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Irish enjoy strong summer on recruiting trail

| Friday, September 1, 2017

Ordinarily, not much can be expected in summer recruiting when a team comes off a 4-8 season. Yet the Irish bolstered the recruiting class of 2018 with a series of major recruits over the summer.

In a two-week period between late July and early August, the Irish saw a flurry of top linebacker commitments. Three-star outside linebacker Ovie Oghoufo, rated as the ninth-best player in Michigan in Rivals.com’s rankings, announced his commitment to the Irish on July 22, and was soon followed by two four-stars: inside linebackers Jack Lamb and outside linebacker Shayne Simon, each rated among the top 10 players in the nation at their position. Brian Driskell, recruiting analyst for Blue and Gold Illustrated, said the Irish hit almost every target they needed to over the summer.

Irish senior linebacker Nyles Morgan tackles a Miami player during Notre Dame’s 30-27 win over Miami (FL) on Oct. 29, 2016, at Notre Dame Stadium. The Irish landed three linebacker commits this summer, which will fill the holes left by the graduation of Morgan and seniors Drue Tranquill and Greer Martini after this season.Kelly Vaughan | The Observer
Irish senior linebacker Nyles Morgan tackles a Miami player during Notre Dame’s 30-27 win over Miami (FL) on Oct. 29, 2016, at Notre Dame Stadium. The Irish landed three linebacker commits this summer, which will fill the holes left by the graduation of Morgan and seniors Drue Tranquill and Greer Martini after this season.

“I think that when you look at it, they kind of set some markers down of who they have a shot with, and with very few exceptions they landed the guys they wanted to land,” Driskell said. “Shane Simon was the number one Rover on the board, a top player and a high-ranked guy; they really needed to add him, and they got him. The one loss they had is they lost [outside linebacker] Dallas Gant to Ohio State right after the spring game. But they countered that by going after Jack Lamb from California — and he’s actually a better player — and they got him. So, the one big loss ended up being a positive because they adjusted their board and got an even better player.”

While defensive recruits took center stage for much of the summer, with four-star defensive tackle Jayson Ademilola’s June commitment also among the major gets for Irish head coach Brian Kelly’s staff, the latest and highest-rated commitment came from four-star wide receiver Kevin Austin, rated as a top 100 player in the country and a top 20 wide receiver.

“I think this summer has been surprising, because you don’t expect a team that has had the turmoil surrounding this team last year to be so effective on the recruiting trail, but they really have,” Driskell said. “They have the opportunity now if they finish strong to have one of the five best classes in the country.”

This week, Notre Dame will host three prospective recruits, who will have an opportunity to see the Irish play at a newly-renovated Notre Dame Stadium featuring changes such as a 5,264-square foot video board. Of the three recruits, four-star defensive end Thomas Booker is the highest-rated. Booker visited Notre Dame in the spring, but with Stanford also hoping to land the Baltimore native, his second visit could be crucial for the Irish, Driskell said.

“He’ll be a very, very important recruit for Notre Dame,” Driskell said. “One area where the team really has to continue to recruit well is at defensive end. He also has an offer from Stanford and I think it’s 50-50 between the two right now, but being on campus again, seeing the changes to the team, seeing what the defense could look like with him in it, could make a difference.”

Three-star defensive end Joseph Ossai and four-star cornerback Kyler Gordon will also be in attendance Saturday. Driskell said he feels both players are likely to commit to schools closer to home, but a strong visit could make a substantial difference.

“Ossai’s a very raw player, skinny but a good athlete,” he said. “He comes from a Catholic family and is very big on academics, so that part of Notre Dame will appeal, but right now Notre Dame is trailing TCU and Texas. I think it’ll be tough to pull him out of his home state. But any time a kid visits, there’s a chance they fall in love.

“Right now I think Notre Dame is sort of playing catch-up with the west-coast schools for Kyler Gordon, but again when a kid visits there’s always a chance. He’s a talented player and cornerback is a big, big need area for Notre Dame. There may not be a lot of recruits coming this week, but it’s three guys who all play positions that will be really important to this class.”

Perhaps the most talked-about piece of the class of 2018 will be four-star quarterback Phil Jurkovec. Rated as the 80th-best player in the nation and the fifth-best dual-threat quarterback, the 6-foot-5, 190-pound Pennsylvania native was one of the earliest Irish commits in his class, making his decision in May 2016.

On Sunday, Jurkovec showed the nation why the Irish coaching staff made him a top priority, as he led Pine-Richland High School (Gibsonia, Pa.) to a dominant 41-0 victory over Wayne (Huber Heights, Ohio) in the GEICO ESPN High School Kickoff. In a little over a half, Jurkovec dominated the Warriors through the air and on the ground, completing 14 of 20 passes for 238 yards and three touchdowns while rushing for 106 yards and another three scores.

“He’s a four-star player right now, but his performance was definitely that of a five-star player,” Driskell said. “You just don’t find a lot of quarterbacks who are tall, can stand in the pocket and throw the football, but are also a dynamic runner. He’s a young man who can take off and make players with designed runs and he can make plays when things break down. In today’s game, the best quarterbacks are guys who can make plays with both their arm and their legs. Phil’s that kind of guy. I think you could also see he can elevate the play of those around him, that’s the most important trait in a quarterback. That Wayne team they beat on Sunday has gone 38-4 in the last three years, but it was a dominant win. And that’s going to impact the class as a whole.

“When one of your best players, especially your quarterback, is able to go on national TV and play like that, it gets other people saying, ‘You know what? I’d like to play with that guy.’”


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About Daniel O'Boyle

Daniel O'Boyle is a senior sports writer living in Alumni Hall, majoring in Political Science. He is currently on the Notre Dame Women's Basketball, Men's Tennis and Women's Soccer beats. Originally from Belfast, Northern Ireland, Daniel spends most of his free time attempting to keep up with second-flight English soccer and his beloved Reading FC. He believes Lonzo Ball is the greatest basketball player of all time.

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