Notre Dame football recruiting: Irish looking at more options

South Bend Tribune

Waiting dormant deals a death wish to college football recruiting staffs.

A couple misses here and there, and a program can end up with more scholarships available than it had anticipated come signing day. In the final months of a recruiting cycle, a staff’s recruiting board has to change with targets committing and looking elsewhere.

That’s when new plans start to develop.

For Notre Dame, that process started in earnest last week when a handful of new scholarships were offered to prospects in the 2014 recruiting class. The bye week allowed the staff to reach out to the recruits that have been evaluated closely throughout their senior seasons.

“College coaches are always looking for guys that they think are having great senior years,” said 247Sports national recruiting writer Steve Wiltfong. “Guys that maybe weren't offered guys before, but they came out as seniors and really continued to develop as players. You're seeing Notre Dame offering guys that are having great senior years. Nile Sykes, in particular, never played linebacker until this year. He's having a great year for Montini Catholic.”

The new names to surface as Notre Dame targets include Sykes, linebacker Kolin Hill, defensive end Jhonny Williams and athlete Charles Nelson. They may be less heralded than previous Irish targets such as defensive end Lorenzo Carter and linebacker Clifton Garrett, but they’re not short on talent. Call it a backup plan or plan B, but in the end they’re viable options for Notre Dame.

“All these guys can play,” said CBS Sports Network recruiting analyst Tom Lemming. “Everyone has a plan B. When you have it, you have to make sure they're quality players. All these guys are quality.”

Most of the hard work has already been done in identifying these new targets. Now the Notre Dame coaching staff has to start impressing the new prospects while balancing the elite targets still left on the board.

"I think you can be upfront with kids sometimes if you continue to recruit them and you tell them, 'Hey, we have just one guy on the board ahead of you. If he's not coming to us, you're next in line,’” Wiltfong said. “If you live up to that and you're still taking the time to recruit a young man, it works there because you're still being honest.”

Late offers can also be ineffective. If a recruit hasn’t had genuine interest in Notre Dame previously, it’s easy for him to shrug off a new offer if he has a number of other options.

"A lot of times you take a chance on a kid getting their feelings hurt knowing that they've probably been an afterthought until the school lost some other guys,” Lemming said. “When they get a late offer, some other schools have offered a year in advance. A lot of the kids find it good and they also find it good to turn the school down. They say they have to go with the guys that have been recruiting them all year."

While some recruits may hold a grudge, others will find value in having more options. The new offers serve as a reward for a strong finish to a high school career. The accelerated recruiting process that now has high school athletes visiting schools as sophomores and juniors hasn’t fully eliminated the value of a strong senior season.

"There's so many different reasons why guys get late offers,” Wiltfong said. “The kid they just offered from Seabreeze (High School in Florida), Charles Nelson, that kid can really run. There are guys that are just emerging late. I think college coaches across the country are always looking for late bloomers or guys that maybe were overlooked early in the process but they're going to come back through and reevaluating them as seniors."

One of the most impressive of the new targets, according to Lemming, is Sykes. The 6-foot-2, 230-pound prospect has excelled as a linebacker for Montini Catholic in Oak Park, Ill. Sykes transferred from Oak Park and River Forest High School, where he played defensive end last season. While linebackers Nyles Morgan and Clifton Garrett ended their seasons earlier with playoff losses, Sykes and Montini Catholic are still playing.

“He's the same size and has the same production of Nyles Morgan and Clifton Garrett — two bigger names out of the area,” Lemming said. “When you watch all three of them play, they're all about equal in talent.”

Sometimes new recruits aren’t targeted until it’s too late in January, but Lemming said the Irish have done a good job identifying these recruits with a couple months left before signing day.

"You have to give Notre Dame credit for finding these guys,” Lemming said. “These guys are guys that hedge your bets if the southern Cal guys (tight end Tyler Luatua, wide receiver Michiah Quick, athlete JuJu Smith) may not come. They're still hoping those guys are coming, but you have to have a backup plan. It looks like Notre Dame's operational staff is doing a good job of having backup guys this early.”

While worried recruitniks who have been following the names of Notre Dame’s elite targets for months may look at new offers as desperate moves, in reality the coaching staff has formed a logical plan to maximize the scholarships available for the 2014 recruiting class.

"I don't think Notre Dame is going to take a player to just to take a warm body,” Wiltfong said. “They'd rather pass and save those scholarships for next year if they didn't think the guys they offered late were good enough to play at Notre Dame."

Elam’s pot of gold

In an effort to woo senior defensive tackle prospect Matt Elam, the Notre Dame staff loaded his mailbox on Wednesday.

The Irish sent Elam 270 letters to represent the area code of Elam’s home in Elizabethtown, Ky. Elam shared the news on Twitter on Wednesday night, but only counted 262 after adding them all up three different times. Perhaps a scorned postal worker found another use for the other eight letters.

“262 Letters Yes You Read Correctly 262 Letters From Notre Dame!! They Are Calling It My #PotofGold #WorldRecord #ND,” Elam wrote on Twitter.

Notre Dame is the latest to join in the trend of sending giant quantities of mail to show how much its coaching staff covets a prospect. Earlier this year, Kentucky sent Elam 182 pieces of mail at once. No other prospect is known to have received more than 200 letters at once.

Elam, a 6-6, 340-pound prospect, plans to announce his choice during the U.S. Army All-American Bowl on Jan. 4. Alabama, Kentucky and Notre Dame are the top three schools in the running for his services. He ranks as the No. 7 overall prospect in the 2014 class according to 247Sports. Rivals ranks him as a four-star prospect and the No. 18 defensive tackle in the class.


The following recruits are expected to visit Notre Dame for its home finale on Saturday:

2014 targets: DE/OLB Jhonny Williams, LB Nyles Morgan

2014 commits: DE/OLB Grant Blankenship, WR Justin Brent, DE Jay Hayes, DE Andrew Trumbetti

2015 targets: QB Blake Barnett

2015 prospects: WR Miles Boykin, QB Kyle Castner, QB Jimmy Fitzgerald, CB Ashton Preston, LB Reagan Williams

2016 prospects: OL Sean Foster, ATH Daelin Hayes, LB Ethan Tucky, RB Robert Washington | 574-235-6214 | Twitter: @TJamesNDI

Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly watches the action during an NCAA college football game on Saturday, Oct. 19, 2013, at Notre Dame. SBT Photo/JAMES BROSHER via FTP