Blue and Gold Illustrated

Oct 9, 2021

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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44 OCT. 9, 2021 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED FOOTBALL RECRUITING BY MIKE SINGER Y ou've got to give credit where credit is due. Notre Dame defensive line coach Mike Elston has been given plenty of it, but it still might not be enough. The longtime Notre Dame assistant has worn many hats since joining the Irish staff in 2010, and he may be at his best right now, especially from a re- cruiting perspective. Earlier this year, Elston returned to his role as recruiting coordinator, a po- sition he previously held from 2015-17. He led Notre Dame's billboard cam- paign over the spring. The program had prominent signage with various Irish players on them in strategically picked cities across the country: Atlanta, Chi- cago, Charlotte, Cincinnati, Dallas, Detroit, Indianapolis, Jersey City/New York City, Los Angeles, Phoenix, Pitts- burgh, St. Louis and Tampa Bay. Notre Dame owned its built-in holi- day of St. Patrick's Day with its "Pot of Gold" initiative in March. The Irish staff contacted in the ballpark of 60 recruits with about half of them being already offered targets and the other half being new offers. A great deal of scouting and preparation went into that campaign. There was also the virtual recruiting blitz Notre Dame had in May. Since the Irish staff couldn't hit the road in April and May like it would during a normal year due to the dead period, Notre Dame contacted more than 1,000 high school coaches from coast to coast in a span of seven business days. RECRUITING CONSISTENCY AND EXCELLENCE Those initiatives involved Elston's duties as a recruiting coordinator. When one looks at his individual recruiting as a defensive line coach, it's even more impressive. Elston currently has 11 players active in the NFL (practice squads included): Dae- lin Hayes, Khalid Kareem, Ade Ogundeji, Julian Okwara, Romeo Okwara, Jerry Til- lery, Jaylon Smith, Sheldon Day, Isaac Rochell, Jamir Jones and Stephon Tu- itt. Whether it's a three-star Western Michigan flip like Ogundeji or a five-star player such as Hayes, Elston is consis- tently sending players to the league. The Irish have a strong trio of defen- sive linemen currently committed in the 2022 cycle. St. Louis John Burroughs' Tyson Ford (5.9 four-star), Chantilly (Va.) High's Aiden Gobaira (5.8 four-star) and Pittsburgh Central Catholic's Dono- van Hinish (5.7 three-star) are locked in with the Fighting Irish. Hinish's upside is in line with his older brother Kurt's as an interior stalwart. Ford and Gobaira have enormous ceilings as edge defenders. The 2023 class may end up as Elston's best group yet. Notre Dame's first pledge of the 2023 class came from Tampa (Fla.) Berkeley Prep's Keon Keeley, the nation's No. 3 weak-side defensive end and No. 106 overall player per Rivals. The 6-6, 230-pounder chose Notre Dame over Florida, Florida State and Miami. The day after Keeley announced his pledge, the Irish pulled a stunner when Mentor (Ohio) High's Brenan Vernon, Rivals' No. 3 strong-side defensive end and No. 8 overall recruit in America, picked Notre Dame over Ohio State, the heavily perceived favorite. Notre Dame pulled out all of the stops to land the pledge from Vernon, including the en- tire staff wearing a pair of Vans shoes, which is Vernon's favorite. WHAT'S NEXT Per Blue & Gold Illustrated's report- ing, Notre Dame had 15 defensive line recruits that are ranked as at least four- star prospects per Rivals visit in the months of June and July. Keeley and Vernon were among that group. The two were Elston's top targets at vyper and strong-side defensive end, respectively. With it being this early in the recruiting process, Notre Dame now can be very picky with what it wants to do next. It's extremely early to project 2023 numbers, but on the defensive line, look for the Irish to add at least one interior player. Notre Dame could also take an additional edge defender if he's too good to turn down. Notre Dame is in pursuit of Hyatts- ville (Md.) DeMatha Catholic's Jason Moore, the nation's No. 1 defensive tackle and No. 32 overall recruit in the 2023 class per Rivals. Moore hasn't been able to visit campus yet, but he hopes to make that happen this fall. While many consider Allen (Texas) High's David Hicks Jr., Rivals' No. 1 strong-side end and No. 3 overall player in America, a Texas A&M lean, Notre Dame is in strong contention for the five-star recruit. Similarly, many consider Findlay (Ohio) High's Luke Montgomery an Ohio State lean, but the No. 82 overall player in the country may visit Notre Dame twice in October. Irish fans should also keep an eye on Indianapolis Cathedral three-star Kendrick Gilbert. Bradenton (Fla.) IMG Academy's Sam- uel M'Pemba, the Rivals' No. 2 athlete and No. 19 overall player nationally, vis- ited Notre Dame for the Cincinnati game and has the Irish high on his list. Elston is recruiting him at the vyper position. All in all, Elston is continuing his sus- tained success on the defensive line for Notre Dame and in the recruiting office. ✦ Notre Dame Recruiting Is Thriving Under Mike Elston Whether it's going after defensive linemen or leading the Irish recruiting office, Elston has demonstrated sustained success. He currently has 11 defensive linemen active in the NFL, including practice squads. PHOTO COURTESY NOTRE DAME ATHLETICS

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