Inside Recruiting: QB perceptions, O-line scrutiny and best-case scenarios at Notre Dame

Eric Hansen
ND Insider
Quarterback Walker Howard runs the ball as St. Thomas More takes on Ruston (La.) High on Friday, Oct. 1, 2021.

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 invite/acceptance list a few days ago heading into Notre Dame football's pivotal in-season recruiting weekend was impressive enough, both in sheer volume and in top-of-the-board-caliber prospects.

The Irish coaches kept adding quantity and quality throughout the week to the point that it's now considered in historic proportions.

"I've been in this business for 43 years," said CBS Sports recruiting analyst Tom Lemming. "And this is one of the biggest — if not the biggest — recruiting weekends Notre Dame had in that time.

"It's right in line of their recent philosophical shift toward getting involved with big names early and then worrying about whether it's an academic fit later, instead of always trying to play catchup. It's a super-impressive group."

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Coveted 2023 QB target Avery Johnson and a couple of elite QB prospects from the 2024 class are confirmed recruiting visitors for this weekend’s USC game. And 2022 five-star LSU quarterback commit Walker Howard will also be on hand. What do you imagine their take is of Notre Dame’s multi-QB formula in 2021?

Wiltfong: “I think they’re just looking at Notre Dame as a whole. I think that they would look at it as, ‘Here’s an incredible opportunity to come to a school that kind of has a question mark in the most important room but is built for success everywhere else. This is a football program that has competed for championships, and I can be the guy to put it over the top.’ 

“That’s what they should be thinking anyway.” 

Lemming: “Quarterbacks like certainty and knowing where they stand. So, the coaching staff will need to explain the situation and where they think it’s headed. It’s important that they know what the long-term plan is.” 

How does Walker Howard’s skill set compare to those of Jack Coan and Tyler Buchner?

Wiltfong: “I think Walker Howard’s probably more in the Jack Coan mode in terms of what he is, but Walker Howard is a state champion on the high school level who’s shown on Friday nights that he can be prolific. 

“He was out at the Elite 11 (national showcase camp) this summer, and from an arm talent standpoint was second to none. He’s got a lot of ability. He’s a major get for LSU and would be a big get for Notre Dame if they were able to pull one off here.”  

Lemming: “I think he falls somewhere in the middle, but I like his mobility, so would lean toward Tyler Buchner’s skill set. I think he’ll be really successful at the college level, whether he’s at LSU or Notre Dame, and the Irish are smart to try to flip him. 

“His dad, Jamie, was one of my prep All-Americans and went on to do very well at LSU.”

St. Mary's Springs Academy football's Billy Schrauth (72) — a Notre Dame recruiting target — tackles Campbellsport High School’s Samuel Koth (11) on Friday, September 17, 2021, during their game in Fond du Lac, Wis.

If Wisconsin prep offensive line standout Billy Schrauth ends up committing to the Irish, do you think the ND fan base would view O-line coach Jeff Quinn differently?

Wiltfong: “I can’t put thoughts into their heads. I know Notre Dame just saw its team make the College Football Playoff last year, where one of the strengths of the team was the offensive line. And I think Notre Dame has had offensive line play that’s been championship-worthy. 

“They’ve had a ton of turnover. And then they’ve had a ton of injuries after that. And it’s kind of been a makeshift group that I think will be better off for it down the road, but there are growing pains this year.  

“Nobody’s going to feel sorry for Notre Dame. They’re a team that’s supposed to reload every year. To a certain degree they still have. This is a 5-1 football team, and their only loss is to Cincinnati. So, any critique of Notre Dame is critiquing them from the standpoint that you’re trying to get them to win the championship. 

“The program is in great shape. And Jeff Quinn just had a bunch of players drafted at the position.” 

Lemming: “First of all, Billy Schrauth is an elite ball player who I think can play tackle or guard. Second, to me Jeff Quinn is an outstanding offensive line coach. He just lost four of his five starters from last year. The fan base at Notre Dame, though, has always overreacted to everything without thinking. 

“Quinn came in second last year in the Joe Moore Award. So, he can’t be great one minute and bad the next. It’s because he has an inexperienced offensive line. It takes time, and some of the guys who they’ve recruited have not panned out and others have no experience. That’s the thing. 

“Quinn’s already proven himself. Last year, Notre Dame had a great offensive line. All of a sudden he’s not a good coach, because they all graduated? So if they get Billy, I think the fan base would still be on him, because they do that with everybody almost. Sometimes it’s deserved, but in Quinn’s case it’s not deserved.”

How do coaching staffs deal in recruiting with assistants or the head coaches getting criticized by their own fan bases on message boards that recruits might read?

Wiltfong: “Obviously, the recruits are getting a chance to talk to the coaches directly and form their own opinions. I don’t think their opinions are going to be formed by what message board posters — or even the media — say, to a certain degree. 

“Billy Schrauth has been a back-and-forth recruiting battle with Wisconsin. Well, he’s talking directly to Brian Kelly and Tommy Rees. Why does he need to look at what Leprechaun1234 is saying?” 

Lemming: “I would say coaching staffs should ignore it. You don’t want to bring it up to recruits unless the kid brings it up. There are negative fan bases everywhere. Even Nick Saban gets criticized. Last year when Alabama got off to a slow start in recruiting, fans were saying it was time for him to retire. 

“So they start out 67th in recruiting and then end up with a class some people consider the greatest class of all time. I was on radio shows in several cities in Alabama, so I got to experience that. So it’s not just at Notre Dame, and I think Jeff Quinn is experienced enough to take it with a grain of salt. And I think recruits understand what’s going on.”

Southeast Polk senior Xavier Nwankpa — a Notre Dame recruiting target — breaks tackles en route to the end zone for a touchdown against West Des Moines Valley on Friday, Sept. 3, 2021, at Southeast Polk High School in Pleasant Hill, Iowa.

What’s a realistic best-case scenario from this weekend’s recruit-a-palooza with so many top 2023 prospects attending and key 2022s? 

Wiltfong: “You want to lock in Billy Schrauth. That one’s been back and forth. You want to get him in the fold and get him done. And then that’s the finishing touch on another terrific offensive line haul — two in a row. 

“You really want to make a move with (safety) Xavier Nwanpka. I mean, he is a pivotal recruit for Notre Dame. You lose Kyle Hamilton. Notre Dame’s defense has always had a special player or two. And Xavier is as close to a sure thing as you’re going to get in the class. 

“For him, it’s making him feel even more comfortable with the people at Notre Dame, his peers, the players in the locker room. He already likes (safeties) coach (Chris) O’Leary, (defensive coordinator Marcus) Freeman. He knows what Notre Dame stands for academically and athletically. 

“He knows the potential. He knows the scheme. Getting him just more involved with the players, I think, is pivotal. 

“And then for the younger guys, just making it an unforgettable experience. From Notre Dame’s standpoint, hopefully, they’re in the locker room after the game of a win. Hopefully, Brian Kelly and his staff are able to make them all feel part of it in some way, that they’re building a connection with Notre Dame that sets the tone even more moving forward in all their recruitments.” 

Lemming: “I like the fact that Notre Dame has some 2024 guys coming and at least one 2025. A few years ago, Notre Dame would concentrate just on the recruiting cycle they were in during these big visits weekends and they were always behind. Notre Dame has really joined this current century in recruiting, and I think it’s great. 

“You might get one or two guys to commit over the weekend, guys who are overwhelmed by the electric atmosphere. But for the most part it’s about leaving an indelible mark of, ‘Wow, I love this place.’ And then down the line the kid could commit to Notre Dame — especially the 2023 guys. 

“For many of them, it’ll be the first time visiting the campus. Notre Dame is bringing them to the right game, because no matter how poorly USC or Notre Dame are doing in a particular year, that game adds a lot of electricity to the game on the field, and the players see that.”

NOTRE DAME RECRUITING WEEKEND

The following recruits are confirmed visitors at Notre Dame this weekend for the USC game.

2022 Targets

QB Walker Howard

DL Hero Kanu (official visit)

DL Anthony Lucas

S Xavier Nwankpa

OL Billy Schrauth

ATH Carson Tabaracci (official visit)

OL Aamil Wagner 

2023 Targets

LB Drayk Bowen

ATH Dalton Brooks

RB Kaden Feagin

DL Kendrick Gilbert

RB Justice Haynes

OL Charles Jagusah

QB Avery Johnson

RB Jayden Limar

DE Kennedy McDowell

DL Luke Montgomery

OL Joshua Padilla

OL Kadyn Proctor

CB Justyn Rhett

DL Ashton Sanders

WR Micah Tease

CB Ryan Yaites

LB Preston Zinter 

2024 Targets

QB CJ Carr

QB Julian Sayin

DE Nigel Smith

LB Anthony Speca

S Peyton Woodyard 

2022 Commits

LB Joshua Burnham (official visit)

TE Jackson Carver (walk-on)

OL Ashton Craig

DE Aiden Gobaira

DT Donovan Hinish

QB Jack Lausch (baseball commit)

WR Tobias Merriweather

CB Jaden Mickey

DB Devin Moore

CB Benjamin Morrison 

TE Eli Raridon

TE Holden Staes

OL Joey Tanona

LB Nolan Ziegler (official visit)

2023 Commits

RB Sedrick Irvin Jr.

DE Brenan Vernon

2022 Prospects

OL Henry Boyer

DL Douglas Brooks

WR Eddie Kasper

RB Christian Sarem

DB Leo Scheidler 

2023 Prospects

LB Joshua Beasley

CB Micah Bell

DE Trevor Buhr

OL Luke Burgess

RB Cole Cabana

LB Kameron Cheatom

RB Jeremiah Coney

LB Ross Dansdill

QB Matthew Dougherty

S Konner Entz

OL Cole Evans

LB Palaie Faoa

DE Oryend Fisher

S Carson Hansen

S Malik Hartford

RB Willtrell Hartson

CB Demarcus Houston

LB Joseph Jean-Louis

WR Coaleon Johnson

WR Tory Johnson Jr.

DL Kaden Jones

OG Isaiah Kema

OL William Larkins

OL Trevor Lauck

RB Shelton Lewis

LB Zyian Moultrie-Goddard

QB James Murphy

LB Michael Novak

TE Jaden Platt

LB Mateo Poso

QB/WR Ayden Price

S Brandon Ramirez

S Zyers Ruff II

LB Nehemiah Sagiao

OL Misael Sandoval

CB Javen Sewell

DL Eamon Smalls

DB Cameron Smith

DE Kyelin Smith

DB Raion Strader

WR Justin Taylor

OL Evan Tengesdahl

S Dillon Thieneman

TE James Thomas

CB Nicholas Thompson

ATH Grant Tucker

DE Teitum Tuioti

QB Javance Tupouata-Johnson

OL Jeremiah Warren

QB Steele Wasel

DL Sam Williams

2024 Prospects

RB Jeremiah Beasley

ATH Hunter Carver

DT Brandon Davis-Swain

QB Lebarion Gilmore

RB Jaden Hart

DB Hudauri Hines

S Cayden Jones

WR Antonio Russell

WR I’Marion Stewart

RB Brandon Tullis 

2025 Prospects

WR/DB Anthony Gwinn

RB/LB Jayden Gwinn

DE Kamden Laudenslager

RB Jayshon Limar

WR/DB Andre Lovett

QB Ryan Montgomery

RB Nehemiah Thomas

QB Bryce Underwood 

Follow ND Insider Eric Hansen on Twitter: @EansenNDI