Reevaluating the status of Notre Dame's high-priority recruits on offense

Carter Karels
South Bend Tribune

Responding to a few text messages became part of Will Shipley’s morning routine long before the coronavirus pandemic infected the cyclic nature of college football.

As a lauded four-star running back, Shipley started receiving text messages and phone calls from college coaches daily once they were permitted to initiate contact with recruits in the 2021 class last September. But starting last week, what had been no more than a handful of text exchanges per day for Shipley turned into a barrage of communication from sunrise to evening.

The tweaked recruiting approach from these coaches, because of the coronavirus pandemic, is already being noticed by Shipley and other recruits.

“They have nothing to do,” said Shipley of college coaches, bogged down by without spring football and no on- or off-campus recruiting visits through April 15 because of the COVID-19 outbreak. “And this is like the prime 2021 recruiting period. So they are definitely going to be more active with recruiting over the phone.

“I can already see it happening. I can also see it picking up throughout the month.”

Notre Dame already made Shipley feel like its top priority this class. Run game coordinator Lance Taylor visited his school at Matthews (N.C.) Weddington High more than any other out-of-state coach over the winter. Taylor and offensive coordinator Tommy Rees contact him weekly. Rees and head coach Brian Kelly both joined Taylor for a visit to Weddington in January.

So increased communication between the Irish coaching staff and Shipley in recent days came naturally, unlike others.

“To keep it fresh and not be relaying the same, old message, that’s very nice with Notre Dame,” said Shipley, who 247Sports considers as its No. 1 all-purpose back and No. 43 overall player in the class and Rivals pegs No. 1 at the position and No. 36 overall. “I have such good relationships with the coaches that it’s not always about football.

“We will sit there for 30 minutes on the phone and talk about a Netflix series that we both like. Just something silly. That’s why it’s always a good time when I talk with coach Taylor and coach Rees.”

By not being able to take his March 20-22 visit to Notre Dame, Shipley and others missed out on what had been shaping up to be maybe the biggest offseason recruiting weekend of the Kelly Era. He would have met all seven commits in this Irish class after meeting a few of them during his first visit to South Bend for the Oct. 12 USC game.

Clemson looks to be Notre Dame’s biggest challenger for Shipley and hosted him for a visit in late January. The Tigers landing him would result in the Irish pursuing four-star running backs in West Bloomfield (Mich.) High’s Donovan Edwards and Garland (Texas) Lakeview Centennial’s Camar Wheaton more heavily.

The 5-foot-11, 200-pound Shipley planned to swing by Clemson again, along with Stanford, N.C. State, and North Carolina, before announcing his commitment in April. That decision will have to wait, Shipley said. He hopes to visit some of his favorite schools, including Notre Dame, before choosing his top program.

However, Shipley’s gone back and forth about whether he wants to still reach a decision next month. In the meantime, he hopes to answer the influx of texts and calls no matter how taxing the process becomes.

“Since the beginning of my recruitment, I never wanted to be one of those guys who decommits,” Shipley said. “No disrespect to them, but that’s just not something I want to do. So I just want to make sure I’m 100 percent before I make a decision.”

Shipley will make a few calls of his own too, including to former Stanford running backs Christian McCaffrey and Bryce Love this week.

McCaffrey, who garnered first-team All-Pro recognition on the Carolina Panthers in 2019, started mentoring Shipley last fall after hearing the comparisons. Like McCaffrey, Love played for Taylor on the Cardinal. He also served under the tutelage of Ron Gould, Stanford’s current running backs coach who is recruiting Shipley.

“I’m definitely going to be asking about both (Stanford and Notre Dame),” Shipley said. “There are some very interesting questions you can throw out there, with Bryce being coached by coach Taylor and coach Gould. Two schools that are pretty prominent in my recruiting cycle.”

Below are updates of Notre Dame’s other top recruiting targets on offense in wake of the coronavirus outbreak. Click here to read ND Insider's defense recruiting update.

Offense line

Avon (Ind.) High’s Blake Fisher represents Notre Dame’s lone commit at this position. The following four offensive linemen were expected to visit Notre Dame for the March 20-22 recruiting weekend and will be worth monitoring going forward.

Rocco Spindler, 6-5, 315, Clarkston (Mich.) High: Spindler’s May 15 commitment date will now be postponed. Marc Spindler told the Tribune his son, Rocco, will not reach a decision until he takes all five official visits. Notre Dame and Michigan are the biggest contenders here.

Landon Tengwall, 6-6, 300; Olney (Md.) Good Counsel: Tengwall narrowed his recruitment to Notre Dame and Penn State last week. The Nittany Lions are considered the heavy favorite to land Tengwall, but Tengwall planned to swing by South Bend for his first official visit on April 3-5. Whether Tengwall takes both official visits before announcing a decision remains to be seen.

Nolan Rucci, 6-8, 289; Lititz (Pa.) Warwick: Todd Rucci told the Tribune that his son, Nolan, aimed to make a decision before football season. Rucci’s timeline may have moved back a few weeks, but he still hopes to choose his college destination before September and is treating this process day-to-day at the moment. Penn State and Clemson will be tough outs.

Garrett Dellinger, 6-6, 280; Clarkston (Mich.) High: Among these four offensive linemen, Dellinger’s approach going forward looks to be the least clear. Michigan, Michigan State and Alabama are also contending for Dellinger. Spindler committing to Notre Dame would help.

• Ocala (Fla.) Trinity Catholic’s Caleb Johnson is expected to visit South Bend in June. Richmond (Texas) Foster’s Reuben Fatheree II listed Notre Dame in his top nine school list last month.

Wide receiver

With Athens (Ga.) Academy’s Deion Colzie and Pickerington (Ohio) Central’s Lorenzo Styles Jr. verbally pledged, Notre Dame is looking to add one more wide receiver this class.

Dont’e Thornton Jr., a four-star receiver from Baltimore Mount Saint Joseph, appears to be Notre Dame’s top uncommitted target at the position. He does not intend to make his commitment public until Jan. 23 at the Polynesian Bowl. Penn State looks to be the biggest road block.

• East Lansing (Mich.) High’s Andrel Anthony Jr. and Atlanta Pace Academy’s Jayden Thomas are among other receivers that will be worth following.

Tight end

The Irish are looking to pair another tight end with commit Cane Berrong. There are two options at the moment.

Thomas Fidone Jr., 6-5, 218; Council Bluffs (Iowa) Lewis Central: Though his first trip to South Bend scheduled for April won’t happen, Fidone already considers Notre Dame as a favorite. He named the Irish in his top six school list on Monday. He also included LSU, Penn State, Iowa, Nebraska and Michigan. Notre Dame still needs to host Fidone for a visit in order to land him.

Brock Bowers, 6-3, 220; Napa (Calif.) High: Bowers visited Notre Dame earlier this month and is willing to leave the West Coast. However, his recruitment remains open and several schools are in this race. California, Oregon and Georgia appear to be Notre Dame’s biggest threats.


Filled with four-star commit Tyler Buchner.

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Matthews (N.C.) Weddington’s Will Shipley, a four-star running back in the 2021 recruiting class, will visited Notre Dame for its Oct. 12 home game against USC.