James Onwualu. Michael Floyd. Ryan Harris. Rashon Powers-Neal. Marcus Freeman.
Notre Dame's pipeline to St. Paul's Cretin-Derham Hall has been open and flowing for over a decade, with Minnesota's top Catholic football program feeding a handful of players to the Irish. Head coach Brian Kelly has another big reason to head back to the Twin Cities, with current CDH defensive end Jashon Cornell among the top prospects in the 2015 recruiting cycle.
Cornell made early waves when some recruiting services had him pegged as the top recruit in the country heading into his junior season. And while his rating bounced around a bit after an injury-riddled 2013 season, Cornell has taken to the recruiting circuit this offseason to reestablish himself as one of the country's top defensive linemen.
Cornell was in Columbus, Ohio, this weekend at the Nike Football Training Camp, where he was named the defensive line MVP of the camp. He also punched his ticket to The Opening, Nike's top invite-only football camp of the summer.
The competition will be steep for Cornell. With offers from just about every elite program in the country, the 6'4", 255-pounder will likely choose between Notre Dame, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State and Alabama.
Here are three reasons why Irish fans should still feel confident that Cornell will end up in South Bend.
Recruiting Pitch Will Be Different with Brian VanGorder and Mike Elston
News breaking this weekend has Ohio State fans feeling very good about Cornell's recruitment. That's because Cornell called his visit to Ohio State one of his favorites, pushing the Buckeyes into the lead group of schools.
The Buckeyes are relatively new players in the Cornell sweepstakes, though a desire to play with Ohio State target (as well as key Notre Dame recruit) linebacker Justin Hilliard has Buckeye fans hoping to double down with two elite defensive prospects. And while new Buckeye defensive line coach Larry Johnson built a reputation at Penn State as one of the best defensive line recruiters in the country, Irish fans shouldn't lose sleep over another recruiting war with Urban Meyer.
One thing going in the Irish's favor is the coaching changes on the defensive side of the ball for Notre Dame. New defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder will breathe life into Cornell's recruitment.
VanGorder's attacking schemes are much more appealing for pass-rushers like Cornell and better fit his body size. In former defensive coordinator Bob Diaco's scheme, Cornell likely would've been a 3-4 defensive end, growing into a 300-pounder like Kapron Lewis-Moore. Under VanGorder, Cornell can walk onto campus and fit in at defensive end, playing upfield and aggressively chasing quarterbacks as opposed to holding the point of attack.
The Irish were one of the first teams to recruit Cornell, identifying him before his sophomore season at Cretin-Derham Hall. And while the continuity of building relationships for the long haul is helpful, in recruiting, fresh and new is sometimes most important.
Cornell recently mentioned that his relationship with defensive line coach Mike Elston is getting better. He also plans on spending time with VanGorder on his next visit to South Bend. Add to that Kelly is taking on Cornell's recruitment personally and it's clear that Notre Dame has made Hilliard one of its priorities.
Seantrel Henderson's Nightmarish 3 Seasons at Miami Will Play in Notre Dame's Favor
There's no question that Cornell wants to be his own man. And blazing his own path at a different school could be appealing for the blue-chip defensive end.
But the tumultuous three seasons Seantrel Henderson spent at Miami should likely weigh on Cornell's mind. Another Cretin-Derham Hall prospect, Henderson's free-fall from No. 1 recruit in the country to seventh-round draft pick is a cautionary tale.
Henderson severely underachieved at Miami, choosing to play for the Hurricanes after passing up Notre Dame and backing away from a commitment to USC.
If you are looking for appealing college destinations, it's no surprise that Notre Dame finished behind Southern Cal and Miami for Henderson. And while Kelly has never backed away from the academic challenges that come with going to Notre Dame, he can point to the success he's had not just graduating his roster, but developing players for the next level, with the Irish's resurgence in the NFL draft the past few years a key data point.
Cornell should have candid conversations with former CDH athletes like Onwualu and Floyd. The latter can walk him through the challenges he faced at Notre Dame before coming out victorious, as Floyd battled through adversity before earning his degree and becoming a first-round draft pick.
But Cornell should also seek Henderson's counsel as well. It will likely help him understand the road in front of him and hopefully help avoid some of the pitfalls that got in Henderson's way.
When It Comes to Aligning Incentives, Notre Dame Offers Too Much of What Cornell Wants
Getting a grasp on Cornell's top school is difficult work. 247Sports.com's most recent Crystal Ball has 36 percent of experts picking Ohio State, 24 percent choosing the Irish, 21 percent choosing Michigan State, 12 percent picking Alabama and 5 percent guessing Michigan.
But Cornell has identified three key factors to picking a school: academics, early enrollment and an opportunity to play early. All three of those desires line up perfectly with Notre Dame.
Academically, Notre Dame is among the top schools in the country, and the top institutional match of football and education on Cornell's list. If early enrollment is a key factor, Cornell only needs to ask his cousin how that went, as Notre Dame sophomore James Onwualu was the first CDH student-athlete to graduate early and enroll at a college for the spring semester of football.
And early playing time looks like it won't be difficult to predict. Right now the Irish have senior Ishaq Williams and junior Romeo Okwara starting at defensive end. Behind that is a question mark. While Notre Dame brought in a large collection of talented edge players in the 2014 recruiting cycle, none are as highly-rated as Cornell.
There's a reason that Notre Dame has had success at Cretin-Derham Hall, and that Irish head coaches Bob Davie, Ty Willingham, Charlie Weis and Brian Kelly have all landed top prep prospects from there. It's the institutional fit that has many CDH and Notre Dame grads feeling like the college experience is an extension of the one they had in high school.
(This writer included.)
Cornell has more trips scheduled for the summer, including visits to SEC country and Penn State. He's also set to return to South Bend in the next few weeks.
So while there are more than a few twists and turns left in his recruitment, expect Cornell to end up at Notre Dame in the end.
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