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Recruiting: Notre Dame prepares for highly touted recruits

Allan Joseph | Thursday, October 20, 2011

With a four-game winning streak and any last BCS hopes on the line, Saturday’s contest against the Trojans is vitally important to Notre Dame’s 2011 season. But with nearly 50 recruits from the 2012 and 2013 classes visiting campus on official and unofficial visits this weekend, the game might mean just as much to the future of Irish football. Not only is the crop of recruits large, but it might be the most talented group Notre Dame has ever hosted, Irish recruiting expert Mike Frank said.

“This is by far the most impressive list of recruits that I can ever remember coming in for one weekend,” said Frank, who runs the ESPN-affiliated Irish Sports Daily. “You essentially have 10 top-150 players coming, and that just doesn’t happen.”

While 14 players already committed to Notre Dame are taking unofficial and official visits for the primetime contest, Irish coach Brian Kelly and his staff will focus on a number of high-profile uncommitted players who can fill Notre Dame’s remaining needs on the offensive line and at skill positions, Frank said.

Washington tackle Zach Banner and California lineman Arik Armstead highlight the linemen visiting campus, Frank said.

“Banner is a massive kid. It’s all good size, too,” Frank said. ‘His best football is one or two years down the road when he grows into his body.”Armstead is a big, big kid, and he’s very athletic. Notre Dame really likes him at the defensive end position.”

The 6-foot 8-inch Armstead has also expressed interest in playing basketball at the college level, and Frank said the Irish will have no problem with Armstead doing that.

“I think Notre Dame’s staff is fine with him playing basketball as long as he’s academically eligible and doing well in both football and academics,” Frank said. “I don’t see it being a problem at all. He’s quite the talent and can really help both programs.”

Illinois offensive tackle Jordan Diamond will take his unofficial visit this weekend, and while Michigan currently leads the race for Diamond, Frank said the Irish will have a good shot at luring Diamond away.

“He’s probably, I would say, the best offensive tackle in the Midwest,” Frank said. “I think it will be interesting to see what he thinks about the game and hanging out with the players. I know he’s a guy they liked very early and offered very early.”

Notre Dame will also attempt to sign California running back Byron Marshall and North Carolina running back Keith Marshall (no relation) to complement already-signed Ohio running back Will Mahone, who is also visiting this weekend.

“Byron Marshall’s probably the best running back on the West Coast,” Frank said. “There are a lot of good athletes playing running back, but he’s just a really good running back.

“Keith Marshall is probably a little faster … He’s maybe a little bit more explosive, but not quite as big. He will certainly fit a role.”

In addition to both Marshalls and Mahone, all-purpose athlete KeiVarae Russell will visit campus.

“He’s one of those guys who, when you throw the ball in his face, he just makes things happen,” Frank said. “He’s just a really explosive player — the kind Notre Dame hasn’t had in a while, a guy who can make a lot of people miss.”

While Notre Dame has filled a number of its defensive needs, the Irish will host Ohio linebacker Ifeadi Odenigbo, who, despite having very little experience in organized football, is highly touted by Frank.

“You just can’t pass up on Ifeadi. He’s just extremely athletic,” Frank said. “He’s just a great athlete in a big man’s body already.

“Most people think he’ll come down to Stanford, Northwestern and Notre Dame … When we talk about big-game atmosphere, that’s what’s going to give Notre Dame the edge over the other schools.”

California running back Ishmael Adams, whom Frank calls “highly underrated,” and California safety Shaq Thompson highlight the uncommitted defensive backs who will visit this weekend.

“[Thompson] is probably one of the most athletic guys in the country,” Frank said. “If you get him, you’re doing really well, because he can really change a lot of things and really make teams prepare around him because he can be so destructive on defense and offense.”

In addition to a number of uncommitted players, the Irish will also host four players who have verbally committed to other schools but continue to express interest in Notre Dame. Florida offensive lineman John Theus, committed to Georgia, leads that group, and Frank is not surprised that Theus continues to draw interest.

“He’s got great size, he’s a strong kid who can run- and pass-block well and he moves well,” Frank said. “He’s just a guy that you know you’re going to count on when you bring him in, and that’s why he’s so coveted. I’d be very surprised if he didn’t pan out wherever he goes.”

Florida cornerback Donaldven Manning, while committed to Virginia Tech, has continued to develop a relationship with Irish wide receivers coach Tony Alford and thus is taking his official visit this weekend.

“He’s really intrigued by Notre Dame … and I think he just really wants to check out Notre Dame and make sure he’s not passing up an opportunity,” Frank said. “I have a feeling he’s really going to like it at Notre Dame.”

Florida cornerback Brian Poole, California wide receiver Jordan Payton and California receiver Bryce Treggs will also visit Notre Dame besides being interested in other schools.

“[Poole] has been a guy they liked a lot initially. He’s very, very high on that board,” Frank said. “[Payton] is a really good receiver, an explosive player with great hands.

“I really like Bryce Treggs because he’s one of those guys that just seems to outperform his physical gifts, and that’s no slight on him because he’s a good player.”

With so many players visiting, Frank said it was tough to pinpoint which player would be most important.

“I wouldn’t say there are two players that are important — it’s more like 10,” he said.

For a full list of recruits visiting campus this weekend, click on the image to the right.

For more on Notre Dame recruiting, check out Mike Frank’s irishsportsdaily.com. Email Mike at [email protected] and tell him The Observer sent you.