Notre Dame football recruiting: Watkins gives ND secondary a boost

TYLER JAMES
South Bend Tribune

Dallas Bishop Dunne head coach Michael Johnson saw Friday’s decision from Nick Watkins coming for a while now.

Back in April, Johnson, one of the featured presenters at this year’s Notre Dame Coaches Clinic, brought his senior cornerback prospect along with him for the trip to South Bend. It was then that Johnson confirmed his belief that Watkins would end up at Notre Dame.

On Friday, Watkins came one step closer to making that happen when he made the call to the Irish coaching staff to make a verbal commitment.

“I knew it ever since day one,” Johnson said. “I knew Nick wanted to go through the whole recruiting process to make the right decision, but I pretty much knew day one that Notre Dame was the right place for him.”

Johnson couldn’t blame Watkins for taking his time. The 6-foot-1, 185-pound prospect had plenty of options. A glance at the top of the BCS standings reveals a list similar to the offers Watkins has accumulated in his recruitment. The Irish beat out the likes of Alabama, Oregon, Florida State, Ohio State and the power programs in Texas for Watkins’ commitment.

Following the April visit, Watkins told the Tribune he was surprised by how similar Notre Dame felt to his high school. He left South Bend thoroughly impressed.

“Everything was good,” Watkins said in April. “I can't really name one thing that stood out. Everything stood out.”

The Notre Dame staff, led by cornerbacks coach Kerry Cooks, who recruits the Lone Star State for the Irish, continued to strengthen the relationship with Watkins in the months that followed. Watkins attended Notre Dame’s game against Arizona State in Arlington in October the day after head coach Brian Kelly visited a Bishop Dunne game. Watkins returned to Notre Dame on an official visit for the USC game.

Friday’s decision from Watkins ended a drought of nearly three months without a verbal commitment to the Irish. Watkins becomes the 17th prospect to pledge to Notre Dame’s 2014 recruiting class and the first since defensive lineman Matt Dickerson on Aug. 3.

247Sports national recruiting writer Steve Wiltfong said he felt the commitment from Watkins was only a matter of time. Now the Irish could be at the beginning of a strong run on the recruiting trail.

“The timing of the commitment today was randomly awesome because I think Notre Dame’s in a position to get hot,” Wiltfong said. “You take a look at (tight end) Tyler Luatua, I think he could be committed to Notre Dame by the second week of November. He’s taking an official visit to Alabama the weekend of the ninth. I think he pops for Notre Dame after that visit unless something unforeseen happens before then.”

That would give the Irish two commitments from their top targets after visiting Notre Dame for the USC game. Linebacker/safety Drue Tranquill, currently committed to Purdue, could make a decision on the Irish in the coming weeks as well. By the end of November, the momentum could start to mount for Notre Dame to make a strong finish for February’s signing day.

Watkins joins an Irish recruiting class void of defensive backs. The four-star prospect ranks as the No. 11 cornerback and No. 160 player overall in the 2014 class according to Rivals.com. 247Sports slates Watkins as the No. 20 cornerback.

CBS Sports Network recruiting analyst Tom Lemming called Watkins a legitimate top 150 player nationally and one of the best Texas prospects the Irish have received a commitment from in the past few years.

“He’s a heavily-recruited cover corner with good instincts and skills,” Lemming said. “He does everything well. He’s a natural athlete.”

Watkins could not be reached for comment on Friday before his game against Trinity Christian, but his head coach sounded as confident in Watkins’ decision as he is with Watkins’ ability to make plays for his team every Friday night. In addition to his defensive role, Watkins has caught 31 passes for 419 yards and six touchdowns this season.

“Notre Dame fits Nick almost like a glove,” Johnson said. “It’s not a very big school. It has a great business school. It fits the person I know he is.”

Nick Watkins, a senior cornerback at Dallas Bishop Dunne, will attend Saturday's Notre Dame game in Arlington, Texas. Watkins is one of the top remaining targets in the secondary for the 2014 recruiting class. Courtesy of The Dallas Morning News