Class of 2019: Defense
Observer Sports Staff | Thursday, February 7, 2019
6’0” • 185
Episcopal High School
Four-star recruit Litchfield Ajavon signed with Notre Dame in the spring of 2018. Ajavon is a 6-foot, 185-pound safety from Alexandria, Va. During his high school career, he played for Episcopal High School and ranked No. 4 overall in his state, according to Rivals.com. The safety was highly recruited, as he received offers from top programs such as Clemson, Georgia, Michigan and Syracuse.
Ajavon will add a level of depth and talent to Notre Dame’s hard working and deep secondary. The Virginia native accumulated a total of 62 tackles in his senior season alone. As a rising star, Ajavon has been known to have an excellent ability to read and react to plays quickly. He is also known for his aggressive in-game demeanor, presenting a defensive threat to his opponents.
6’1” • 220
Blessed Trinity Catholic High School
Bertrand committed to Notre Dame in November of 2018, a little over a month after decommitting from Georgia, where he had been committed for 15 months. Bertrand is the third member of a class from Georgia that also features star defensive backs Kyle Hamilton and KJ Wallace.
The four-star recruit is the No. 27 inside linebacker in the country and No. 40 overall prospect in Georgia. During his senior season, Bertrand recorded 83 tackles — 13 for a loss — four sacks and an interception. The Georgia native won two state championships with Blessed Trinity, and was named defensive player of the year for Region 7-AAAA.
While Bertrand might lack the ideal size for a linebacker, he is a sound tackler who is powerful for his size. Bertrand makes sound reads, is good in coverage, has good instincts and will be a solid addition to the Irish’s linebacker core.
6’2” • 265
St. Joseph’s Regional
The Irish defensive line was a huge component to their success this past season, and they look to have added some depth with the commitment of strong-side defensive end Howard Cross III. Signing during the early signing period, Cross chose Notre Dame over a number of other strong programs in the nation such as Michigan, Tennessee and Virginia Tech. He comes from a football family as his father, Howard Cross Jr., played tight end at Alabama before playing for 13 seasons for the New York Giants.
Standing at 6-foot-2, 265-pounds, Cross is known for playing much bigger than that thanks to superb strength and a constant motor. The sixth-ranked player out of New Jersey and 23rd-ranked strong-side defensive end, Cross is the youngest player of the 2019 Irish recruiting class, as he does not turn 18 until July.
6’2” • 215
Providence Day School
In Osita Ekwonu, the Irish have found an outside linebacker in the mold of Te’Von Coney. At 6-foot-2 and 215 pounds, Ekwonu possesses the elite combination of speed and strength that is very rare among linebackers, and he has the instincts to be highly effective in both the run and passing game. His ability to tackle in the open field also catches the eye and shows his keen ability to read the game.
Recruited by Defensive Coordinator Clark Lea out of Providence Day School in Charlotte, N.C., Rivals rates Ekwonu as a four-star recruit and nationally as No. 15 in his position. Ekwonu picked the Irish over Alabama and Auburn, having signed a national letter of intent last June.
6’5” • 230
De La Salle High School
The defensive end from Concord, Calif. waited until Signing Day to announce his signing with the Irish. Standing at 6-foot-5 and weighing 230 pounds, Isaiah Foskey will bring speed off the edge to South Bend.
The 4-star defensive end had offers from Ohio State, Michigan and Washington, as well as the Irish. While Foskey took his time in selecting a school, he has been connected with Notre Dame throughout his recruitment, taking just one other official visit — to Penn State — other than Notre Dame over the whole process. It was a strong match since the beginning, so expect Foskey to hit the ground running when he arrives on campus next fall.
6’3” • 183
Marist High School
When Hamilton signed with Notre Dame during the early signing period this past December, the Irish inked not only the third-highest rated player in their class, but also one of the best defensive players in the nation. A four-star recruit and the 75th-ranked prospect in the country, Hamilton is the type of instinctive football player that defensive coordinator Clark Lea loves to have at the back end of his defense. The Georgia product is a ball-hawking safety who can stuff the run and has elite skills in pass coverage.
Hamilton participated in the 2019 All-American Bowl in San Antonio, Texas, and USA Today named him a finalist for the American Family Insurance Defensive Player of the Year Award. Notre Dame safeties coach Terry Joseph established a strong connection with Hamilton early in his recruitment process and signed him away from a number of other top programs, including Clemson, Florida State, Georgia and Michigan.
6’2” • 215
Pioneer High School
Royal Center, In.
Jack committed to Notre Dame in the early signing period in December 2018. He played outside linebacker and quarterback for Pioneer High School. During his senior season, Jack recorded 159 tackles, seven interceptions, six forced fumbles and five fumble recoveries. Kiser also contributed on offense, as he threw for 1,183 yards and 18 touchdowns and also added 2,109 rushing yards and 44 touchdowns.
Kiser may be a small-school kid, but he’s made a big name for himself and was named Indiana’s Mr. Football. Kiser is rated as the No. 9 athlete from Indiana and No. 37 player at his position. He’ll most likely play at the outside linebacker position for Notre Dame.
6’2” • 295
South Warren High School
Bowling Green, Ky.
A four-star defensive tackle and the No. 8 player out of Kentucky, Lacey has been a Notre Dame lock since he committed back in 2017. The 6-foot-2, 295-pound Bowling Green product racked up offers from the likes of Penn State, Michigan State, Michigan, Kentucky and Clemson.
Lacey posted stellar numbers his senior year, recording 80 tackles, 34 of them for loss, as well as forcing four fumbles. His on-field production led South Warren High School to a class 5A title and earned Lacey the Kentucky 5A Player of the Year Award.
Lacey joins an impressive class of lineman, and looks to be an immediate contributor to a defensive front that loses a star veteran in Jerry Tillery.
6’3” • 210
Notre Dame connections run deep with Liufau. He comes from the same high school program that produced Notre Dame standouts Manti Te’o and Robby Toma, and he is teammates with 2020 Irish target Alaka’i Gilman, brother of current Irish safety Alohi Gilman. A three-star prospect and the sixth-best player from Hawai’i according to Rivals, Liufau received offers from a host of Pac-12 schools, including Utah, Oregon and USC.
Despite coming from the warm climate of Honolulu, Liufau signed with the Irish just four days after visiting campus for the coldest game of the season against Florida State. The 6-foot-2, 210-pound outside linebacker played in the 2019 Polynesian Bowl and was the 2018 Interscholastic League of Honolulu Defensive MVP.
6’4” • 224
Nolan Catholic High School
Fort Worth, Texas
A defensive end from Fort Worth, Texas, NaNa Osafo-Mensah signed his letter of intent with the Irish during the early signing period in December, and enrolled on campus this January. The defensive playmaker, rated a three-star recruit, is listed at 6-foot-4 and checks in at 224 pounds.
At the time of his signing, Osafo-Mensah was the No. 55 prospect in the state of Texas. He was named to the West team in the All-American Bowl this January. In his senior campaign at Nolan Catholic, Osafo-Mensah recorded 28 tackles, 10 tackles-for-loss, nine sacks and three forced fumbles.
Osafo-Mensah received 25 offers, and he selected the Irish over other College Football Playoff participants Alabama and Oklahoma.
6’2” • 192
Jesuit High School
Last October 13, Notre Dame signed one of the premier cornerbacks in the nation in Isaiah Rutherford, out of Jesuit High School, hailing from Carmichael, Calif. He chose the Fighting Irish over other top programs, including Alabama, USC, Oregon and LSU.
Rutherford cited Notre Dame as his father’s dream school, and was convinced to come to South Bend next season following his visit to the Michigan game this past season. He is a four-star recruit, ranked as the 12th-best cornerback in his class and the 110th-best player overall by Rivals. The 6-foot-2, 180 pound speedster runs a 4.66 40-yard dash, and in 2018 had 50 tackles and three interceptions. Rutherford was chosen to participate in the 2019 Polynesian Bowl in Hawaii, and figures to compete for time in a talented Notre Dame secondary next season.
6’4” • 280
Sachse High School
Spears, a four-star recruit according to Rivals, received offers to play for 14 Division 1 schools, but signed his letter of intent to play for Notre Dame in December. Spears’ journey to college football has been, put modestly, a difficult one. Spears tore his ACL twice in high school, once in 2017 and most recently during a team practice in November 2018. Despite having to sit out for his entire junior season, Spears returned for an impressive 2018 season, racking up 58 tackles, 24 of which were for a loss, five sacks and a pick-six. Despite missing the playoffs his senior season due to another ACL tear, Spears has joined Notre Dame as one of 10 members of the 2019 class to have enrolled early.
5’10” • 182
The Irish signed three-star cornerback KJ Wallace in December, beating out Auburn, Stanford, Penn State and others to land Rival’s 57th-ranked cornerback.
Wallace played both sides of the ball in high school. He finished his senior year with 34 tackles, two interceptions, 1.5 sacks and six pass break-ups, adding 952 yards and 10 touchdowns on offense.
At 5-foot-10 and 182 pounds, Wallace is slightly undersized, but if he can get stronger, he could see significant playing time as the Irish lack depth at the cornerback position, especially with the departure of junior All-American Julian Love for the NFL Draft.
Wallace began his career with the Acworth Warriors in Georgia, where his teammates included Notre Dame freshman safety Derrik Allen and Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence.