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Daelin Hayes highlights slew of visitors this weekend for rivalry game

| Friday, October 16, 2015

Usually winning or losing a game during a recruit’s official visit doesn’t factor too much into his decision to eventually attend the school.

That’s not the case for Notre Dame this weekend when it welcomes USC to Notre Dame Stadium, according to Irish recruiting analyst Andrew Ivins.

With the Trojan program reeling over the events of the past week, Ivins, who covers Notre Dame recruiting for Rivals.com’s Blue and Gold Illustrated, said in order to really make an impression on recruits, Notre Dame must beat its rival.

And not just a tooth-and-nail victory like 2013’s 14-10 escape: Ivins said the Irish need to make a statement to the visitors on campus this weekend.

“I’ve never been one who goes, ‘They’ve got to win or they’ve got to lose,’ because you can spin that both ways to recruits,” Ivins said. “But given the circumstances, USC couldn’t be in a lower place right now, and you have so many high-profile kids coming from the West Coast. … I think Notre Dame has to win this game, and I think it would say a lot to do it in commanding fashion. Just given the circumstances that you’re going up against a team that has an interim head coach and this is a rivalry game.

“I normally wouldn’t say that, but this weekend I feel like they have to win if they want to get some momentum on the recruiting trail.”

The Irish have a season-high 15 official visitors — and the potential for a couple more to be added in the final hours before the game — and even more on unofficial visits. It will not only be easily the busiest, but also arguably the most important weekend for Notre Dame all season on the recruiting front.

Among the prospects officially visiting campus, five-star linebacker Daelin Hayes announced his decommitment from USC on Twitter on Sunday after being pledged to the Trojans for over a year. Ivins said the Ann Arbor, Michigan, native’s decision had basically whittled down to USC and Notre Dame, but now that he has reopened his recruitment, he has already scheduled visits to Ohio State and Oklahoma, per his recruit page on Rivals.com.

Despite these new visits, Ivins said Notre Dame is still in good shape with the 13th-ranked prospect.

“He’s always had an interest in Notre Dame,” Ivins said. “Then obviously what happened last Los Angeles this past weekend [the firing of USC head coach Steve Sarkisian] reopened things up and he decided to separate himself from the Trojans.

“ … I think Notre Dame is in the perfect position to land Hayes. He’s going to take the official visit, [his] mom’s coming. They’ve always had an interest in Notre Dame. But I don’t think that a commitment is imminent this weekend simply because he wants to look at his other options.”

Four-star linebacker Jeffrey McCulloch, the No. 5 linebacker prospect in the country, per Rivals, will join Hayes at Notre Dame this weekend. It will be the Houston, Texas, native’s first official visit to any school, and Ivins said the fact he chose Notre Dame first bodes well for the Irish.

“He’s got a list of 15 schools that are in the picture, but Notre Dame is the first that will get an official visit,” Ivins said. “That’s because Notre Dame has put in the work and continued to try and get him on campus.

“Right now I think he’s as wide-open as you can get. He’s not going to make a decision until January, but this is a pretty-telling sign … that [Notre Dame is] going to be in it until the end.”

Ivins said having both high-profile linebacker recruits on campus at the same time shouldn’t be a problem for the Irish.

“If you’re Notre Dame right now, you’re pointing to [McCulloch] and saying, ‘We’re only going to have six scholarship linebackers coming back next year, and only three of them have played snaps, so there’s definitely going to be room for playing time,’” Ivins said.

Hayes will not be the only recruit on campus who recently decommitted from another high-profile program. Four-star defensive end Khalid Kareem of Farmington Hills, Michigan, backed away from his June verbal pledge to Alabama on Wednesday and will be in South Bend over the weekend.

“The family really likes the academic side of things,” Ivins said. “Obviously, if you stack Notre Dame up with Alabama, it’s not really on the same playing field.

“Is he a guy who is going to commit right away? I don’t know. I give him a higher chance than Hayes because defensive end is an obvious need.”

Two of Notre Dame’s biggest targets on offense will also be in the stands Saturday. Four-star receiver Javon McKinley will be making his official visit to Notre Dame, while the Irish will also be getting a head start on their 2017 recruiting class by welcoming five-star offensive tackle Jedrick Wills to campus for an unofficial visit.

“When you talk with people inside the Gug, they feel in a way they’ve already won over Javon McKinley’s mother, and they think that is going to be a deciding factor down the line,” Ivins said. “This is his third visit — mom came the first time, he came alone the second time — so I think what Notre Dame needs to show him is … he can be a dynamic receiver and Notre Dame can put guys at the next level.”

“This will be [Wills’] second unofficial, surprisingly,” Ivins said. “It’s pretty much a Notre Dame-Kentucky battle right now. … Notre Dame really likes him, and when [Irish offensive line coach] Harry Hiestand identifies a lineman he likes, he generally doesn’t miss.”

Ivins said if he had to guess where the Irish would pick up a commitment this weekend, he highlighted Notre Dame’s two three-star safety recruits, Devin Studstill and Ikenna Okeke.

“As I was told today, spots are closing fast, so it’ll be interesting to see if either one of those guys pulls the trigger, if they get pressure to pull the trigger,” Ivins said.

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About Zach Klonsinski

A History graduate, Zach spent all four of his years on campus as a resident of Knott Hall. Hailing from Belgrade, Montana, he covered a wide variety of sports in his time at Notre Dame, including Football, Hockey, Men's Basketball, Men's Soccer, Women's Tennis, Fencing, Rowing, Women's Lacrosse and other events around campus. You can contact him in his post-graduation travels and job search at [email protected]

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