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Irish sign 11 four-star, 13 three-star recruits in class of 2021

| Friday, December 18, 2020

Editor’s note: Since this story was published, Notre Dame has announced the signings of two more members of the 2021 class, both of whom flipped from other schools. Audric Estime, a four-star New Jersey running back, spurned Michigan State to commit to Notre Dame while three-star Georgia safety Khari Gee flipped to the Irish from the defending national champion LSU Tigers.

With a college football scene that becomes more decisively divided between contenders and pretenders each year, maintaining membership to the former category or escaping the oppression of the latter relies strongly upon recruiting. Capturing big names across the board is a critical piece in creating an insurance policy for future success. For Notre Dame, then, a program fighting desperately to become a perennial playoff powerhouse, recruiting seems to be as important as it’s ever been. The Irish did their part to further that fight Wednesday, with a national signing day that brought 24 new recruits to South Bend in a class that is ranked ninth nationally per 247Sports.com.

Notre Dame signed 11 four-star and 13 three-star recruits, with three-star running back Logan Diggs — who was expected to round out the early signing period class at 25 — declining to sign in light of a new offer from LSU. Diggs, a Louisiana native, will hold his decision until February.

One of the most highly-touted of all the freshly minted Irish is Tyler Buchner, a consensus four-star quarterback from La Mesa, California, some 500-odd miles South of current play caller Ian Book’s El Dorado Hills hometown. Though Buchner might be the biggest individual name, Bryan Driskell of Sports Illustrated believes the receiving corps to be the strongest position group emerging from this year’s recruiting efforts. The Irish have landed consensus four-stars Lorenzo Styles Jr. (Ohio), Deion Colzie (Georgia) and Jayden Thomas (Georgia).

“You’ve got three talented players and you’ve got three guys that complement each other well,” Driskell said.

He went on to elaborate on the distinct strengths each new wideout will offer the Notre Dame pass game.

“Lorenzo Styles — fast, explosive, dynamic. Can play in the slot, play outside … and return punts. Then you have Deion Colzie … he’s a guy that can play the boundary, can win one-on-one contested throws, can do a lot of the things that [graduate student wide receiver] Javon McKinley can do. He’s more of an after-the-catch weapon like Javon McKinley,” he said. “Then you’ve got Jayden Thomas, who can … play to the field and can do some things in the slot, as well as a blocker working on the field.”

Courtesy of Notre Dame Athletics
Irish graduate student wide receiver Javon McKinley looks to juke a defender during Notre Dame’s 45-21 win over Syracuse on Dec. 5 at Notre Dame Stadium. Irish Breakdown publisher Bryan Driskell compared McKinely’s skillset to that or 2021 Irish receiver commit Deion Colzie of Georgia.

For all the strengths brought on by the class of 2021 offensively, Driskell senses there are still a few pieces missing on the other side of the ball.

“Notre Dame fell short in terms of pure safety this year, which forced them to take extra bodies at cornerback in hopes that at least one of those players, perhaps a Philip Riley, can convert to safety at the next level,” Driskell said. “I would argue it’s two years in a row that Notre Dame is still falling short at safety. [Defensive pass game coordinator] Terry Joseph has just not been able to do the work needed to be done to land the kind of depth and talent that they need at that position.”

The Irish signed just one true safety Wednesday in Justin Walters, a three-star out of Bolingbrook, Illinois. With four cornerbacks in the class in three-stars JoJo Johnson (Indiana), Ryan Barnes (Maryland), Chance Tucker (California) and the four-star Riley (Florida), one or more will likely migrate within the secondary to give Walters some help on the inside.

Driskell also noted that there might also be cause for concern on the defensive line. Notre Dame nabbed two linebackers in Kahanu Kia, a three-star from Hawaii, and Prince Kollie, a four-star from Tennessee, but it’s possible the position group won’t come together quite so easily. Kia, a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, will take part in a religious mission away from the program.

Kollie, on the other hand, signed with Notre Dame despite concerns that his commitment would be jeopardized by the departure of defensive coordinator Clark Lea for Vanderbilt in the 2021 offseason. Kollie was recruited to play the rover position, currently helmed by senior Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, a position that is not often used in many programs. The linebacker’s future with the Irish could become uncertain should he disagree with Lea’s replacement hire — although head coach Brian Kelly reaffirmed that they intend to continue implementing the rover with whomever succeeds Lea.

A competitive performance in the ACC Championship, then, is part of what Driskell believes is critical in both preserving these existing commitments and encouraging younger athletes to consider Notre Dame.

“If you beat Clemson again, with Trevor Lawrence, with Tyler Davis, you’ve kind of announced yourself as a legitimate powerhouse,” he said. “That’s going to send a message to recruits that Notre Dame needs [to send] to be able to get the one or two extra guys a year that are difference-makers, that are elite players. On the flip side, if you lose to Clemson — especially if you lose in more convincing fashion than you won the last time — a lot of good vibes that you developed from beating Clemson in November could be evaporated.”

Looking ahead to winter and spring signings, the Irish will look to use a strong end to the 2020 season to their advantage. Driskell anticipates the coaching staff will reevaluate recruiting needs after Wednesday’s slate of commitments, addressing and attempting to rectify any position imbalances or absences they may find. Kelly said he anticipates the staff locking down two running backs and another defensive back, making a total of 27 commitments.

According to Driskell, a convincing conclusion in the ACC would certainly help the Irish staff to do just that.

“Notre Dame needs to either win or lose in a great game, a great close game in order to keep their recruiting momentum going in the 2022 classes — being a team that you know elite recruits want to come play for,” Driskell said.

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