Irish set to entertain top prospects from around Midwest

South Bend Tribune

Saturday’s Blue-Gold Game provides Notre Dame another chance to roll out the red carpet for a number of recruits. The visitors get a chance to take in a game-like atmosphere with less stress on the coaching staff and players to win a game.

The Irish are taking advantage of the opportunity this weekend by bringing in a handful of the top players in the Midwest.

A pair of familiar Cincinnati prospects headline the list of expected visitors: linebacker Justin Hilliard and defensive tackle Elijah Taylor.

Hilliard, one of the nation’s top 2015 linebacker prospects, will return to Notre Dame for the second time this year and already has made trips to campus a number of times. The Irish have solidified themselves as serious contenders for the 6-foot-2, 225-pound junior from St. Xavier.

“Usually if you follow the visits in recruiting, the school that gets the most visits wins in the end,” said 247Sports national recruiting writer Steve Wiltfong. “Notre Dame's sitting pretty in that regard when you're talking about the nation's top outside linebacker Justin Hilliard. At this point it's obvious he's very high on the Irish. This is just another opportunity for him to continue to build those personal relationships at Notre Dame.”

Relationships like the newly-formed connection with Notre Dame defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder. In addition to the coaching staff, Hilliard will get a chance to hang around some of Notre Dame’s commits and 2014 linebacker signees Nyles Morgan and Greer Martini.

Hilliard has also made visits this spring to Michigan, Ohio State and Alabama and released a top 10 including those three schools and Notre Dame at the end of March. 247Sports slates Hilliard as a five-star prospect and the No. 13 prospect in the country. Rivals ranks him as a four-star prospect, the No. 1 inside linebacker and No. 47 overall.

Taylor will also return to Notre Dame on Saturday for the second time this spring. He also made the trip to South Bend for junior day in March. Taylor chose to attend Notre Dame’s spring game over Ohio State’s spring game on the same day. Instead, Taylor will visit Columbus on Monday.

“That offer from Ohio State was one he really wanted, but Notre Dame got in the game very early for this young man and has had him to campus several times,” Wiltfong said. “It's another chance to get more familiar with the people on campus. (Head coach) Brian Kelly and his staff have done very well in the Cincinnati area landing guys that they want from that conference in particular.”

The Irish offered the 6-3, 275-pound Taylor in October on a visit for the USC game. 247Sports slates the Archbishop Moeller prospect as a four-star recruit and the No. 19 defensive tackle in the 2015 class. Rivals ranks Taylor as a three-star prospect and the No. 29 defensive tackle.

Making his first visit to Notre Dame is four-star wide receiver Alex Ofodile. The Columbia, Mo., native is a Missouri legacy but has plenty of schools hot on his trail.

“He's a blue-chipper,” Wiltfong said. “ This is a chance for Notre Dame to really make an impression and show this young man how dynamic he can be in the offense. For him, it's a chance to see if he fits in the culture of Notre Dame and see if he's a Notre Dame guy. There's no question he's one of the top players in the country and definitely one of the top players in the area.”

The 6-foot-3, 185-pound Ofodile caught 92 passes for 1,293 yards and 14 touchdowns as a junior at Rock Bridge High. His offer list includes Alabama, Florida State and Oklahoma

247Sports slates Ofodile as the No. 12 wide receiver prospect and No. 102 overall. Rivals also ranks him as the No. 12 wide receiver and No. 118 overall.

Notre Dame is also ironing out the details with a visit from defensive end Jashon Cornell. The 6-3, 270-pound prospect from Cretin-Derham Hall in St. Paul, Minn., plans to attend the Chicago Nike Football Training Camp during the day, but has expressed interest in visiting former teammate James Onwualu in South Bend on Saturday night and Sunday. Getting one of their top targets at defensive end on campus would be a big win for the Irish.

“Jashon's been to Notre Dame several times and it's another time for him to come to campus,” Wiltfong said. “He has not been able to connect with Brian VanGorder in person. If he gets an opportunity to do that, that would be great.”

247Sports slates Cornell as a five-star prospect, the No. 3 weakside defensive end and No. 25 overall in the 2015 class. Rivals ranks him as a four-star recruit, the No. 7 weakside defensive end and No. 87 overall. Michigan, Michigan State, Oklahoma and USC, among others have also offered Cornell.

The Irish will also host several 2015 and 2016 prospects that don’t hold offers including juniors Nick Conner and Adam Solomon.

Conner, a 6-3, 225-pound junior linebacker at Dublin (Ohio) Scioto, ranks as a four-star prospect. 247Sports slates him as the No. 4 inside linebacker in the country, and Rivals has him eighth.

“If Notre Dame went on him, I think they'd have a great chance,” Wiltfong said. “Ohio State, Michigan and Notre Dame are three schools that he would really strongly consider but none of them have offered yet. He's a talented player and a big, good-looking kid."

Conner already holds offers from the likes of Kentucky, Cincinnati, Iowa and Pittsburgh.

Solomon, a 6-6, 290-pound junior offensive lineman at Indianapolis Bishop Chatard, rates as a three-star prospect. Rivals ranks him as the No. 48 offensive tackle, and 247Sports slates him at No. 55. He holds offers from Illinois, Kentucky and Purdue, among others.

Notre Dame will likely remain picky with offensive linemen in the 2015 class with two commits already at the position group and a strong class of incoming freshmen that signed in February. The Irish recently offered three-star offensive lineman Trevor Ruhland last weekend.

“Depending on how many they want to take and depending on how Adam Solomon maybe performs in camp or however the numbers shake out would determine him getting an offer,” Wiltfong said.

The entire weekend will be aided by the presence of Notre Dame commits and signees on campus from Friday to Sunday. Relationships with those players can help sway visiting recruits. The weather, projected to be one of the nicest days of the year to date, won’t hurt either.

“It always creates a great atmosphere in the crowd because the young guys are the guys the recruits are going to be around for the longest time and know the best,” Wiltfong said. “So you get Justin Hilliard, Alex Ofodile, and Elijah Taylor around the commits and the guys that are going to be freshmen at Notre Dame this coming year and they can start forming friendships that really make them more comfortable with going to a place where they're going to walk in the door and have some familiarity with the guys.”

Elijah Taylor, a defensive lineman from Cincinnati Moeller, is one the more highly touted recruits that will be in South Bend this weekend for the Blue-Gold Game. (SBT Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN)