Inside Recruiting: Notre Dame stokes its momentum with more star power this weekend

Eric Hansen
ND Insider
Altoona (Iowa) Southeast Polk' safety Xavier Nwankpa (right) is one of a handful of highly rated prospects taking official visits to Notre Dame this weekend.

Editor’s Note: Inside Recruiting is a feature that addresses key topics involving Notre Dame football recruiting and recruiting in general. It has become a regular staple of our Irish football coverage.

The story is presented in a roundtable format. Today’s contributors are Steve Wiltfong, director of recruiting for 247Sports, and Tom Lemming, recruiting analyst for CBS Sports. 

The Notre Dame coaching staff is seeing stars this month, and not just the kind engendered by staging almost non-stop recruiting visits. That includes some key midweek connections with prospects from the current cycle (2022) as well as the 2023 and 2024 classes.

Including top 50 nation prospect, South Carolina linebacker Jaylen Sneed, who visited midweek and through the coming weekend, five of the 10 2022 prospects taking official visits to Notre Dame this week are ranked in the top 100 by Rivals, 247Sports or both.

Seven of the 10 are in the top 250. Iowa safety Xavier Nwanpka — on track to be a five-star recruit — is the top rated among them.

Among the 2023s who have visited in the past couple of days or will visit this weekend or early next week, 10 of them are top 100-caliber.

With 14 verbal commitments so far, the Irish head into the weekend ranked third nationally in the team recruiting rankings for the 2022 cycle by both Rivals and 247Sports, behind only Ohio State and LSU..

Hilton Head Island (S.C.) High School standout Jaylen Sneed (3) took an official visit to Notre Dame this week.

A little more than halfway through a pivotal month nationwide in recruiting, with the reinstatement of unofficial and official visits, what are your two biggest takeaways from Notre Dame’s navigation of it so far?

Wiltfong: “I think Notre Dame has brought in a tremendous amount of talent on their campus — not only in the 2022 class on official visits, but young players in 2023 and 2024 that they’re going to target moving forward and build relationships with them. 

“What they’ve done has put them in position to recruit another top 10 class this cycle and for years to come. 

“The second takeaway would be, with that I think they were prepared for June, had a good plan in place. This is where Notre Dame shines, when they get kids on campus and get them around their staff, more than anything. Get them around the culture of their football program and school. 

“The players get the impression right away whether this is the kind of environment they want to be in or not.

“I think from the billboards in May, for having a plan in place to host so many prospects, Notre Dame was organized and ready to attack June as well as any program in college football.” 

Lemming: “Overall, so far so good. I think they’ve been doing a great job. I know it was kind of a hurried situation for everyone, not having a whole lot of time once they got the OK from the NCAA to start letting kids come to visit. 

“My first takeaway is by adding people behind the scenes, which they’ve done the past couple of years, has really helped. Notre Dame with this new recruiting philosophy of going at it with a new attitude. 

“I’ve been following everybody nationally. Everyone is sort of in a recruiting frenzy for the month of June. I think Notre Dame has handled it perfectly. They've stayed cool and calm, and have had great visits — not just on the weekends but during the week. I would have to give them an A-plus.

“My second takeaway is that everyone leaving is coming away in awe. They’re not going to get all these kids, but Notre Dame did a great job of selling the football, the campus life and the academics. 

“It’s going to show, I think, in the next month or so when kids start committing. The dam will open up in early July or so. Once kids take three or four visits, you’ll start seeing a lot more commitments. And Notre Dame could be almost done by August.”

California standout linebacker Niuafe “Junior" Tuihalamaka is set to announce his college decision on Saturday. Assuming he ends up at Notre Dame, who’s a former Irish linebacker who has a comparable skill set?

Wiltfong: “He’s a physical interior player that I think can be a pass rush presence. I am not big on comparing kids, because they all have unique qualities, but Te’von Coney probably fits some of the same skills. Junior can play in between the tackles. He can play outside wide in the slot. He can cover. He can crash down against the run. Gets in the backfield in a hurry. Physical football player. They blitz off the edge.” 

Lemming: “Manti Te’o. They’re both inside guys. Manti’s his hero, and I think he patterns his game after Manti. They’re similar size-wise, and they’re both physical guys, good straight-ahead linebackers.

“I’m not saying he’s as good as Manti — Manti came in second in the Heisman. But he’s one of the better inside linebackers in the country and perfectly suited for that position. 

“It’s a real big catch for Notre Dame. He was committed to USC, and Marcus Freeman did an excellent job of getting him turned around.” 

A lot was made coming into this recruiting cycle about Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly’s pledge to become more involved in the recruiting process at key junctures rather than primarily being a closer. What has that looked like so far and how big of a difference is it making?

Wiltfong: “Notre Dame’s bringing in more than 25 official visitors in June. And I would venture to say that Brian Kelly has made an impression on all of them in conversations he’s had with them. And I believe Brian Kelly — when he’s in front of recruits — is as good as any coach in the country in conveying his message.”

Lemming: “Makes a huge difference. Kelly’s the front man for Notre Dame football. With him out front, especially with some of their impact four-plus or five-star guys, it’s made a big difference, where they’re involved with these guys now. 

“You never saw Notre Dame involved with the top 50 kids in the (recent) past. They’d go after a few of them and wind up with very few of them. They’d always seem to wind up somewhere between 50 and 150 with some of their guys. But I think with Kelly involved now, they are involved with a lot more of the impact ballplayers. And I think that’s where Kelly will shine.

“He doesn’t have to call every kid. He just calls their impact guys, guys who can help him win a national title. I think that’s what he’s doing, spending a little more time working on the impact ballplayers.” 

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Do you anticipate any more transfer portal pickups this offseason beyond QB Jack Coan and OG Cain Madden?

Wiltfong: ”If a championship-level player enters the portal who’s a fit for Notre Dame and its roster, I would think they would explore it, but nothing comes to mind right now.”  

Lemming: “I hope not, because I don’t know if there are any great ones still out there. You can plug a hole, but I think that would take away a scholarship. They’re doing such a good job recruiting the high school prospects, I’d focus on that at this point and develop them.” 

Three-star wide receiver Amorion Walker, a 2022 recruit, announced his verbal commitment to Notre Dame in March.

Louisiana wide receiver Amorion Walker was a little-known three-star prospect, per Rivals and 247Sports, when he committed to Notre Dame in March. His still is, though lately his offer sheet has expanded, including an offer from Alabama after recently running a 4.41-second 40-yard dash at the Crimson Tide’s camp. How underrated is Walker? 

Wiltfong: “He’s obviously talented, but he didn’t get to show much this past year because of an injury. He can run. He's got a lot of upside. But he’ll have senior year to show ranking services like us how underrated his is. An offer from Notre Dame stands on its own merit. 

“I think (former assistant) Terry Joseph had some information on this kid with his Louisiana ties that the remaining staff were able to bring home.”  

Lemming: “Very much so. He runs a 10.5 (seconds) 100 meters. When I saw him a couple of months ago in person, I gave him four stars-plus. I don’t go by the other recruiting sites. I go by what I see in person. I don’t go by offers, either. 

“He’s got great height and length and superior speed. He wasn’t quite as polished as he could be, but that’s going to come with time. I just think people are starting to realize what I knew a couple of months ago: He's not a three-star player. I think now, with Alabama offering him, the other sites will raise him to four stars.”

To order or for more information about Lemming’s summer recruiting magazine, visit tomlemmingprepfootball.com.

Follow ND Insider Eric Hansen on Twitter: @ehansenNDI

ND VISITORS

The following football prospects are scheduled to take recruiting visits to Notre Dame this weekend, beginning as early as Thursday:

2022 Official Visitors

WR Nicholas Anderson

WR Elic Ayomanor

CB Jayden Bellamy

OL Joe Brunner

OL Carson Hinzman

DE Cyrus Moss

S Xavier Nwankpa

RB Nicholas Singleton

OL Aamil Wagner

QB Steve Angeli (commit)

DT Donovan Hinish (commit)

TE Eli Raridon (commit)

TE Holden Staes (commit)

2022 Unofficial

LB Joshua Burnham (commit)

LB Nolan Ziegler (commit)

2023 Unofficial

DL Mathias “Mega” Barnwell

LB Jordan Hall

DE David Hicks

TE Mac Markway

WR Carnell Tate

DE Jayden Wayne

2024 Unofficial

ATH Peyton Woodyard