Notebook: Notre Dame scores commitment from 4-star safety Litchfield Ajavon
SOUTH BEND — Saturday’s theme was Notre Dame’s future.
First, fans caught a glimpse of the 2018 Irish at the annual Blue-Gold Game inside Notre Dame Stadium, a 47-44 victory for the Blue squad.
Then, roughly 30 minutes after the glorified practice concluded, four-star 2019 safety Litchfield Ajavon announced his verbal commitment to Notre Dame.
Ajavon — a 6-foot, 185-pound athlete from Alexandria, Va. — has visited South Bend three times since being offered a scholarship more than a year ago, with the most recent trip occurring last week.
Apparently, Ajavon saw enough to be sold on the Irish.
The feeling goes both ways.
“He’s an outstanding athlete,” CBS Sports Network recruiting analyst Tom Lemming told the Tribune this month. “He has terrific confidence. He’s an all-around ball player. When you watch him, he’s a guy that can play corner or safety.”
The Episcopal High School standout, who is being recruited by the Irish as a safety, is ranked as the No. 5 safety in the 2019 class by Rivals and the No. 12 athlete by 247Sports.
Ajavon is Notre Dame’s fifth commit in the 2019 class, joining four-star offensive lineman John Olmstead — who announced his pledge on Friday — as well as defensive linemen Hunter Spears and Jacob Lacey and cornerback K.J. Wallace.
The Irish could soon add to that list, with four-star offensive lineman Quinn Carroll taking an official visit to Notre Dame this weekend. He’s joined by 2019 wide receiver Kendall Abdur-Rahman and defensive end Howard Cross III on unofficial visits.
Genmark Heath adjusts
This is an entirely new Jordan Genmark Heath.
Same team, but new challenge.
Genmark Heath — a 6-foot-1, 211-pound sophomore — lost eight pounds this offseason, then switched positions from safety to buck linebacker midway through the spring.
“I’m getting there, absolutely,” said Genmark Heath, who finished with four tackles and a pass break up in Saturday’s Blue-Gold Game. “It’s a completely different position for me, and it’s a new position. But with my playing style, being more of a downhill, physical-type safety that I was, I feel like I can use a lot of those skills and my coverage skills on the second level and become a pretty good second-level (player).
“Obviously it’s a struggle to start over a little bit, but I’m confident in (defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Clark) Lea and (fellow linebackers) Drue Tranquill and Te’von Coney. They’re going to teach me a lot of things.”
Without a doubt, the former San Diego Cathedral Catholic High School standout has a lot to learn. He’s doing that by watching YouTube videos of former Irish linebackers Jaylon Smith and Manti Te’o.
And, of course, by talking with Tranquill — who moved from safety to rover before settling at the buck linebacker position this spring.
“It’s a process. He went through it,” Genmark Heath said of Tranquill. “I kind of had a feeling that at some point I was going to go through it, but I wasn’t really sure. I have (guys like Tranquill and Coney) in front of me.
“And especially having Drue at that buck (linebacker position) right now, it’s always awesome to have him. He’s always there for me if I ever want to watch film, if I ever have any questions.”
For Genmark Heath, the questions keep coming — and it’ll take more than athleticism to digest and understand the answers.
“It’s just about getting comfortable in the scheme,” Genmark Heath said. “I can rely on my physical attributes right now, but at some point you’re going to have to know exactly what gap you’re going to.”
That, of course, is Genmark Heath’s quest this offseason. The Swedish former safety also aims to gain roughly 10 pounds to add the physicality necessary to succeed on the second level.
Genmark Heath admits that, initially, he was surprised by the sudden position switch. He saw himself as a safety.
But more than anything, he just wants to see the field.
“It takes a little while internally (to adjust). I feel like I’m a safety at heart,” Genmark Heath said. “But I’m always open for changes, and obviously the coaching staff has been around a thousand different players and they know how to put me in the best position to succeed.”
Raising the bar
Last month, when asked about his desire to be a 2018 Irish captain, graduate student offensive lineman Alex Bars said, “Seriously, there’s nothing more that I want in the world right now than to get that fourth spot.”
On Saturday morning, head coach Brian Kelly told the team that — as a result of a player vote — the captains would be the previously announced Sam Mustipher, Tyler Newsome, Drue Tranquill …
“I think it’s just an unbelievable honor,” the 6-6, 318-pound guard said following the scrimmage. “Really, it can’t get more special than being a captain for Notre Dame football.”
Bars — who has started 25 consecutive games over the past two seasons, at right tackle and then right guard — shifted sides to the left guard spot midway through the spring.
Bars has proven to be versatile and durable.
And, like 2017 offensive line captains Mike McGlinchey and Quenton Nelson, he’s hoping to be consistent.
“Just how to lead day-in and day-out, be the same guy coming to work every day,” Bars said, when asked what he learned from McGlinchey and Nelson. “You have to be consistent and someone every guy in the room can look to.”
Jones’ confidence increases
Brian Kelly is confident in his defense.
Well, most of his defense.
“If there’s one concern, it’s finding the depth at the linebacker position,” the ninth-year Irish head coach said on Saturday. “That would be probably my only concern.”
That’s where Jonathan Jones comes in. The 6-0, 222-pound junior — who finished with two tackles and a tackle for loss on Saturday — is currently situated behind Coney at the middle linebacker spot.
This spring, Jones is playing better … because he believes in his ability to play better.
“No. 1 is probably my confidence,” Jones said, referencing the area where he’s seen the most growth. “I give being able to do that to God, and also (former Irish linebacker) Greer Martini. I was looking up to him last year.
“All the linebackers that left and (the ones that) are above me right now, like Drue (Tranquill) and Te’von (Coney), they really helped me with my confidence.
“They said, ‘You know the plays. They recruited you to come here. You’re a baller. Just go out there and don’t second-guess yourself.’ That’s probably the biggest thing I’ve grown from since I’ve been here.”
Jones’ growth may not always be evident on the second level, where he has played sparingly and finished with 10 tackles in 2017.
But he’s still determined to make an impact on special teams.
Then, hopefully the consistency — and the confidence — will come.
“Since I’ve been here, you sort of sit back and you watch and see the dudes who grow and take off,” Jones said. “You’ve got (Equanimeous St. Brown); he started on (special teams). You’ve got Chase Claypool; he started on that. You’ve got Julian Love; he started on that.
“The good players, they get on special teams, they ball out and then it translates into actually playing.”