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Defensive backs highlight big visit weekend

| Friday, September 16, 2016

In addition to Michigan State, Notre Dame will host a large number of highly-touted recruits Saturday night in what will be one of the most important recruiting weekends all year for the Irish.

“Last weekend, there weren’t a ton of big-name guys on [the visit list], but this time there’s a ton of big-time guys on there in both the 2017 and the 2018 class,” Blue and Gold Illustrated analyst Bryan Driskell said Tuesday. “There’s probably going to be 25 or 30 kids on campus this weekend when it’s all said and done.”

Three of the most important prospects visiting the Irish this weekend will be cornerbacks Shaun Wade, Thomas Graham and Salvon Ahmed, ranked 17th, 67th and 152nd respectively on Rivals.com. Driskell said Wade is an interesting prospect since he has already committed to Ohio State but is likely to wind up somewhere else.

“[Wade] is currently committed to Ohio State, but there’s a lot of folks who think he’s not going to go to Ohio State,” Driskell said. “Alabama’s the leader right now. He’s the type of guy that can come in and play as a freshman for Notre Dame. He’s extremely athletic, tall, long. Just could be a huge difference maker. He visited this summer on his own dime, so getting him back on campus for an official visit says a lot about what his interest level is at Notre Dame. This is going to be their shot to make a big impact.”

Ahmed’s visit could have an immediate impact for Notre Dame as Driskell said the Juanita, Washington, native could make his decision within a week.

“[Ahmed] is listed as an athlete, he could play running back, he could play slot receiver. Notre Dame really likes him as a [defensive back],” Driskell said. “He’s down to his final five. He’s visiting this weekend and he’s going to make his decision supposedly within a week. There’s a couple ways of looking at that. One is he’s already made his decision, but he wants to get a Notre Dame visit in, or he thinks he knows where he wants to go, but he’s giving Notre Dame the final shot.”

With the dismissal of Max Redfield and injuries to Nick Watkins and Shaun Crawford, the holes in Notre Dame’s secondary have been filled by freshmen. Devin Studstill will make his second start at safety Saturday and Julian Love and Donte Vaughn have moved into backup roles at the cornerback and nickel slots, respectively. Driskell said Notre Dame’s need to play freshmen can help them on the recruiting trail with top-tier defensive back prospects like Wade, Graham and Ahmed.

“Look, if you’re a kid who wants to play as a freshman, you’re going to look at Notre Dame. Obviously they didn’t have freshmen starting Day One, but if you look at Devin Studstill, if you look at Donte Vaughn, if you look at Julian Love. These guys are in the two-deep [depth charts] right away,” Driskell said. “You’re going to say, ‘They’re going to play their best players and I’m a five-star player, I could go there and play right away.’ I certainly think that helps.”

Another factor that increases the intensity of the weekend is the 7:30 p.m. kickoff. Driskell said that while a later game time doesn’t necessarily get recruits more excited than an afternoon game, night games do give more time for events geared towards the recruits throughout the day, and they allow for recruits from further afield to have a more leisurely weekend in terms of travel.

“I think the advantage a night game gives is really two-fold,” Driskell said. “One is from an atmospheric standpoint, which is: It’s a longer day of activities and festivities, there’s more going on during the day, so there can be a little bit more there. The other thing is, you look at some of these kids from like California, Texas and Florida that are coming up, if Notre Dame was playing at 3:30, they’d probably have to be on a red-eye. That can make for a very long day. I think the nice thing about some of these night games is it gives guys more scheduling flexibility. Which can put you in a different mindset. You’re not tired, you’re not stressed, you don’t have to hustle to the airport after your game.”

Some other top prospects Driskell said will be making visits to campus this weekend include:

Hezekiah Jones; Stafford, Texas; No. 128 overall, No. 17 receiver

“[Jones] is a very talented kid,” Driskell said. “He committed to Texas A&M, but Notre Dame’s considered a school that can flip him. His mom and dad kind of want him to stay close to home, but they’re going to come up with him again, he also came up for the Blue-Gold Game. He’s a guy to keep an eye on as a possible flip candidate.”

Jacob Phillips; Nashville, Tennessee; No. 37 overall, No. 3 linebacker

“Big physical kid who can play inside linebacker, maybe put his hand down and play defensive end,” Driskel said of Phillips. “He visited Oklahoma and Oregon already. Oklahoma’s probably the leader at this point in time, but Notre Dame is a school Phillips really likes. He likes the academic part of things, he’s been here before.

“He’s one of those big impact guys.”

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About Marek Mazurek

Marek is a senior history major and is a former resident of Carroll Hall. He has lived in Mishawaka or South Bend for all 21 years of his life and covers Notre Dame football and men's basketball. He has loads of hand-eye coordination but lacks the height to be any good. Marek is also a proud esports supporter.

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