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Irish pick up in-state corner, drop Texas defensive end in eventful recruiting week

| Friday, November 27, 2020

It has been an eventful few days for Notre Dame recruiting in a week that has featured both commitments and decommitments from big names. JoJo Johnson, a cornerback in the class of 2021, inked Brian Kelly’s offer, while David Abiara, a defensive end in the same class, parted ways with the Irish.

Johnson, a three-star recruit from Merrillville, Indiana, chose Notre Dame over Michigan State, Iowa, Cincinnati and Purdue, among other schools. Originally a receiver, Johnson has taken his speed to the other side of the ball as he’s transitioned to cornerback, but could play either position.

“This is a young man that’s been really on Notre Dame’s radar for a couple years,” Bryan Driskell of Sports Illustrated said. “He’s a good wide receiver, but he wasn’t necessarily a Notre Dame-caliber receiver. He started focusing more on defense really this last year and, as a senior, had a tremendous season on both sides of the ball and really got himself on Notre Dame’s radar as a possible offer candidate. Once they made the offer, it was inevitable that he was going to pull the trigger.”

In terms of his abilities, Driskell explained Johnson is “a guy that that brings a lot to the table — foot quickness, fluidity. All the traits you want in a cornerback, he has. He just doesn’t have a lot of experience playing cornerback, so he’s going to need to get coached up a lot.”

Driskell further explained that adding a fourth cornerback allows for some flexibility in the secondary. With Ryan Barnes, Philip Riley and Chance Tucker all also set to don the blue and gold at the position, the Irish defense can now afford to move one of the four to safety, should the need arise.

Observer File Photo
Irish graduate student defensive back Shaun Crawford adjusts his helmet during Notre Dame’s 24-16 win over Ball State on Sept. 8, 2018 at Notre Dame Stadium. Crawford began his career as a cornerback but made the move to safety this off season.

Conversely, Notre Dame lost David Abiara this week, but the Texan’s decision to decommit was a long time coming.

“He kind of flirted with decommitting from Notre Dame back in the summer,” Driskell said. “Last month, he was actually charged with criminal trespassing and at that point in time, it was inevitable that he was eventually going to decommit … Notre Dame has been preparing for that for some time. That’s why they’ve been recruiting Kelvin Gilliam, a top-hundred defensive end from Virginia.”

Driskell said that convincing top-hundred recruits like Gilliam to flip is a power well-within Notre Dame’s reach; however, it will require a transition from the cusp of greatness to greatness itself.

“What it boils down to is you have to prove yourself on the field in a way that allows you to get the two or three game-changing recruits a year that you need,” Driskell said. “If you go back and look at the 2018 game between Notre Dame and Clemson, if you trade quarterbacks and you put Trevor Lawrence on Notre Dame’s roster and you put Ian Book on Clemson’s roster, how would that game have played out?”

Moving forward, Driskell said the best way for the Irish to prove themselves beyond winning a national title is being competitive in top games, in addition to collecting top-ranked New Year’s Six victories. This year, that likely looks like a competitive appearance in both the CFP and the ACC championship.

Moving forward, Notre Dame will continue to recruit on the big stage, hoping that success throughout the remainder of the regular season, in addition to in the postseason, will help to flip big recruits and encourage younger signees.

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