Recruiting Reset: Notre Dame looks to fill holes at defensive end

RECRUITING RESET

Tyler James
South Bend Tribune

Calling Notre Dame’s defensive end recruiting a crapshoot might not properly describe the uncertainty that has followed the position in the last two years.

With each passing recruiting cycle and subsequent transfers, no position has been paired with as many negative adjectives as defensive end.

Precarious, shaky, unstable — all will suffice.

In the past two recruiting cycles, Notre Dame has signed six defensive end prospects. Only three — Andrew Trumbetti, Grant Blankenship, and Jonathan Bonner — remain on the roster. The attrition has left Notre Dame with a potential crater on the depth chart if it can’t replenish the position in the current recruiting cycle.

Taking a chance on projects like Jhonny Williams and Kolin Hill — who both transferred out of the program after one season — didn’t pay dividends. But as the Irish continue to miss out on some of the consensus elite recruits at the position, they are left to identify players who may be more gambles than safe bets.

Plenty of underrated recruits have developed into top-end pass rushers in the college football landscape, and that’s where new defensive line coach Keith Gilmore will be asked to make a difference. But with a thinning depth chart, the Irish could use more defensive ends who could challenge for playing time early in their careers.

Notre Dame’s two defensive end commits in the 2016 class — Julian Okwara and Adetokunbo Ogundeji — will likely need time to add thickness to their lanky frames. The same could be said about linebacker commit Jamir Jones, who should see himself eventually working on the edge of the line of scrimmage for the Irish. Adding more defensive ends to the class remains a necessity.

On the interior, the Irish have a much deeper depth chart. Seven defensive tackles have signed with Notre Dame in the last two cycles. Recruiting at the position has been limited in the 2016 class.

Commitments

• DE Julian Okwara, 6-4, 220; Charlotte (N.C.) Ardrey Kell: Once Notre Dame offered the four-star recruit in February, it was only a matter of time before he settled on an Irish commitment. In April, Okwara decided to follow the path of his older brother, Romeo, and become a Notre Dame defensive end. In doing so, he passed on offers from Clemson, Georgia, Michigan and Ole Miss.

The younger Okwara is skinnier and quicker than his older brother, but he will need to add weight to compete at the line of scrimmage. In an ideal situation, Julian Okwara would get a year to grow as a redshirt freshman unlike his brother.

Okwara said he totaled 90 tackles and 10 sacks in his junior season. Rivals ranks Okwara as the No. 17 weakside defensive end in the 2016 class. 247Sports slates him No. 22 at the position.

• DE Adetokunbo Ogundeji, 6-4, 215; Walled Lake (Mich.) Central: The Irish added another tall and skinny defensive end when Ogundeji committed to Notre Dame last month. He earned the offer competing at a camp in June and became a priority for defensive line coach Keith Gilmore.

Ogundeji, a three-star recruit, had not become a national recruit but did claim scholarship offers from Oregon and Pittsburgh, among others, before committing to Notre Dame. Like Okwara, Ogundeji shouldn’t be expected to impact Notre Dame’s defense early in his career.

As a junior, Ogundeji totaled nine sacks, 68 tackles and 17 pass deflections. 247Sports slates Ogundeji as the No. 40 weakside defensive end in the 2016 class. Rivals does not include him in its list of top 40 players at the position.

Top targets

DT Rashan Gary, 6-4, 287; Paramus (N.J.) Catholic: Everybody wants a shot at Rashan Gary. Even if it might be barely holding on, Notre Dame sits on the fringes of being a contender for the five-star prospect.

Despite not spending much time recruiting defensive tackles in the 2016 class, the Irish would find room for Gary, who has said he wants to visit South Bend. However, Gary’s previous trip to the Midwest to see Ohio State and Michigan didn’t include a stop at Notre Dame.

In his junior season, which ended with a loss to Irish quarterback Brandon Wimbush in the state final, Gary recorded 14 sacks. 247Sports slates Gary as the No. 1 overall player in the 2016 class. Rivals ranks him as the No. 2 defensive tackle and sixth overall.

DE Carlo Kemp, 6-3, 262; Boulder (Colo.) Fairview: Kemp’s mother knew how to celebrate her son’s offer from Notre Dame in June: by sharing on Twitter a photo of the four-star recruit wearing an Irish sweatshirt as a baby. With an interest in the Irish stretching back to his childhood, Kemp has scheduled an official visit for October’s game against Navy.

Kemp, a nephew of Indianapolis Colts head coach Chuck Pagano, made a visit to Michigan earlier this month. The Irish and Wolverines could end up in a head-to-head battle for him. A thick, athletic prospect, Kemp also played linebacker and fullback last season.

Rivals rates Kemp as a four-star recruit and the No. 9 weakside defensive end in the 2016 class. 247Sports slates him as a three-star prospect and the No. 31 strongside defensive end.

• DE Justin Madubuike, 6-3, 250; McKinney (Texas) North: Pulling the four-star recruit out of the Lone Star State might be an overwhelming task, but Notre Dame’s need at defensive end makes the effort worth it. Madubuike visited four schools over the summer: Baylor, Texas, TCU and Texas A&M. Those could be his four most realistic destinations.

But plenty of programs have joined Notre Dame, who offered him in February, in the chase for Madubuike. He recorded 16.5 sacks in his junior season and shouldn’t wait long to corral a college quarterback. Getting Madubuike on campus for a visit is Notre Dame’s first task.

247Sports slates Madubuike as the No. 11 strongside defensive end in the 2016 class. Rivals ranks him No. 15 at the position.

DE Terrell Hall, 6-5, 248; Washington (D.C.) St. John's: When Hall withdrew his commitment to Ohio State earlier this month, schools started lining up to get back in the four-star prospect’s recruitment. Notre Dame identified Hall as a target in December and could still use him.

But every school may be chasing Alabama, where Hall visited twice this summer before ditching the Buckeyes. Hall claims offers from powerhouse programs across the country including Florida State, Oklahoma and Florida.

247Sports slates Hall as the No. 4 weakside defensive in the 2016 class. Rivals ranks him No. 10 at the position.

Missed targets

DE Oluwole Betiku, 6-4, 240; Gardena (Calif.) Junipero Serra: Notre Dame’s best chance to land an elite defensive end turned into a Bruin earlier this month. Betiku, a Nigerian native with fewer California ties than the typical prospect from the Golden State, spoke highly of Notre Dame, expressed a willingness to travel and claimed plans to make an official visit to South Bend. All could still happen, but the odds took a significant hit with his commitment to UCLA.

247Sports slates Betiku as a five-star recruit and the top weakside defensive end in the 2016 class. Rivals rates him as a four-star prospect and the No. 4 strongside defensive end.

DE Auston Robertson, 6-4, 262: Fort Wayne (Ind.) Wayne: Robertson added to the Fort Wayne heartbreak for the Irish this summer. On the same day in June four-star wide receiver Austin Mack announced his commitment to Ohio State, the four-star defensive end committed to Michigan State. Multiple visits to South Bend didn’t sway Robertson.

247Sports slates Robertson as the No. 7 weakside defensive end in the 2016 class. Rivals ranks him as the No. 8 strongside defensive end.

• DE Josh King, 6-6, 233; Darien (Ill.) Hinsdale South: Notre Dame made it into the final five for the four-star recruit, but Michigan State added to its hot recruiting run in June with a verbal commitment from King. The Irish offered King before his junior season and hosted him multiple times but couldn’t pull him to South Bend.

Rivals ranks King as the No. 5 strongside defensive end in the 2016 class. 247Sports slates him sixth at his position.

• DE Xavier Kelly, 6-5, 255; Witchita (Kan.) East: A visit in June from Kelly didn’t do much to improve Notre Dame’s chances with the four-star prospect. By the end of the month, Kelly released a list of his top eight schools with no sign of the Irish. He committed to Clemson in July.

247Sports slates Kelly as the No. 5 weakside defensive end in the 2016 class. Rivals ranks him as the No. 11 strongside defensive end.

• DE Khalid Kareem, 6-4, 257; Farmington Hills (Mich.) Harrison: Proximity didn’t help any of the schools recruiting the four-star recruit. Kareem was once committed to Michigan State and was being pursued by Notre Dame and Michigan but chose to give his pledge to Alabama in June. The Irish hosted him multiple times before he committed to the Crimson Tide.

247Sports slates Kareem as the No. 10 strongside defensive end in the 2016 class. Rivals ranks as the No. 15 weakside defensive end.

tjames@ndinsider.com

574-235-6214

Twitter: @TJamesNDI

Defensive end Adetokunbo Ogundejji, a 2016 recruit, reported a Notre Dame offer on June 25. (Photo courtesy of Student Sports)

Part five in a seven-part series breaking down where Notre Dame stands at each position group in the 2016 recruiting class.

Part one: Quarterbacks

Part two: Running backs

Part three: Wide receivers

Part four: Offensive line