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Recruiting: CB Watkins becomes first DB commit

Mike Monaco | Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Notre Dame added its 18th commitment to the class of 2014 on Friday when cornerback Nick Watkins pledged to the Irish.

Watkins, the No. 79 player in the nation and the 11th-best cornerback according to ESPN, visited Notre Dame in April and made an official visit during the USC weekend in October. The Dallas native checks in at 6-foot-1, 180 pounds and brings a high-end skill set to the Irish secondary, according to Irish recruiting reporter Christian McCollum.

“He’s a legit shutdown corner,” said McCollum, who works for the ESPN-affiliated Irish Sports Daily. “He’s also a kid who has a really high football IQ. He plays in a big league down there in Dallas against a lot of great players and he’s a guy who’s physical enough to get up and jam receivers but also fast enough, quick enough, athletic enough to go ahead and cover them as well.”

In addition to having high upside, McCollum said Watkins could factor into Notre Dame’s depth chart in the 2014 season. Irish senior cornerback Bennett Jackson will have exhausted his eligibility following this season, though fellow senior cornerback Lo Wood could, in theory, apply for a fifth season.

“Technique-wise, he’s beyond his age, and he’s a guy who’s really going to be in the mix immediately as far as depth,” McCollum said. “I’m not saying he’s going to start or anything like that right away, but you see [freshman cornerbacks] Cole Luke and Devin Butler and those guys out there now, he’s a guy who would be on that level, if not higher.”

Though Luke and Butler have cracked the defensive rotation and sophomore cornerback KeiVarae Russell will also return in 2014, McCollum said Notre Dame was relieved to nab Watkins. Of Notre Dame’s other 17 commits in the class of 2014, seven profile as defensive players. None, however, project as corners or safeties.

“I think it was a definitely a relief to finally get somebody because they’re not in the running for a lot of people [at cornerback],” McCollum said. “So getting him was huge. But they did feel good about it [all along].”

Watkins, who attends Bishop Dunne High School, plays alongside teammate Payton Hendrix in the secondary. Hendrix, a 6-foot-3, 187-pound safety, received an offer from Notre Dame on July 30 and took his official visit for the USC weekend, as well. ESPN ranks Hendrix as the No. 26 safety in the nation, and he is expected to take a few more visits. Still, McCollum said he thinks Watkins’ commitment will directly impact Hendrix.

“I think it will have a huge effect,” McCollum said. “I don’t think it’s necessarily a lock that Hendrix is now going to follow him there. But when Payton got offered by Notre Dame, Nick was all in his ear about how awesome it was. Right when he got offered, they were already planning, ‘Alright, you’re coming on a visit with me for the USC game.’ And Payton got that set up immediately. … I wouldn’t be surprised at all if Hendrix ended up a part of this class as well.”

McCollum added that Watkins’ pledge could have an impact on Hendrix aside from the comfort factor. McCollum said the logistics of travel and family visits could be important.

With Notre Dame on the road at Pittsburgh this weekend and with a bye week to follow, McCollum said the Irish coaching staff will soon be out on the road. McCollum added that he wouldn’t be surprised to see Irish coach Brian Kelly “make a few stops during the bye week either.” Notre Dame will check in with a range of prospects at different stages in their recruitments.

“You’ll see them touch base with some of the kids that visited for USC, try to stay fresh in their minds,” McCollum said. “You’ll see them reach out to probably some new 2014 targets, get some film on some guys, reevaluate some guys they were looking at earlier in the process but didn’t extend an offer to. They’ll surely check out some of their commitments. And then a big thing is they’ll be looking at 2015 and 2016 kids. 

“The recruiting game never stops.”

For more on Notre Dame recruiting, check out Mike Frank’s irishsportsdaily.com. Email Mike at mikefrank18@sbcglobal.net and tell him The Observer sent you.

Contact Mike Monaco at jmonaco@nd.edu