Recruiting notebook: Will Notre Dame land its first 2022 football commitment this month?

Carter Karels
South Bend Tribune

An earlier commitment timeline had been a recent trend for Notre Dame recruiting.

By this time last year, the Irish had landed verbal pledges from all but one of its 17 signees in the 2020 class. Four 2021 recruits had also committed at that point.

But this year, that pace has significantly slowed for 2021 and even 2022.

At 12 commitments for this cycle, Notre Dame intends to increase that number eventually to the 17-21 range. The Irish expect more recruitments than usual to last through the three-day early signing period in December, which was instituted beginning with the 2018 cycle.

Maybe less pressing, but still important, is Notre Dame’s standing in the 2022 class. Lacking a 2022 pledge hardly warrants concern at this point. That the Irish have yet to offer a 2022 quarterback, however, hints how far behind they are in that class compared to previous cycles.

How the Irish built their 2018, 2020 and 2021 classes began at quarterback. Boston College transfer Phil Jurkovec (May of 2016), early-enrolled freshman Drew Pyne (April of 2018) and rising high school senior Tyler Buchner (March of 2019) verbally committed to Notre Dame more than 18 months before their early signing period.

While a 2022 quarterback pledging to the Irish seems like a distant reality, ND appears close to securing its first commitment in the class. Alpharetta (Ga.) Milton’s Jack Nickel, a three-star tight end, has emerged as a possibility. So much so that he may even commit this week.

Nickel has continued to express a strong interest in the Irish since landing a scholarship offer from Notre Dame on May 6. Following two trips to South Bend, Nickel called Notre Dame the nicest campus he has seen. He visited for the Oct. 12 home game against USC and took an informal trip on June 30 that satisfied the NCAA’s dead-period rules.

“The history of it, and I’m Catholic, so I appreciate that kind of stuff,” said Nickel on what stood out from his two trips. “Compared to other schools where it’s all spread out, I kind of liked how close everything is. You get to walk everywhere. It kind of feels like you know everyone.”

Notre Dame, Iowa, Wisconsin and Penn State are Nickel’s top four schools. The Irish have seemingly ascended as the favorite after a heavy pursuit from their coaching staff. Offensive coordinator Tommy Rees, recruiting/special teams coordinator Brian Polian and tight ends coach John McNulty held a Zoom video conference with Nickel on Tuesday. Rees also hopped on FaceTime with Nickel on Monday.

McNulty’s persistent communication in the weeks since offering Nickel left him feeling like a high priority.

“The advantage he has compared to other coaches is his NFL experience,” Nickel said of McNulty. “He definitely knows what he’s talking about, because he was an NFL assistant for 15 years. I kind of view him as a straight shooter. He’s just going to tell you the truth.

“His pitch about recruiting me so far has been like, ‘This is Notre Dame. It’s not for everyone. But I think you could be a good fit here.’ I like how he’s a straightforward, honest guy.”

While Nickel has not set a commitment date, his virtual visit may prompt him to commit in the coming days. The Irish would be adding the No. 12 tight end in the 2022 class, per 247Sports. He caught 27 passes for 337 yards and three touchdowns as a sophomore.

The 6-foot-4, 230-pound Nickel brings athletic and academic bloodlines that helped shape his priorities. Father Paul Nickel played at Stanford as a tight end in the early ‘90s.

“So he’s always been pushing that academics are really important,” Nickel said. “Football can’t last forever. How they use a tight end (is also important). I don’t want to go somewhere where I’m blocking all the time. Then the relationship with the coaching staff is just as important.”

Upcoming decisions

Four-star offensive guard Rocco Spindler and three-star cornerback Chance Tucker, two of Notre Dame’s top remaining recruiting targets in the 2021 class, are nearing their commitments.

On Saturday, Spindler announced he will make his commitment public at 6 p.m. EDT on Aug. 8. The Clarkston (Mich.) High standout plans to announce his decision from his high school. Ohio State, Penn State, LSU, Notre Dame and Michigan are Spindler’s top five schools. Notre Dame and Michigan are his two favorites.

The Irish extended an offer to Tucker on June 2. Tucker took informal trips to Notre Dame (July 4-5) and Washington (July 7-8), his father, Byron, told the Tribune. Those two schools should be perceived as his favorites.

The Encino (Calif.) Crespi product expects to announce his commitment by the end of the month.

“Their offer excited me,” Tucker told the Tribune last month. “They have a great academic institution, which is something that I value. But at the same time, they also have a great football program. It’s kind of like they have the best of both worlds.”

247Sports ranks Spindler as its No. 5 offensive guard and No. 80 overall player in the 2021 class, while Rivals pegs him No. 3 at the position and No. 56 overall. Tucker ranks as the No. 78 corner this cycle, per 247Sports.

More 2022 news

Behind Nickel, Westerville (Ohio) South wide receiver Kaden Saunders seems to be the next likely 2022 recruit to commit to Notre Dame.

Eyeing a September decision, Saunders appears to favor Notre Dame and Penn State as his top schools. 247Sports ranks Saunders as its No. 16 athlete and No. 166 overall player in the 2022 class.

The four-star receiver projects he will have a 40-yard dash time between 4.4-4.5 seconds, and a 100-meter dash nearing 10.6. Both times are considered blazing.

Before the pandemic canceled recruiting visits indefinitely, Saunders trekked to Notre Dame for a Feb. 1 junior day. He spent plenty of one-on-one time with wide receivers coach DelVaughn Alexander.

“(Alexander) told me they are trying to add more speed in the receiver room,” Saunders told the Tribune following his visit. “He said they are going to try to do more of (the jet sweeps). They would see me in more of that role, and then going to the outside whenever I would need to and taking the top off (the defense).

“(Notre Dame 2021 commit) Lorenzo (Styles Jr.) and me, since we are the fast guys, he said you just have to get the ball in the playmakers’ hands and let them make plays.”

Fond Du Lac (Wis.) High’s Braelon Allen, a four-star safety in the 2022 class, knows Saunders well and joined him on the Feb. 1 visit. Notre Dame heavily recruited Allen, but he committed to Wisconsin on Tuesday.

The Irish may continue to recruit Allen. He listed Notre Dame as a top six school this offseason and visited campus three times. 247Sports slates Allen as its No. 6 inside linebacker and No. 116 overall player in the 2022 class.

Alpharetta (Ga.) Milton’s Jack Nickel, a three-star tight end in the 2022 recruiting class, considers Notre Dame a top school.