Notre Dame focused on cornerback recruiting this official visit weekend

Carter Karels
South Bend Tribune

Notre Dame’s June 21-23 recruiting weekend looked entirely different last month.

Four-star defensive backs Kristian Story, Jerrin Thompson and Chris Thompson Jr. each reneged on their plans to take official visits to South Bend. Jerrin, though, could take an official at a later date.

Three-star cornerback Lovie Jenkins considered the Irish as his favorite school in the spring. But the Ocoee (Fla.) High product ultimately chose Tennessee on June 12 and effectively cancelled his June 21-23 official visit to ND.

The Irish will now turn to cornerbacks Christian Gonzalez, William Nixon, Caleb Offord and Landen Bartleson. Among those four official visitors, only Gonzalez boasts a rating higher than three stars. Omaha (Neb.) Burke wide receiver target Xavier Watts will also take an official visit.

A couple of commitments this weekend might not repair the damage inflicted by ND’s previous misses. After whiffing on a handful of corners and safeties, Notre Dame offered 11 defensive backs in a six-week span.

Top Irish corner target Clark Phillips III could influence more reshuffling. The four-star recruit plans to announce his decision on Friday. Most recruiting analysts project Phillips to land with Ohio State.

Notre Dame earned a June 10 commitment from Middletown (N.J.) Mater Dei corner Clarence Lewis. The three-star recruit was one of the 11 to earn an offer once Notre Dame circled back on a few prospects, though.

“Once again, they failed recruiting really big-time corners,” said Tom Lemming, a recruiting analyst for CBS Sports Network. “Just like Clarence Lewis, they didn’t offer him until recently either. These are guys they weren’t crazy about. They lost everybody, and now they are after these guys.”

Last year’s College Football Playoff run seemed to benefit Notre Dame recruiting in every position besides defensive back. Could this weekend change that narrative?

ND Insider details this weekend’s defensive back visitors below. The month-long dead period then begins on June 24. 

CB Landen Bartleson, 6-1, 185; Danville (Ky.) Boyle County: Lemming considers Gonzalez, Offord and Nixon as three-star recruits. Not Bartleson. He’s a borderline five-star talent to Lemming.

“He has loose hips,” Lemming said. “He can cover well. He’s smooth in transitions. He’s got great burst and confidence. He’s a confident player, but he’s a Notre Dame-type kid.”

Bartleson possesses the speed and athleticism that could make him an elite field corner. He clocked a 4.39 40-yard dash at an Ohio State football camp last summer. Louisville and Colorado were among schools to offer Bartleson as a running back.

He shares time with two other running backs for Boyle County and plays some receiver.

“He’s extremely fast,” said Boyle County head coach Chuck Smith. “He’s got that makeup speed. If somebody does make a move on him, he can catch him. He’s got good hips and is very strong. Once he’s taught good man-to-man technique — we don’t play a lot of man — he will be hard to get away from.

“Because he is very strong once he gets his hands on you. He’s going to be able to slow you down, because he is extremely strong.”

The Irish could land a commitment from Bartleson this weekend. Smith said he’s close to making a decision and considers Notre Dame, Louisville and West Virginia as his top three schools. Louisville became open to Bartleson playing cornerback, which is the position he prefers.

“He’s very high on Notre Dame,” said Smith of Bartleson, who took Feb. 23 and April 6 unofficial visits to South Bend. “He really likes Notre Dame quite a bit.”

247Sports: Three stars, No. 36 RB, No. 474 overall | Rivals: Three stars

CB Caleb Offord, 6-1, 175; Southaven (Miss.) High: Offord reported his offer from Notre Dame later than any other official visitors, on May 23. Yet, he might be the one closest to pulling the trigger.

After taking a June 8-9 unofficial visit to Notre Dame, Offord scheduled this weekend’s trip. No other school seems to pique Offord’s interest. No other visits have been announced. He’s expected to make his decision public on July 4.

All the Irish seemingly need to do is make another strong impression on Offord. Duke, Arkansas, Louisville, Kentucky and Southern Miss are among schools to have offered him. Offord flashes solid press-technique abilities, which ND’s boundary corner position requires.

“He’s a good athlete but needs to be coached up a bit,” Lemming said.

247Sports: Three stars, No. 43 CB, No. 528 overall | Rivals: Three stars, No. 61 CB

CB William Nixon, 5-11, 180; Waco (Texas) Midway: Notre Dame needed to get creative to pull Nixon away from Baylor. Nixon’s father, Jeff Nixon, serves as the Bears’ co-offensive coordinator.

The Irish might be the only school recruiting Nixon as a cornerback. Penn State and Baylor are among schools that want Nixon as a receiver.

“Notre Dame might have something there,” said Lemming, “you never know. They aren’t in on any of the top corners, so why not go after an athlete that you could switch there?”

Nixon returns after taking his first trip to Notre Dame in the spring — a March 2 unofficial visit. There are no indications that Nixon will announce his commitment soon.

247Sports: Three stars, No. 119 WR, No. 663 overall | Rivals: Three stars, No. 87 WR

CB Christian Gonzalez, 6-1, 185; The Colony (Texas) High: Like Nixon, Gonzalez does not seem as warm as Offord or Bartleson. He also might not be certain where the Irish prefer him.

Gonzalez plays corner, safety, nickelback and even some offense for the Colony. The Irish like him at corner for now, but Gonzalez will learn more this weekend.

“He looked skinny but really athletic,” said Lemming of Gonzalez, who accrued offers from Alabama, Arizona State, Ole Miss, Colorado and more. “He could play cornerback or safety. He’s a guy who could play at whichever position they need help at. Pretty good prospect.”

247Sports: Four stars, No. 24 S, No. 301 overall | Rivals: Four stars, No. 25 CB

Updated Rivals rankings

Rivals released its first rankings for the 2021 class this week.

All four Notre Dame commits — offensive linemen Greg Crippen and Blake Fisher, quarterback Tyler Buchner and defensive tackle Gabriel Rubio — are now four-star recruits on Rivals and 247Sports.

Fisher (No. 14), Buchner (No. 52) and Rubio (No. 81) were ranked among Rivals’ top 100 overall players. Rivals now pegs Notre Dame’s 2021 recruiting class at No. 2 nationally.

Danville (Ky.) Boyle County's Landen Bartleson, a 2020 athlete, garnered an offer from Notre Dame on Nov. 11, 2018. 

The following recruits are expected to visit Notre Dame this weekend. Recruits that make trips to South Bend earlier this week are also listed.

June 16

2021 DE target George Rooks 

June 17-19

2021 QB commit Tyler Buchner

June 19

2021 OL target Tommy Brockermeyer

2021 OL prospect James Brockermeyer

2022 WR prospect Kaden Saunders

June 21-23

2020 RB commit Chris Tyree*

2020 OL commit Michael Carmody*

2020 OL commit Tosh Baker*

2020 LS commit Alex Peitsch*

2020 CB target William Nixon*

2020 CB target Christian Gonzalez*

2020 CB target Caleb Offord*

2020 CB target Landen Bartleson*

*Denotes official visit