Recruiting notebook: TE Erik Olsen could visit Notre Dame even if he commits elsewhere

Carter Karels
South Bend Tribune

Erik Olsen found himself in a dilemma that’s plaguing many uncommitted football recruits across the country in wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

The Littleton (Colo.) Heritage tight end felt he needed to verbally commit to a school soon. The longer he waited, the more he risked losing opportunities due to programs filling their roster needs.

Reaching a decision before visiting a few of his top schools presented a challenge for Olsen, though. He has yet to visit Notre Dame, a school he included in his top five list this past Saturday. Colorado, Stanford, Washington and UCLA also made the cut.

The Buffaloes are widely expected to land Olsen’s pledge this Saturday. Before Olsen looked to move his announcement timeline a month earlier than expected though, he garnered assurances.

“All the schools I’ve talked to,” Olsen said, “they said they’d be all right with me visiting the few schools I really wanted to get out to. So I might be taking visits. I’m not super sure yet if I’m going to, but it’s definitely an option.”

The NCAA recently extended the recruiting dead period to Aug. 31. Football recruits being prohibited from taking formal visits helped result in several Irish targets announcing their decisions earlier than expected. Recruiting analysts foresee dozens of committed prospects taking visits elsewhere this fall if recruiting trips are permitted.

The 6-foot-5, 230-pound Olsen being one of them and visiting Notre Dame seems possible.

“I just can’t see visits happening this year,” Olsen said. “I don’t blame the NCAA at all. They don’t want to jeopardize the season either. So I just can’t see visits happening for a long time, whether it’s all the way into the winter or until they get a vaccine. One of the two.”

The Irish and tight ends coach John McNulty will pursue others at the position in the meantime. McNulty continues to show he wants to pair commit Cane Berrong with another tight end.

Wadsworth (Ohio) High’s Mitchell Evans, a three-star tight end in the 2021 class, accrued a Notre Dame scholarship offer on Tuesday. Council Bluffs (Iowa) Lewis Central’s Thomas Fidone Jr. and Napa (Calif.) High’s Brock Bowers also hold Irish offers and remain uncommitted.

Fidone (Nebraska) and Bowers (Georgia) will likely land elsewhere, though Notre Dame’s chances with the latter might be better than the prevailing perception. Evans plans to release a top 10 school list soon and will likely include the Irish.

Olsen brings a rawness to the position that could translate to upside. He only transitioned to the position as a sophomore after playing quarterback. 247Sports considers Olsen to be a three-star tight end, ranking him No. 51 at the position and No. 1,006 overall in the class. Rivals values Olsen as a four-star tight end, pegging him No. 14 at the position.

“Obviously (Notre Dame has) a great tradition with tight ends,” said Olsen on what interests him in the Irish. “They’ve been putting so many in the league recently. I don’t see that stopping any time soon.

“(With Colorado), the ability to play in front of my friends and family. Having them come out to all of my games and be able to support me. Then also being close to home would be nice.”

Buchner update

Notre Dame commit Tyler Buchner told the Tribune heading into this week that he wanted to improve as a football player while participating at the Elite 11 Finals.

That statement may seem vanilla without the proper context. But the event held in Nashville, Tenn., this year is one of the few opportunities Buchner and other quarterback recruits have this offseason to compete in this type of setting.

“I’m looking forward to getting on the field and throwing with the rest of the guys,” Buchner said. “I know everyone hasn’t really been in a game or a competitive setting in a while, so I’m excited to go out there and compete.”

Reporters struggled to evaluate the 20 quarterbacks given the circumstances. They are not permitted field access and must observe throwing sessions from afar in the bleachers. No interviews and weather delays also presented a challenge.

So the daily ranking posted by the Elite 11 Finals may offer the best snapshot of how the quarterbacks are performing. Buchner ranked No. 2 and No. 8 following the first two days, respectively. The Elite 11 Finals concludes on Wednesday.

Last summer, freshman Drew Pyne became the first Irish-bound quarterback to earn top 11 finalist distinction since Brandon Wimbush in 2016.

Update: Buchner made the cut as an Elite 11 finalist. 

Other commitments

Olsen committing to Colorado would mean four notable Notre Dame targets in the 2021 class pledged elsewhere this week.

Pleasant Grove (Ala.) High’s Christian Lewis, a three-star wide receiver, committed to Kentucky on Tuesday. Notre Dame offered Lewis on March 26 but stopped heavily pursuing him these past couple months.

The Irish recruited Dacula (Ga.) High safety Kaleb Edwards hard until he pledged to Georgia Tech on Wednesday. Notre Dame valued Edwards as a top defensive back target after offering him on May 17. He never took a recruiting trip to South Bend.

Fort Lauderdale (Fla.) St. Thomas Aquinas’ Dallas Turner, a four-star defensive end, committed to Alabama on Wednesday. Notre Dame offered Turner and Tiffin (Iowa) Clear Creek Amana’s TJ Bollers after rumors surfaced that defensive end David Abiara may flip his pledge to Oklahoma.

Bollers committed to Wisconsin last month, and Abiara remains committed to Notre Dame.

Nickel package

The dead period does not restrict recruits from taking informal visits to college campuses. They can swing by schools but can’t step inside facilities or be joined by those affiliated with the football program.

Alpharetta (Ga.) Milton’s Jack Nickel, a three-star tight end in the 2022 recruiting class, became the latest Notre Dame target to take advantage of that loophole. He visited Ohio State (Monday), Notre Dame (Tuesday), Purdue (Tuesday) and will see Wisconsin (Thursday) and Iowa (Friday) this week.

The Irish offered Nickel on May 6. Pilot Mountain (N.C.) East Surry’s Benji Gosnell and Dickinson (Texas) High’s Donovan Green are fellow 2022 tight ends who also hold Notre Dame offers. 247Sports ranks Nickel as its No. 12 tight end in the class.

Littleton (Colo.) Heritage’s Erik Olsen, a Notre Dame tight end target in the 2021 recruiting class, will announce his verbal commitment on Saturday.