Re-Evaluating Notre Dame's Recruiting Class After the 2014 Opening

Keith ArnoldNotre Dame Lead WriterJuly 14, 2014

Notre Dame was well-represented at The Opening, with the Irish's four current commitments all having a very successful week at Nike headquarters.

C.J. Sanders' electric speed was on display. Cornerback Shaun Crawford wasn't too far behind him. Tristen Hoge made a case to be the top center in the country. And Jerry Tillery showed the athleticism that saw him finish as the No. 2-rated offensive lineman in the SPARQ competition. 

But if the week in Oregon showed anything, it's that even though Brian Kelly's recruiting class has swelled to 17 commitments in mid-July, the Irish are nowhere near finished. For a class that many expected to stay below 20, the Irish coaching staff is still actively chasing some of the nation's top talents. 

Let's take a fresh look at the Notre Dame recruiting class with The Opening in the rearview mirror. 


Top Targets

As we recapped late last week, Notre Dame is after some very big fish. And with the Irish's current recruiting efforts currently ranked No. 8 in the country by 247Sports, the addition of any of these blue-chippers is likely going to give Notre Dame a huge bump.  

Iman Marshall ranks as one of the nation's top 10 players, and his performance at The Opening solidified that. It also solidified his legitimate interest in Notre Dame. The 6'2", 195-pounder has size and a physicality to his game that football coaches at all levels covet, making it very good news that Marshall guaranteed Notre Dame a visit.

Marshall caught up with's Adam Gorney (subscription required) to discuss Notre Dame, who are among his favorites with Florida State and local powers USC and UCLA:

For official visits I'm going to take one to Notre Dame, I know that for a fact, and most likely I'll take one to Florida State, too. Unofficially, my dad and I still need to talk about some of the visits I'm going to take.

Notre Dame's program speaks for itself. The tradition like Long Beach Poly, I'm coming from a school with a rich tradition. At Notre Dame they have that, too. The connections and networks you get from Notre Dame are across the world and that's really important to me. 

The Irish went down to the wire with another Long Beach Poly product in last year's recruiting cycle, losing John "JuJu" Smith to USC in the end. But all you can ask for is sincere interest, and chasing a cornerback like Marshall, even with Nick Coleman, Crawford and Ashton White committed, is worth the effort. 

While the secondary is well-stocked in the 2015 class for Notre Dame, the Irish are still looking for a defensive end to get after the passer. And with early playing time available and a sales pitch pretty obvious after collecting mostly 3-4 defensive ends the past four years, The Opening gave Irish fans a great look at multiple targets who are all planning to take a closer look at Notre Dame. 

Five-star pass rushers Byron Cowart and Keisean Lucier-South are two of the top 20 prospects in the country, and both told Blue & Gold Illustrated's Tom Loy that they planned on using an official visit at Notre Dame. 

Cowart is as close to a ready-made prospect as you'll find. At 6'3.5" and 258 pounds, Cowart passes the eyeball test and brings a combination of speed and power that could play immediately, with Ishaq Williams in his final season for the Irish.

Cowart confirmed the news that he'll be back on campus after taking an unofficial visit that impressed him, watching the Irish play Stanford in the first week in October. He also talked about the sales pitch Tony Alford is giving him, and his receptiveness to the message should be music to Irish fans' ears. 

"When you think about committing somewhere, I'm not thinking about football," Cowart told Loy. "Football will take care of itself, when it's time to practice and strap up, it's going to take care of itself. It's about academics. What can Notre Dame do for me from an academic standpoint? And they can do a lot for me." 

At 6'4" and 211 pounds, Lucier-South will need to grow into his body, but he's the type of speed rusher off the edge the Irish don't have on the roster. He confirmed to Loy that he'll be at Notre Dame for the Stanford game as well, a weekend that's shaping up to be a big one both on and off the field. 

It's hardly 5-star-or-bust for the Irish at defensive end, and Austin Bryant or Porter Gustin are far from consolation prizes. Both were very impressive in Oregon and are making plans for visits to officially see South Bend. 

Notre Dame is still sitting pretty with Tevon Coney, with the Florida prospect seemingly down to the Irish and Florida. While Notre Dame missed out on 5-star linebacker Justin Hilliard, the Cincinnati native raised a few eyebrows when he only checked in at 6'0 and 225 pounds (and ran just a 4.72 40-yard dash), shorter than Coney, who stood 6'1" and weighed 222 pounds. 

On the offensive side of the ball, the Irish are still in the mix for Soso Jamabo, an elite running back who played up to that reputation at The Opening. But they've also continued kicking the tires on LSU commitment Nick Brossette, who sounded very open to Alford's pitch for early playing time. Notre Dame is hoping to add another back alongside Josh Adams, and either would be a huge pickup. 


Notre Dame's Commits

When you have prospects who are committed to your favorite team, you really just hope for two things: that nobody gets hurt and nobody looks overmatched. 

For the Irish, things went perfectly. Nobody got hurt. And nobody seemed close to overmatched, with all four commits acquitting themselves more than well. 

While class rankings—especially in mid-July—are pretty meaningless, you've got to expect a minor bump for the prospects' performances in Oregon, most notably those of C.J. Sanders. Elevating Sanders to a top-100-250 prospect puts the receivers group in a different light, especially paired with Miles Boykin and Jalen Guyton

Entering his fifth season at Notre Dame, Brian Kelly has shown more than a little courage in his convictions, recruiting players regardless of their star rating. So while it likely doesn't matter to him how a recruiting analyst views his current class, it does matter to the other recruits who are considering Notre Dame. 

That's good news right now. Because with 17 commits and some big names circling, The Opening gave us a look at a recruiting class that might be much better than most expected. 


Recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports unless otherwise noted.