Blue and Gold Illustrated

Sept. 12, 2016

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

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44 SEPT. 12, 2016 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED FOOTBALL RECRUITING BY COREY BODDEN AND DAVID MCKINNEY N otre Dame is still working on its 2017 recruiting class, but that has not stopped the Irish from getting off to their fastest start with rising juniors during the Brian Kelly era. The end result could be a special 2018 haul. As of Sept. 1, the Fighting Irish al- ready held commitments from six play- ers and boasted the nation's No. 2 haul per 247Sports — behind only Florida State, which also has six commits. The only schools with more pledges in the 2018 class were Miami with seven and Brigham Young with nine. "They're off to a great start," Rivals Mid-Atlantic recruiting analyst Adam Friedman said of Notre Dame's 2018 class. "There's no doubt about that." Gibsonia (Pa.) Pine Richland quar- terback Phil Jurkovec got the group started with his pledge May 16, and was followed by Indianapolis Ca- thedral running back Markese Stepp June 18, Jersey City (N.J.) St. Peters defensive linemen Jayson and Justin Ademilola June 25, Farmington Hills (Mich.) Harrison linebacker Ovie Og- houfo July 21 and Erie (Pa.) Cathedral Prep linebacker Matthew Bauer Aug. 2. According to 247Sports, the Irish have landed one five-star (Jurkovec), four four-stars (the Ademilola twins, Bauer and Steep) and one three-star (Oghoufo). Notre Dame recruiting coordinator Mike Elston believes that a refined ap- proach has been instrumental. "I think we are recruiting the right kind of guys," he said this summer. "The evaluation switched and targeted the right guys earlier. We've started talking to family members and coaches that are influential in getting them to places — I think we've done a better job at that. "The fruits of our labor are paying off. Recruiting is like anything else and when you start to get some great mo- mentum, it carries over to the other classes. It's a combination of a couple things." Rivals ranks Jurkovec as the No. 3 dual-threat quarterback and No. 57 overall player nationally, while Stepp is listed as the No. 11 running back and No. 174 overall player in the country. Should he stick with the commitment, Jurkovec will be the highest rated dual-threat signal-caller to sign with Notre Dame since Malik Zaire (No. 3 by Rivals) in 2013. On the other side of the ball, Bauer — the No. 5 inside linebacker and No. 116 overall player nationally according to Rivals — is the gem of a group that already includes the country's No. 17 and No. 25 outside linebackers (Og- houfo and Justin Ademilola, respec- tively), and the No. 32 defensive tackle (Jayson Ademilola). "Bauer adds a player with the size and speed," Friedman said. "Right now, you've got size in one of the Ademilola's [Justin] and looks like speed in [Oghoufo]. Bauer has both. He's just a combination of those two guys. "He's major hitter. He's someone that is the total package at line- backer, especially as an inside backer." Although National Signing Day 2018 is still 17 months away, the current collec- tion of junior standouts insist they are locked in with the Irish and focused on helping build Notre Dame's 2018 class. Stepp plans on being at every Notre Dame home game this fall and is intent on getting other top prospects to join him in South Bend. "I've been recruiting like crazy," Stepp said in August. "I've been talk- ing to a lot of players." Notre Dame is currently the leader for Fairfield (Ohio) High four-star de- fensive end Malik Vann. Stepp, Og- houfo and the Ademilola twins have all been talking to Vann about joining the class. The 6-3, 245-pound Vann, who is rated as the No. 9 strongside defensive end and No. 168 overall player nation- ally by Rivals, will visit Notre Dame Sept. 17 for the Michigan State game. Another Buckeye State product that is high on the Irish is Springfield (Ohio) High four-star tight end Leon- ard Taylor, who decommitted from Michigan in late August. Notre Dame is recruiting the 6-5, 240-pound Taylor, who is ranked as the country's No. 45 overall prospect by ESPN, at both tight end and defensive end. The Irish also recently made the cut for Thomson (Ga.) High cornerback Christian Tutt, who trimmed his list from more than 30 schools to 11. Tutt visited Notre Dame in April, when he earned his offer from Kelly. The 5-11, 184-pounder — the No. 4 cornerback and No. 34 overall recruit in the land according to 247Sports — is scheduled to return to South Bend for the Michigan State. Notre Dame also is in good shape with Bradenton (Fla.) IMG Academy athlete Houston Griffith. The 6-0, 185-pounder — who is listed as the No. 2 athlete and No. 34 overall player nationally by Rivals — is being recruit- ing by the Irish to play cornerback. Griffith said he would likely come out with his top list after the season and that the Irish would be on it. Brian Hightower, a four-star wide receiver and teammate of Griffith at IMG, is also seriously considering Notre Dame. Rivals has tabbed the 6-3, 196-pounder as a four-star recruit, and the No. 6 wideout and No. 36 overall player nationally. ✦ Irish On Track To Put Together A Special 2018 Class THE START OF SOMETHING SPECIAL Rival rankings as of Sept. 2 2018 Irish Commits Stars Position Rank National Rank Jayson Ademilola *** No. 32 DT — Justin Ademilola *** No. 25 OLB — Matthew Bauer **** No. 5 ILB No. 116 Phil Jurkovec **** No. 3 QB* No. 57 Ovie Oghoufo *** No. 17 OLB — Markese Stepp **** No. 11 RB No. 174 * Dual-threat quarterbacks Markese Stepp, the nation's No. 11 running back and No. 174 overall prospect according to Rivals, is among six highly touted juniors that have already committed to Notre Dame. PHOTO BY ANDREW IVINS

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