How Notre Dame Can Move on After Missing on Jashon Cornell & Justin Hilliard

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How Notre Dame Can Move on After Missing on Jashon Cornell & Justin Hilliard
247Sports.com

It wasn't unexpected, but that doesn't mean it didn't hurt.

Notre Dame finished runners-up in the recruitment of defensive end Jashon Cornell and linebacker Justin Hilliard on Wednesday morning, missing on two of their top defensive prospects. According to ESPN Big Ten, Cornell and Hilliard both pledged to Ohio State and Urban Meyer, a huge recruiting victory for the Buckeyes. 

247Sports.com
Justin Hilliard is one of the nation's top linebacking prospects.

The Irish had both prospects on campus multiple times. They hosted Hilliard two weekends ago, where he was spotted riding around on Brian Kelly's golf cart. While Cornell's Cretin-Derham Hall High School has produced multiple players, including Irish greats Ryan Harris and Michael Floyd, and his cousin James Onwualu plays on the current roster, he just never came around to the recruiting pitch that worked so well in the past. 

There's no question that missing on two priority targets stings. But in case you've been under a rock the past month, the Irish recruiting machine is rolling along with or without the dynamic duo, and don't expect it to stop for Kleenex to dry the tears now.

Since Memorial Day weekend, the Irish have doubled the size of their 2015 recruiting class, collecting the pledges of eight targets, including six on the defensive side of the ball. Keeping the focus on stocking new defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder's coffers, the Irish staff has eyes on several elite replacements for both Cornell and Hilliard. 

At defensive end, Notre Dame's still after a handful of elite prospects. That's after landing Grant Blankenship, Jonathan Bonner, Kolin Hill, Andrew Trumbetti and Jhonny Williams in the last recruiting cycle, all freshmen who profile at the same position.

Top among this group is Florida's Byron Cowart. A 5-Star prospect who's Rivals.com's No. 1 player in the country, Cowart visited campus in June and the Irish staff hope to have him back for an official visit in October. Another top Irish prospect at defensive end is Georgia's Austin Bryant. After attending the Irish Invasion camp, Bryant should have the Irish on the short list for an official visit this fall as well. 

It's no easy task pulling elite talent out of the Southeast. (The Irish staff is also making a charge at Alabama commitment Mekhi Brown.) But Notre Dame's also got eyes on the West Coast, with California pass-rushers Keisean Lucier-South and Joseph Wicker also planning official visits. 

Lucier-South is among the nation's elite, and Notre Dame will battle USC, UCLA and Michigan for his services. Wicker's a bigger body like Cornell who could slide inside or play on the strong side. Utah's Porter Gustin is another player who could be a great edge-rusher for the Irish. He'll be among a handful of Irish targets at Nike's The Opening. 

Finding a linebacker to replace Hilliard might not take long, as Indianapolis' Asmar Bilal looks like an Irish lean. Over 90 percent of 247Sports' Crystal Ball predictions have him heading to South Bend to play college football. 

Another top target for the Irish on the interior is Florida's Tevon Coney. One of the headliners at the Irish Invasion camp, Coney has offers from Florida, Alabama, Georgia and Auburn but plans to get back to South Bend for an official visit, seeing clearly the opportunity for playing time in front of him. 

Again, linebacker was another position that the Irish recruited hard in 2014, with top signee Nyles Morgan joined by early Irish target Greer Martini and Nile Sykes. And as the prototype changes as VanGorder's defense demands different skill sets than the previous scheme, expect the staff to see what happens with Bilal and Coney before extending any new offers. 

Since Kelly and his staff came to South Bend, they've chased after some elite prospects. While they've landed their fair share, more than a few have gotten away. That's life in the big leagues. 

So while Irish fans are likely smarting over the loss of two prospects that appeared perfect fits for Notre Dame, it's back to the grind for the Irish staff. And it won't take long for Notre Dame to get back on track.

 

All recruitment information courtesy of 247Sports.

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