Class of 2016: Defense
Observer Sports Staff | Thursday, February 4, 2016
6’1” • 177
Lloyd C. Bird High School
After a season in which Irish depth in the defensive backfield was repeatedly tested, their resources will become more plentiful with the commitment of three-star defensive back Jalen Elliott. The 6-foot-1, 177-pounder committed to the Irish in June despite other offers from southern powerhouses like Auburn, Georgia and Virginia Tech.
Elliott played a number of positions during his time in high school, and this versatility earned him the No. 15 safety ranking from Rivals, which also acknowledged Elliott as the 12th-ranked recruit from the commonwealth of Virginia in the incoming class of 2016. ESPN’s scouting report emphasizes his athleticism and long body will allow him to transition to a defensive position.
Elliott represents a classic Brian Kelly-era Notre Dame recruit: a highly-ranked athlete with big upside.
6’3” • 254
Skyline High School
Ann Arbor, Mich.
Fans will remember his “Legendary Dark Knight” video produced by Bleacher Report, but Daelin Hayes is one of Notre Dame’s most coveted recruits. The Ann Arbor native previously committed to USC before officially signing with the Irish on Dec. 10 and enrolling in January.
Listed at 6-foot-3, 254 pounds, Hayes undoubtedly has the size to play off the edge in Notre Dame’s 3-4 defense, and his rare combination of speed and power sets him apart from most edge-rushers in the 2016 class. Hayes was rated a five-star recruit on Rivals and ranked the 227th best prospect on the ESPN Top 300 list. With Jaylon Smith heading to the NFL Draft, Hayes will be competing for time at outside linebacker during spring practice.
6’4” • 210
Joining his brother, Jarron, in making the jump from the Little Irish of Aquinas Institute to the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame, Jamir Jones is rated as a three-star recruit. The No. 3 prospect coming out of New York according to Rivals, Jones is a versatile player. While playing tight end, linebacker and defensive end, Jones had 26 catches for 551 yards and seven touchdowns in addition to 58 tackles, 15 tackles for loss, 5.5 sacks and a fumble recovery all in his team’s undefeated 2015 season.
At 6-foot-4 and 210 pounds, Jones’ greatest strength comes in rushing the passer. Currently on the path for outside linebacker, time will tell if he makes the switch to the defensive front.
6’0” • 207
Oak Ridge High School
Listed at 6-feet and 207 pounds, Jonathan Jones brings an athletic presence to the middle of the defense. A three-star middle linebacker from Oak Ridge High School in Orlando, Florida, he chose the Irish over rival Michigan at the last minute on Signing Day. He also had offers from schools like Florida, Georgia, LSU, Miami and Oklahoma, but in the end, it came down to the Irish and Wolverines.
Jones can impact the game in a variety of ways on the defensive side of the ball with his punishing physical style and surprising quickness, which he used to create multiple defensive touchdowns during his senior year. With the Irish losing a number of players from the center of the defense to graduation and the NFL this spring, Jones could find himself on the field early in his Notre Dame career.
6’4” • 257
Harrison High School
Farmington Hills, Mich.
Khalid Kareem was a senior defensive end at Harrison High School in Farmington Hills, Michigan. He committed to the Irish on Oct. 23 after decommitting from Alabama on Oct. 14.
According to Rivals, Kareem is a four-star recruit ranked 17th in the nation among defensive ends. He is also the eighth-ranked player overall out of the state of Michigan. He received 32 scholarship offers and decommitted from Michigan State and Alabama before committing to Notre Dame.
Kareem is a powerful defensive end with quick feet who can put pressure on an opposing quarterback. Kareem recorded 56 tackles and 16 sacks his senior year and won the Michigan High School Defensive Player of the Year Award. He enrolled early at Notre Dame in January and has begun taking classes.
5’11” • 175
LaGrange Park, Ill.
Three-star cornerback Julian Love measures in at 5-foot-11 and 175 pounds, a solid size for his position. Love chose the Irish over offers from Boston College, Northwestern and Iowa, among others, and hails from Nazareth Academy, a Catholic prep school outside of Chicago.
In high school, Love played offense, defense and special teams and has been compared by many to former Notre Dame defensive back-turned-receiver-turned-running back C.J. Prosise. Love could be a candidate to slide over to safety or even switch to the offensive side of the ball for the Irish. Love is also a proven winner, having led Nazareth to back-to-back Illinois state championships his junior and senior seasons, and he will look to help bring to Irish back to the top in the coming years.
6’3” • 200
St. John Bosco High School
D.J. Morgan, a four-star safety from Bellflower, California, committed to Notre Dame in late September. Morgan began his high school football career as a receiver but missed his freshman season due to injury. He made the move to safety his sophomore year and quickly left his mark. The 6-foot-3 defensive back originally committed to play at Arizona State but changed his mind in July.
Notre Dame runs in the family for D.J. Morgan, as his cousin is former Notre Dame women’s basketball legend Skylar Diggins. Notre Dame’s nationwide schedule was another aspect of the football schedule that appealed to Morgan, as playing games in California will allow his mother to watch him play in person more often.
6’5” • 220
Central High School
Walled Lake, Mich.
Adetokunbo Ogundeji began making waves later in the recruiting process, catching Notre Dame’s attention early in the summer. Ogundeji originally committed to Western Michigan, but when Irish defensive line coach Keith Gilmore reached out to Ogundeji and offered him a scholarship on June 25, the 6-foot-5, 220 pounder quickly changed his tune.
Two days later, Ogundeji visited Notre Dame’s campus, and he committed July 16.
Ogundeji uses a quick burst off the line and his size to move offensive linemen out of the way and get to the inside of blocks, while his length ensures runners have a hard time finding a way around him.
Ogundeji will need to put on some weight after he arrives on campus, but he has a lot of raw talent to work with over the coming years.
6’4” • 220
Ardrey Kell High School
Four-star defensive end Julian Okwara, brother of former Notre Dame defensive end Romeo Okwara, is a key piece of the 2016 Notre Dame class. The 6-foot-4, 220-pound recruit out of Charlotte, North Carolina, is a great pass rusher with the combination of a quick first step, long arms and good use of his hands. A natural athlete with a long frame, Okwara is versatile enough to drop into coverage, while also known as a standout on special teams.
Okwara finished his senior season at Ardrey Kell High School with 84 tackles and nine sacks, while also forcing four fumbles. Okwara is ranked by Rivals as the nation’s No. 18 weak-side defensive end, and his skill-set potential has the chance to develop quickly at the college level.
6’3” • 202
A three-star prospect by most outlets, Spencer Perry has been committed to Notre Dame since late June. Perry originally was committed to Florida but flipped his commitment after visiting Notre Dame over the summer. At 6-foot-3 and 202 pounds, he projects as a safety in the Irish defense. One of Perry’s most recognizable skills is his speed: His 40-yard dash time has been clocked at 4.49 seconds. Perry’s skill in coverage and ability to adapt to Notre Dame’s complicated defensive schemes remain question marks.
Given the graduation of Elijah Shumate, Perry could be in a position to earn playing time in 2016, as Notre Dame will have a mix of safety options. He hails from Auburn, Alabama, though he attended IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida, for his high school career.
TROY PRIDE, JR.
6’0” • 165
Greer High School
The 6-foot, 165-pound cornerback recruit from Greer, South Carolina, chose the Irish over a host of schools, including Clemson, South Carolina, UNC and Virginia Tech. Troy Pride, Jr., was initially committed to the Hokies but decommitted after long-time head coach Frank Beamer announced he was retiring and later committed to Notre Dame on Christmas Eve, adding to an already loaded incoming class.
The four-star recruit is ranked as the No. 23 corner in the class of 2016 by Rivals, and he was recently voted Defensive MVP of the Blue-Grey All-American Bowl for his two-interception performance. Pride is a shutdown corner who has an eye for the big play, and he has good size and athleticism for the collegiate level. He should have a big impact for the Irish in the years to come.
6’1” • 183
Palm Beach Gardens High School
Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.
A high three-star athlete, Devin Studstill committed to Notre Dame on Dec. 15. He played safety at Palm Beach Gardens High School in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, the same alma mater as Notre Dame freshman linebacker Te’von Coney. Studstill was the 20th commit in the 2016 class and the fifth from the state of Florida.
Ranked by Rivals as the No. 45 athlete in the country, Studstill offers special versatility in the open field. Notre Dame’s class of 2016 features six current defensive back recruits, a position group that will require young talent following the loss of talented leaders Matthias Farley, KeiVarae Russell and Elijah Shumate. Studstill is one of five early-enrollees at the University, setting him up for a potentially significant role in the Irish defense this fall.
6’2” • 195
Whitehaven High School
The 20th-ranked safety recruit according to Rivals, Donte’ Vaughn is a four-star prospect listed at 6-foot-2 and 195 pounds and committed to the Irish on Oct. 12. He had 15 total offers, including Oregon, Michigan, Ohio State and Texas A&M.
Based on his measurements and on Notre Dame’s needs in the secondary, Vaughn is best projected as a safety. Despite his lack of elite speed, Vaughn makes up for it with his tenacious tackling and grit. At Whitehaven High School in Memphis, Tennessee, Vaughn hauled in three interceptions and showcased his strength in run support. With the loss of Elijah Shumate, Vaughn will be one of the candidates looking to fill the void in the safety rotation.