Blue and Gold Illustrated

Nov. 4, 2023

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

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BLUEGOLDONLINE.COM NOV. 4, 2023 43 PREP PROFILES Phoenix Brophy College Prep class of 2025 cornerback Cree Thomas was one of the most anticipated visitors for Notre Dame's home clash against USC Oct. 14. The 6-1, 170-pounder is a cru- cial Notre Dame target who is consid- ered an Irish lean. Going into it, Thomas couldn't have been more fired up about his first trip to South Bend since April. "I was excited," Thomas said. "Every- one talks about game day at Notre Dame — how the fans are super passionate and super loud. I was excited to see all that in person and hyped." Thomas picked a great game to at- tend. Notre Dame blew out previously unbeaten USC 48-20, and the fans stormed the field after the game. "It definitely lived up to my expecta- tions," Thomas said. "It was electric. The atmosphere was absolutely crazy. It was awesome. Seeing Ben [Morrison] and the whole team play the way they did was pretty cool." Thomas had a game the night prior to the battle for the Jeweled Shillelagh, but he still got to South Bend early Saturday to talk with the Irish staff and commits. "I was able to talk with Coach [Mike] Mickens, Coach [Chad] Bowden and Coach [Marcus] Freeman before the game. Coach Bowden was with me the whole visit. I talked a lot with the com- mits, like Deuce [Knight]. "The victory march before the game was really cool. That's something I've never seen, and it was cool to be a part of that." Knight — the elite class of 2025 sig- nal-caller from Lucedale (Miss.) George County — committed to Notre Dame in September and has embraced his role recruiting for the Fighting Irish on both sides of the ball. "It's evident that he's trying to build something there," Thomas said. "He wants to get great football players around him, not just on the offensive side of the ball but on defense as well. "He was telling me why he committed and why he thinks Notre Dame is going in a great direction. He was explaining that he loves it there and that it'd be amazing if we were there as teammates." Thus far in the fall, Thomas has vis- ited Arizona, Notre Dame and Wiscon- sin. He may take an additional late-sea- son visit or two, but that remains up in the air. He comes from the same high school that produced Notre Dame soph- omore cornerback Benjamin Morrison. — Mike Singer Following a busy recruiting weekend after dominating USC, the Notre Dame football program welcomed one of the country's top linebacker recruits to cam- pus for a three-day-long unofficial visit. Baltimore St. Frances Academy line- backer Carlton "CJ" Smith returned to South Bend for a visit that began Monday and lasted until Wednesday. The 6-foot-1, 210-pounder last visited Notre Dame on April 1. Smith visited along with his teammate 2025 safety Bryce Deas and SFA assistant coach Ryan Burbrink. It was a personal- ized trip for the trio, which gave them an extensive look at the university. They toured the campus inside and out. Smith came away with an idea of what life at Notre Dame would be like. "It was beautiful," Smith said. "It definitely felt like I was part of the team. I just felt good." Smith also spent time with defensive coordinator Al Golden and the Notre Dame linebackers. Golden offered Smith Feb. 14. Smith has 16 other Power Five scholarship offers. His time spent around the Irish linebackers was one of his favorite parts of the visit. "It felt like family," he said. "Coach [Marcus] Freeman, he's a family coach. It felt great. … The coaches are solid. They're players' coaches. They have very good coaches. The culture plays a huge part in how they run things at practice." Smith said Golden is probably the best defensive coordinator in all of col- lege football. "He has a lot of experience," Smith said. "The defense they run is an NFL- type defense. He knows how to match up with every opponent. He has a game plan for every offense, and it's very successful based on how the season has gone. They just shut down probably the best of- fense in college football in USC and Ca- leb Williams. That really impressed me." Smith's visit was such a success that he wants to get back to South Bend again very soon. "They're definitely up there with my top schools," he said. "There's a couple aspects that play in with how I feel and how my family feels. I love the school. It's definitely a good football program. It would develop me as a student-athlete." — Kyle Kelly Phoenix Cornerback Breaks Down South Bend Visit Baltimore Linebacker Likes What He Sees At Notre Dame CREE THOMAS ✪ ✪ ✪ Brophy College Prep Phoenix Status: Offered Class: 2025 Position: Cornerback Ht.: 6-1 • Wt.: 170 On3 Rankings: No. 3 player in Arizona and No. 43 cornerback nationally CARLTON "CJ" SMITH ✪ ✪ ✪ St. Frances Academy Baltimore Status: Offered Class: 2025 Position: Linebacker Ht.: 6-1 • Wt.: 210 On3 Rankings: No. 12 player in Maryland and No. 43 linebacker nationally "It definitely lived up to my expectations. It was electric. The atmo- sphere was absolutely crazy. It was awesome. Seeing Ben [Morrison] and the whole team play the way they did was pretty cool." THOMAS ON HIS OCT. 14 NOTRE DAME VISIT

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