary of it and very excited,” said Smith of Bartleson’s last ND visit. “He said he really felt comfortable around the program and the players. He really liked the coaches. Landen was really complimentary of his visit.”

247Sports evaluates the three-star recruit as a running back, ranking Bartleson No. 36 at the position and No. 449 overall. Boyle County features Bartleson at cornerback and rotates him at running back and receiver.

The Irish project Bartleson as a cornerback.

“He’s got some length to him,” Smith said. “He’s got some size, and he’s extremely fast. He’s got that makeup speed, acceleration. After receivers make their cuts, he’s got that kind of speed to catch up and stay with him. He doesn’t mind the physical part of the game either.”

Irish cornerbacks coach Todd Lyght stopped by Bartleson’s school last week. It was one of Lyght’s first visits of the new evaluation period. Bartleson’s commitment decision seems far away, Smith said.

“I think he’s in the research phase of his recruiting,” Smith said. “He’s actively pursuing information on schools that he likes. Not everybody that’s offered him that he likes.”

Clark Phillips III, a 2020 four-star La Habra (Calif.) High cornerback, announced his Notre Dame offer on Sept. 9, 2018.