Class of 2014: Defense
Observer Sports Staff | Thursday, February 6, 2014
6’2” • 225
Crete-Monee High School
Rated the third-best inside linebacker in the country by 247Sports, Nyles Morgan committed to Notre Dame at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl on Jan. 4, selecting the Irish over other finalists Ole Miss and Vanderbilt.
A 6-foot-2 and 225 pounds, Morgan is strong at attacking the ball-carrier at the line of scrimmage and making plays in pursuit, although he has room to improve in pass coverage. He finished his senior season with 115 tackles, 12 tackles for a loss and four sacks, according to the Chicago Tribune.
Morgan could be called upon for immediate playing time this fall for the Irish following the departures of Carlo Calabrese and Dan Fox. A first-team all-Illinois selection by the Tribune, he also had offers from Alabama, Florida, Ohio State and USC, among others.
6’5” • 250
Northern Valley Region High School
Combining relentless energy with great athleticism, defensive lineman Andrew Trumbetti brings a unique set of talents to the depleted Irish defensive front.
The 6-foot-5, 250-pounder from New Jersey shows decent speed and strong tackling ability and has the strength and pass-rushing movies to plug in at defensive end for the Irish.
In high school, Trumbetti also showcased his great speed and strength by doubling as a tight end and his outstanding play on both sides of the ball earned him a spot in the Under Amour All-American game. Already enrolled for this spring semester, Trumbetti will be competing for early playing time as Notre Dame reloads after the losses of stars Stephon Tuitt and Louis Nix.
6’1” • 180
Bishop Dunne High School
Texas product Nick Watkins, the No. 15 cornerback recruit in the nation per Rivals, verbally committed to Notre Dame on Nov. 1 and became the second 2014 pledge from the Lone Star State, joining defensive end Grant Blankenship.
At 6-foot-1, the lanky Watkins is the type of corner that former Irish defensive coordinator Bob Diaco traditionally recruited and should fit well into the Irish system, where he will enter a deep position group competing for graduated captain Bennett Jackson’s starting position as well as backup spots.
Watkins played both receiver and cornerback at Bishop Dunne High School in Dallas but will stay on the defensive side of the ball at Notre Dame. Watkins chose the Irish over offers from Alabama, Auburn, Florida State and other elite programs.
6’5” • 230
The Colony High School
The Colony, Texas
Defensive end Grant Blankenship, from The Colony High School in Texas, ranks as a three-star recruit and the No. 66 player in the state, per ESPN. Blankenship verbally committed to Notre Dame in early July.
Blankenship, weighing in at 6-foot-5 and 230 pounds, is slotted to play defensive end or outside linebacker, though he will need to add weight to his frame. He brings solid speed, allowing him to cover a lot of ground and get to the quarterback quickly. Blankenship led his high school team with a high of 16 sacks last season. His speed and versatility should allow the defense another measure of flexibility as Notre Dame looks ahead.
6’4” • 249
Parkway Central High School
The suburban St. Louis, Mo., native committed to the Irish within days of receiving his offer in June after impressing coaches with his performance at the lineman challenge.
At 6-foot-4 and 249 pounds, Bonner played defensive end and tight end at Parkway Central High School — where he amassed 86 tackles, 17 sacks and 26 tackles for loss — and projects to the defensive side of the ball for the Irish. Bonner, who chose Notre Dame over offers from Michigan State, Missouri, Illinois, Indiana and Purdue, among others, has the flexibility to profile in a variety of defensive positions at Notre Dame and still has room to grow.
6’3” • 290
Winton Woods High School
On Jan. 5, junior defensive end Stephon Tuitt elected to join teammate Louis Nix and forego his final year of eligibility to declare for the NFL Draft. Eight days later, Notre Dame offered Winton Woods (Cincinnati) prospect Daniel Cage a scholarship. Cage signed with the Irish on Wednesday, reportedly choosing Notre Dame over Michigan State.
Cage, listed as a 6-foot-3, 290-pound defensive tackle, is blessed with advanced playing strength for an incoming freshman as well as an explosive first move off the line. He has impressed scouts by adding 50 pounds since he burst onto the scene as a sophomore. And with the defensive line depleted by NFL departures, he could be an asset to the unit’s depth immediately.
6’5” • 270
Poly Prep Country Day
A four-star recruit per both Rivals.com and ESPN, Brooklyn, N.Y., native Jay Hayes checks in at 6-foot-5, possessing an impressive frame to which he can still add muscle.
The Poly Prep product plays light on his feet and is relentless in his pursuit of the ball-carrier downfield. Hayes is consistent in his gap responsibility as well and crashes down the line effectively when offenses run away from him. For a player of his size, Hayes is a strong form tackler who plays well in space and plays sideline to sideline.
Though Hayes has a strong swim move, he will need to develop a deeper arsenal of pass rush moves to remain a dominant pass rusher at the next level. Hayes also is a high character recruit for the Irish with a big personality, one reminiscent of former Irish defensive tackle Louis Nix.
6’2” • 222
Samuel Clemens High School
Kolin Hill is a relentless defender with a great blend of size, speed, and skill. He has the ability and the frame to play either defensive end or outside linebacker at the collegiate level and might best fit in more of a hybrid role.
Hill is a grind-it-out kind of player who never gives up on a play. His determination and effort is there, but his overall game will need to be refined, as he still has room to pack on more good weight to his lengthy frame with time in a college lifting program.
Hill committed to Notre Dame on Dec. 15 and checks in as a three-star recruit, per ESPN.
6’3” • 225
Woodberry Forest High School
Woodberry Forest, Va.
Greer Martini, a four-star linebacker according to ESPN, has prototypical linebacker size and provides immediate depth at the middle and/or outside linebacker positions. Martini shines in run defense, in large part due to his ability to diagnose plays quickly, shed blocks and get upfield, often meeting the ball carrier two or three yards in the backfield. Martini doesn’t possess the athleticism of, say, Jaylon Smith, but Martini is solid in pass coverage.
With a few added pounds in the weight room and improved agility, Martini has the fundamentals and instincts necessary to jump in and be an immediate contributor for the Irish. Martini, who was the first commitment in the Irish class when he pledged in July 2012, chose Notre Dame over offers from Maryland and North Carolina State.
6’4” • 304
St. Joseph-By-The-Sea High School
Staten Island, N.Y.
ESPN ranks the three-star Pete Mokwuah as the No. 71 defensive tackle in the nation. The 6-foot-4, 304-pounder had been committed to Rutgers, but he flipped to Notre Dame on Jan. 24.
Brian Kelly noted the Catholic-school connection between Mokwuah’s high school, St. Joseph By-the-Sea, and Notre Dame. Mokwuah brings great size to the Irish defensive line, a position group Notre Dame admittedly stocked up on late in the recruiting cycle.
Mokwuah also brings good athleticism and aggressiveness to the defense and will need to focus on technique at the collegiate level.
6’2” • 175
Carrollton High School
Semper Fidelis All-American kicker and punter Tyler Newsome is listed as the No. 8 kicker in the 2014 class, according to ESPN, and is sixth on the Rivals list of kickers.
In addition to his athleticism and size at 6-foot-2, 175, Newsome is lauded by recruiters for the “explosion” of the ball off his foot. The strength of his leg is without question, as 146 of his 220 high-school kickoffs — an impressive 66 percent — went for touchbacks.
His punting is equally noteworthy, with half of his punts landing inside the 20-yard line. In his senior season, opposing punt returners combined for fewer than 40 return yards on his high-arching punts. Newsome’s versatility and powerful leg will add depth to the Irish special teams unit.
6’2” • 219
Montini Catholic High School
Nile Sykes played defensive end at the high-school level but projects to be an inside or outside linebacker at Notre Dame. His athleticism and strength complement his speed and range on the field.
At 6-foot-2, 219 pounds, Sykes is instinctually quick in his ability to react to and shed blockers. His speed enables him to inflict immediate pressure off the edge in getting off the mark and up field. He tallied 80 tackles this past season, 22 for loss, with 12 sacks and two interceptions.
Sykes committed to Notre Dame on Dec. 15 over offers from Illinois, Indiana, Missouri, South Florida and Syracuse, among others.
6’3” • 207
Carroll High School
Fort Wayne, Ind.
Drue Tranquill comes to Notre Dame set to factor into Brian Kelly’s plans on the defensive side of the ball, likely at safety or linebacker.
Tranquill helped lead Carroll High School to back-to-back sectional championships in 2012 and 2013 — the third and fourth in school history — and comes to Notre Dame after a season in which he led his team on both sides of the ball. Tranquill scored 34 offensive touchdowns in 2013 — one passing, five receiving, and 28 rushing — and finished second in the state with 12.3 yards per carry.
On the defensive side of the ball, Tranquill recorded 75 tackles, 18 tackles for loss, four sacks and one interception in 2013.
6’5” • 230
Berrien Spring High School
Berrien Spring, Mich.
Jhonny Williams, from Berrien Springs, Mich., also plays basketball and competes for the track-and-field team at Berrien Springs High School.
The athletic Williams is quick at the snap and bowls over his opponents to make a beeline for the quarterback or ball carrier. Williams is fast and powerful on the field and excels as a pass-rusher. Williams originally committed to the Missouri in September before pledging to Notre Dame on Nov. 27. His explosiveness will give him power on the field, but he needs to bulk up to be truly effective for the Irish.