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‘Underrated’ class is high on athleticism, upside

| Thursday, February 6, 2014

4. 9. 9. 21.14. 9. 8. 5.

From 2013 all the way back to 2006, that’s where Notre Dame’s recruiting classes ranked in the final class rankings, according to ESPN. In six of the last eight years, the Irish finished in the top 10.

Defensive end signee Jhonny Williams (12), pictured playing for Berrien Springs (Mich.) High School, is one of multiple Irish defensive commits described as “projectable” by Irish recruiting expert Mike Frank.Photo courtesy of Berrien Springs High School

Defensive end signee Jhonny Williams (12), pictured playing for Berrien Springs (Mich.) High School, is one of multiple Irish defensive commits described as “projectable” by Irish recruiting expert Mike Frank.

As the book begins to close on the 2014 recruiting cycle, Notre Dame currently checks in at No. 11 in ESPN’s RecruitingNation Class Rankings.

“I think that maybe, previously, some classes may have been overrated by some of the experts,” Irish recruiting expert Mike Frank said. “I think in the end this one will be a little underrated.”

Frank, who runs the ESPN-affiliated Irish Sports Daily, cited plenty of raw talent that could lead to real production down the road among the 23-member class (which includes early-enrollees Justin Brent and Andrew Trumbetti).

“I think the only reason these guys probably aren’t rated a little higher as far as individuals is because they haven’t fully grown into their bodies,” Frank said. “But when you look at just pure athleticism, it’s as good as you’re going to get. I think they’ve got some great talent coming in there.”

No position group earned as much praise from Frank than the defensive line. Frank lauded recent defensive tackle Pete Mokwuah, calling the former Rutgers commitment “a real steal” for the Irish.

Trumbetti, a defensive end from Demarest, N.J., and defensive end Jay Hayes are the two highest-rated defensive-line prospects in the Irish class, as ESPN rates both as four-star prospects. Frank said he is also high on fellow defensive ends Jonathan Bonner and Grant Blankenship.

Along with the defensive-line prospects, a group of athletic linebackers with pass-rushing ability add to an exciting mix of defensive prospects with athleticism and upside, according to Frank.

“Then they have a bunch of guys who I want to call them projectable guys — they’re guys that can really run but are going to need to add some weight,” he said.

In particular, Frank tabbed Kolin Hill, Jhonny Williams and Blankenship as projectable prospects.

“What I really love about all three of those guys is that they’re extremely aggressive, very, very quick off the ball,” he said. “All three of them play with their hair on fire. They’re just real intense, fast-twitch players that Notre Dame’s been lacking recently when you talk about pass rush and explosion from the edge.”

Frank noted that, of the 11 commitments listed as defensive linemen or linebackers, many could slot in at either position.

On the other side of the ball, Frank praised another talented yet still-developing prospect in quarterback DeShone Kizer. ESPN rates Kizer as a four-star prospect and the No. 16 dual-threat quarterback in the class of 2014.

“He’s got a big arm. He moves extremely well. And he improved dramatically from his junior to senior season much as we saw [Irish rising sophomore quarterback] Malik Zaire do from his junior to senior season [in high school],” Frank said.

Rivals national recruiting analyst Mike Farrell said he’s also excited by Kizer’s raw ability and added that the signal-caller could be the player in the Irish class who has the biggest long-term impact.

“[He] is so raw and he has no idea what he’s doing right now, but he gets by on athleticism,” Farrell said. “If they can teach him, because he’s a very, very good athlete, … he could be a home-run fit for that offense.”

Given the lean toward potential in the class, Frank said he does not expect too many commits to step in and log significant playing time in 2014. Still, Frank sees a strong class, even if it isn’t rated as highly as the class of 2013, or other Notre Dame classes of years past.

“I really like this class. It’s not probably gonna be ranked in a lot of top 10s,” he said.

“What I really like about this class is they have a whole lot of athletes, a lot of guys who can run and probably just as important, a lot of guys who play with a lot of passion. I think that’s something that coach Kelly has really tried to find, is players that play with a lot of effort, play with a lot of fire.

“I think he’s landed a good number of those.”

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.

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About Mike Monaco

Senior Sports Writer Mike Monaco is a senior majoring in Film, Television and Theatre with a minor in Journalism, Ethics, and Democracy as well as Business Economics. The O’Neill Hall native hails from the Boston area and is an aspiring play-by-play broadcaster.

Contact Mike