Last week Notre Dame’s recruiting Class of 2014 was examined by comparing Notre Dame’s current defensive line commitments to those of other programs composing the top ten recruiting classes in the nation. While it’s far too early to definitively state where Notre Dame stands – 2014 recruits do not sign their letter of intent to the school of their choice until next February – the good news is the Irish clearly belong in the top ten with their current defensive line commitments.
Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly has done an excellent job building depth along the defensive line with the 2014 class, an element that has been desperately lacking under previous coaching regimes. But the one point of emphasis moving forward will be landing a home run recruit, one that can rise to the level of stardom Irish standouts Louis Nix and Stephon Tuitt have enjoyed. Below are defensive line recruits that the Fighting Irish feel can meet the challenge, and ones Kelly and staff are recruiting hard.
Andrew Williams (6’4”, 245 lbs), Rivals 4-star
Andrew Williams is from the increasingly powerful recruiting state of Georgia, and he attends the same high school that produced Notre Dame freshman defensive lineman, Isaac Rochell. Rochell’s influence is what originally gave the Fighting Irish a launching point with Williams, as Williams joined Rochell on a visit to campus last fall. Notre Dame put its best foot forward, which is important considering how highly coveted Andrew Williams is nationally. Williams’ offer list is the premier crop of college football and can be found in every corner of the country, from USC to Alabama.
Though it could be argued Notre Dame jumped to an early lead with an unofficial visit last fall, the overwhelming number of scholarship offers has jumbled the field. Williams has taken a summer road trip to a number of Southern schools, including Clemson, Georgia and Auburn, and emerged with a preference for playing defensive end in a 4-3 scheme. Such a development is problematic for Notre Dame, which sees Williams as an outside linebacker in a 3-4 system that occasionally puts his hand on the ground.
The Fighting Irish are still very much in the mix for Williams’ services, though they may have fallen behind for his signature. Williams has expressed an interest in ending his recruitment before his senior year of high school, which would give Notre Dame limited time to sell him on ND’s 3-4 scheme.
Andrew Williams Highlights
Thomas Holley (6’4”, 299 lbs), Rivals 4-Star
Thomas Holley hails from Brooklyn, New York, and attends the same high school that produced current Notre Dame linebacker and former 5-star, Ishaq Williams. Brian Kelly is arguably chasing Holley more than any other defensive line recruit left on the board, and Holley possesses the requisite talent to one day step into Louis Nix’s oversized shoes. Just how good is Holley? Considering New York is not widely known for its high school football production, and Holley only has one year of varsity football under his belt, it’s a testament to his ability that Alabama, Florida and Ohio State are in heavy pursuit.
If any questions remained regarding Holley’s lack of playing experience they were silenced at The Opening, a recruiting event hosted by Nike that allows the best high school players in America to showcase their capabilities. As one recruiting analyst for 247 sports stated, Holley was one of the most “consistently good” players at his position, highlighting Holley’s enormous potential once he gains experience and develops.
While 247 Sports has Notre Dame leading for Holley, others have suggested it’s a two-way race between Notre Dame and Penn State. Still, it’s worth noting the large defensive tackle had many positive things to say about Ohio State after his visit to Columbus, and given Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer’s history of prying recruits away from Notre Dame, the Buckeyes shouldn’t be ruled out of the race.
Thomas Holley Highlights
Matt Elam (6’6”, 325 lbs), Rivals 3-Star
Elam has largely been flying as an under the radar recruit, though his massive frame would suggest such a label is laughable. Why the Elizabethtown, Kentucky, native is a 3-star when he boasts offers from Alabama, Ohio State and Notre Dame is a bit of a mystery, but what is clear is how hard programs such as Alabama and Kentucky are pursuing Elam’s services.
Notre Dame jumped into the Elam sweepstakes a bit later than other suitors, but a June 24th visit to South Bend left him impressed enough to place Notre Dame near the top of his list. The question is whether or not ND can make up for its slow start. Kentucky has put everything they have on Elam, with Kentucky head coach Mark Stoops selling the idea Elam’s signature is a final missing piece to a recruiting class that already cracks the top ten. Add to the fact Alabama is selling Elam on the notion he could be the next Crimson Tide standout in the mold of Terrence Cody, and Notre Dame has quite a battle ahead of them.
Will it be enough? While the Fighting Irish are more than likely on the outside looking in, Elam has indicated his desire to make a late decision, which could give Brian Kelly and staff much-needed time to sell Elam on being Nix’s replacement, as well as ample potential to contribute early.
Matt Elam Highlights
Solomon Thomas (6’3”, 263 lbs), Rivals 4-Star
While many may disagree, a strong argument can be made that Thomas represents the most impressive recruiting effort of the names listed, even though Notre Dame is not in the lead for Thomas’ services.
Solomon Thomas attends Coppell High School in Coppell, Texas, the same high school as current Notre Dame running back, Cam McDaniel. What’s noteworthy about Thomas is the fact he holds offers from Alabama, Ohio State and Texas, making him an elite recruit. What’s noteworthy for Notre Dame, however, is the fact they managed to get Thomas to even visit. Brian Kelly has made an extraordinary effort to increase the presence of Southern talent on the Fighting Irish’s roster, particularly in Texas. While it may not appear to be a coup on its face, for Notre Dame to host a Texas recruit with offers from Texas, Texas A&M and Oklahoma is a monumental feat (and a rare one for ND), as the battle for elite Texas talent is as fierce as anywhere in the nation.
Notre Dame is in the mix for Solomon Thomas, and Thomas was impressed by his visit to Notre Dame. Will it be enough? Despite the visit, Thomas has not publicly mentioned Notre Dame as one of his leaders, making it fairly safe to assume ND has quite a bit of ground to cover. While there aren’t any prizes for second place in recruiting, Thomas’ visit to Notre Dame represents massive gains in Notre Dame’s recruiting power, as well its expanding influence in the South.
Soloman Thomas Highlights
Scott Janssen is a blogger for the Huffington Post and has authored several nationally-featured articles as well as co-founded a nationally-featured non-profit organization. In his spare time he takes his NCAA Football ’13 online dynasty way too seriously and alienates those around him by discussing football 24 hours a day. Scott can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.