Meet the 2014 Notre Dame Defensive Recruits

As Notre Dame heads into Signing Day 2014 with the hopes of adding to it’s haul, the Irish are set to sign at least 12 defensive recruits today based on current commitments.  Notre Dame would love to add at least three more names to this list in the form of Terrence Alexander, JuJu Smith, and either Courtney Garnett or Daniel Cage, but as we wait for announcements from those recruits, here are recruiting capsules for the 12 defensive recruits already included in the #GoldenArmy14.

[See Also: Meet the 2014 Notre Dame offensive recruits]

Notre Dame has an impressive group of 12 commitments in the class of 2014 with as many as four more prospects on the board – Terrence Alexander, JuJu Smith, Daniel Cage, and Courtney Garnett all still deciding later today where they will be attending college.  Of the already committed prospects though, Notre Dame restocked the trenches with an impressive group of front seven recruits including one of the nation’s elite inside linebackers and a couple of mammoth defensive linemen from New York.  The Irish added an elite cornerback out of the Lone Star state and a versatile safety in the mold of Zeke Motta as well.

Versatility was the name of the game with the Irish defensive recruits in 2014 as you will soon see.  Notre Dame added a number of prospects who are athletically gifted that can help new defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder and his defense in a lot of ways over the next 4-5 years.  Will the Irish add to this haul?  We will find out later today.

As you sip you morning coffee, read up on all 12 defensive recruits already expected to sign with Notre Dame later today, their rankings from the various recruiting services, and watch some highlights of them throughout their high school careers.

Grant Blankenship

Grant Blankenship comes to Notre Dame from the Lonestar State very much in the same mold as Troy Niklas did a few years ago.  He’s big, tall, lanky, and can play a lot of positions.   In Notre Dame’s defense, Blankenship will most likely start off as an outside linebacker (CAT), but has the size to grow into a defensive end as well.  In fact, Blankenship’s career path could end up following another lanky defensive end from Texas who came to Notre Dame recently – Kapron Lewis-Moore – if he is able to add on the necessary weight.

Blankenship most likely won’t see much playing time as a true freshmen except for possibly special teams as the coaching staff finds the best place for him.  They recruited him to be an outside linebacker/defensive end, but when Troy Niklas signed with Notre Dame three years ago, no one thought he would develop into the type of tight end that would be able to leave college early for the NFL.  Look for Blankenship to start off his Notre Dame career at the CAT position like Niklas.  From there, it’ll be up to the coaches and Paul Longo to see if he can pack on weight like KLM or if he’ll max out in the 250-260 range and stay at the CAT.


  • Height: 6-6
  • Weight:  250 lbs
  • Hometown/High School: The Colony, TX / The Colony HS
  • 40 Yard Dash: 4.6

Competition: Arkansas, Cal, Iowa, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Oregon State, Texas Tech, Texas, Washington

Rankings & Stars

  • Rivals – 3 star, #29 SDE
  • Scout – 4-star, #10 DE, #91 overall
  • 247 Sports – 3-star, #22 SDE
  • ESPN – 3-star, #43 DE

Jonathan Bonner

Bonner came out of nowhere over the summer to earn an offer from Notre Dame after an impressive performance at one of Notre Dame’s camps.  Pretty soon after he had an offer from the Irish and shortly after that he gave his commitment to Notre Dame.

Bonner might start off at the CAT position as a pass rush specialist, but I think defensive end is in his future.  He’s got the build to add on some weight and play on the end of the Notre Dame defensive line similarly to Kapron Lewis-Moore.  Unlike classmate Grant Blankenship though, Bonner doesn’t have quite the same length at 6-3 to Blankenship’s 6-6.

When Bonner visited for Notre Dame’s camp, he went up against fellow #GoldenArmy14 members Quenton Nelson, Alex Bars, and Jimmy Byrne and more than held his own.  That performance earned him a scholarship offer that Bonner couldn’t wait to accept with Notre Dame being his dream school.

Don’t let his 3-star ratings fool you.  Bonner earned 2nd Team All-American honors from Max Preps along with future teammate Quenton Nelson.  Nic Weishar meanwhile was a 1st team All-American from Max Preps.


  • Height: 6-3
  • Weight:  250 lbs
  • Hometown/High School: Chesterfield, MO / Parkway Central HS
  • 40 Yard Dash:  n/a

Competition: Illinois, Michigan State, Missouri

Rankings & Stars

  • Rivals – 3-star, not ranked at WDE
  • Scout – 3-star, #79 DE
  • 247 Sports – 3-star, #25 SDE
  • ESPN – 3-star, #38 DE

Jay Hayes

A consensus 4-star defensive end with offers from Alabama, Florida, and USC.  That is almost all you need to know about Jay Hayes to get excited.  Because Hayes committed to Notre Dame so long ago though, Notre Dame fans tend to forget that Notre Dame added another elite defensive end for what we learned will still be a base 3-4 defense last week.  Hayes is one of the real headliners of this year’s class though for his play on the field and his good nature off the field.

In a lot of ways, Hayes is similar to Louis Nix off the the field.  On the field, Hayes doesn’t come into college with the mammoth size as Nix.  In fact, Hayes is built more like a taller version of Sheldon Day coming in.  If Notre Dame ends up getting a player who is a mix of Day and Nix, sign me up.

Day was forced into action because of a lack of depth along the defensive line in 2012, but Notre Dame will likely hope to preserve a year of eligibility for Hayes in 2014 as he hits the weight room and adjusts to the college game.  As we’ve seen with some other New York state prospects, the level of competition isn’t always the greatest in the Empire State and recruits from there take some time to adjust to bigger, stronger, faster competition.

In a perfect world, Hayes will redshirt next year and not be forced into playing time like Day was.  A year with Paul Longo should have Hayes ready for a prominent role in 2015 when Notre Dame will be replacing Day and Tony Springmann.


  • Height: 6-4
  • Weight:  265
  • Hometown/High School: Brooklyn, NY / Poly Prep HS
  • 40 Yard Dash: n/a

Competition: Alabama, Boston College, Clemson, Florida, Florida State, Georgia, Michigan, Oregon, Penn State, UCLA, USC, Wisconsin

Rankings & Stars

  • Rivals – 4-star, #14 DT, #233 overall
  • Scout – 4-star, #21 DT, #233 overall
  • 247 Sports – 4-star, #14 DT, #193 overall
  • ESPN – 4-star, #30 DT

Kolin Hill

Hill was a late riser this year with Notre Dame, Colorado, and Boise State being the first schools to start to take notice to Hill during his senior season.  Hill’s homestate Texas, however, came calling at the 11th hour and Notre Dame had to survive a serious late push from the Longhorns to keep Hill as a member of the #GoldenArmy14.  Credt Kerry Cooks for a bang up job of recruiting Hill and keeping him aboard this year’s class given the pressure in-state recruits receive in Texas to play for the Longhorns when they come calling.

Hill is a very interesting prospect because on the surface he looks like a tweener and his recruiting rankings show just that.  Rivals ranks him as an inside linebacker, Scout as an outside linebacker, and both 247 Sports and ESPN rated him as a defensive end.  Finding the right place for Hill to make an impact will be the job of defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder.  Hill is still developing and growing so it’s unclear where he will develop.  What is clear now though is the Notre Dame added a very athletic, albeit raw, defender for VanGorder’s defense.


  • Height: 6-2
  • Weight:  225 lbs
  • Hometown/High School: Schertz, TX / Clemens HS
  • 40 Yard Dash: 4.6

Competition: Boise State, Colorado, Texas, Texas Tech, Vanderbilt

Rankings & Stars

  • Rivals – 3-star, #21 ILB
  • Scout – 3-star, #64 OLB
  • 247 Sports – 3-star, #52 WDE
  • ESPN – 3-star, #75 DE

Greer Martini

Another one of Notre Dame’s “forgotten” commitments because he committed early and never wavered, Martini would have been a much-heralded recruit almost any other year for Notre Dame, but with Notre Dame’s haul at linebacker, he is just one of a group of very talented linebackers who will enroll at Notre Dame in the summer.

Like Andrew Trumbetti, Martini is a 4-star prospect on every recruiting service except Rivals.  ESPN even has Martini as their #255 overall prospect and #11 ILB in the entire country.

Martini’s offer list is not extensive because it was clear very early on that he only wanted to be one place – Notre Dame.  The Irish coaching staff, in turn, made Martini one of the first inside linebackers to be offered in this year’s class.

Martini will bring with him the distinction of being the first commitment to the class of 2014 all the way back in July of 2012.  More than 18 months after making that commitment, Martini finally gets to sign his letter of intent today.  When he gets to Notre Dame he will also be reunited with high school teammate and rising sophomore Doug Randolph.


  • Height: 6-3
  • Weight:  230 lbs
  • Hometown/High School: Woodberry Forest, VA / Woodberry Forest HS
  • 40 Yard Dash: 4.75

Competition: Maryland, NC State

Rankings & Stars

  • Rivals – 3-star, not ranked at ILB
  • Scout – 4-star, #31 OLB
  • 247 Sports – 4-star, #18 ILB
  • ESPN – 4-star, #11 ILB, #255 overall

Pete Mokwuah

One of the latest additions to the Class of 2014, Pete Mokwuah is also one of the biggest.  Literally.  Mokwuah is a massive nose tackle prospect who Notre Dame was luckily able to haul in despite getting in on his recruitment very late in the process.  After Notre Dame lost Matt Dickerson to UCLA in early January, the Irish staff began turning over every rock looking for another nose tackle candidate and considering how late they were, they couldn’t have done much better than Mokwuah.

Originally committed to Rutgers, Mokwuah was a late riser as a senior who drew interest from a number of elite programs such as Alabama last fall.  No other program late to the party was able to get Mokwuah to list though.  That is except for Notre Dame.  Brian VanGorder, in fact,  did an excellent job of recruiting Mokwuah shortly after being named Notre Dame’s defensive coordinator in early January.

Once Paul Longo gets his hands on Mokwuah, Notre Dame could have the makings of a very good nose tackle on his hand.  Like fellow New York native Jay Hayes though, he is going to see a much, much higher level of competition than he is used to coming from New York.


  • Height: 6-5
  • Weight:  305 lbs
  • Hometown/High School: Staten Island, NY / St. Joseph by the Sea
  • 40 Yard Dash: n/a

Competition: UConn, Pittsburgh, Rutgers

Rankings & Stars

  • Rivals – 3-star, not ranked at DT
  • Scout – 3-star, #66 DT
  • 247 Sports – 3-star, #51 DT
  • ESPN – 3-star, #71 DT

Nyles Morgan

Notre Dame did very well for itself at linebacker in this year class despite losing Richard Yeargin late in January and one of the main reasons for that is the addition of Nyles Morgan.  Easily the most highly rated inside linebacker to come to Notre Dame since Manti Te’o, Morgan has the ability to make an impact as just as quickly as the Hawaiian Hitman did in 2009.

Notre Dame is going to be replacing both inside linebackers and with the complicated nature of Jarrett Grace’s injury and subsequent recovery, there is going to be playing time up for grabs all the way through training camp and likely throughout the 2014 season.  Morgan might not start from day one, just as Te’o didn’t, but it would be a mild surprise if Morgan didn’t play his way into a prominent role within the Notre Dame defense at some point in 2014.

Morgan is an old school inside linebacker who can still run and cover in space.  It’s hard not to be excited about what he adds to the Notre Dame defense after witnessing the drastic drop-off at inside backer in the year of post-Te’o Notre Dame defense.

Any time you add a consensus 4-star, top 100 inside linebacker to your class you did pretty good for yourself and Notre Dame did just that with Morgan.


  • Height: 6-1
  • Weight:  225 lbs
  • Hometown/High School: Crete, IL / Crete Monee HS
  • 40 Yard Dash: n/a

Competition: Alabama, Florida, Miami, Michigan, Michigan State, Nebraska, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas A&M, UCLA, USC, Wisconsin

Rankings & Stars

  • Rivals – 4-star, #5 ILB, #72 overall
  • Scout – 5-star, #3 MLB, #34 overall
  • 247 Sports – 4-star, #3 ILB, #98 overall
  • ESPN – 4-star, #5 ILB, #72 overall

Nile Sykes

Nile Sykes might not get the same level of hype as his fellow Illinois native inside linebacker Nyles Morgan, but Sykes comes to Notre Dame with a lot of potential after playing a lot of defensive end for most of his prep career.  Because of that experience, most of the services rated Sykes as an outside linebacker, but Notre Dame recruited the Chicagoland native to be an inside linebacker after seeing him play linebacker as a senior.

Notre Dame survived the departure of both Sykes’ primary recruiter – Chuck Martin – and position coach – Bob Diaco – in their pursuit of Sykes.  They were able to come both though and actually secured Sykes’ commitment while they were without a defensive coordinator or linebackers coach following Diaco’s departure for UConn.

Because Sykes is so new to the linebacker position he may not challenge for playing time as quickly as say Morgan, but it wouldn’t surprise me if he worked his way into a special teams role next year.


  • Height: 6-1
  • Weight:  220 lbs
  • Hometown/High School: Lombard, IL / Montini HS
  • 40 Yard Dash: n/a

Competition: Cincinnati, Illinois, Missouri, Purdue, Syracuse

Rankings & Stars

  • Rivals – 3-star, #20 ILB
  • Scout – 3-star, #49 OLB
  • 247 Sports – 3-star, #33 OLB
  • ESPN – 4-star, #32 OLB

Drue Tranquill

When Tranquill was originally recruited by Notre Dame the Irish staff told the athletic Indiana native they thought he had the frame to pack on some pounds and play middle linebacker in Notre Dame’s 3-4 defense.  That initially scared him away from Notre Dame and he instead committed to in-state rival Purdue who recruited him as a safety.  Eventually Notre Dame changed it’s tune and recruited him more as a defensive athlete.  Once they did that, it became clear he would join this year’s class.

Since his commitment, Notre Dame’s fortunes at inside linebacker have changed drastically.  Nyles Morgan and Nile Sykes both joined this year’s class giving Notre Dame a potentially dynamic duo at the inside backer positions.  With that in mind, it seems like a stay in the defensive backfield could be in Tranquill’s future.

Tranquill reminds me quite of a bit of Zeke Motta.  Motta was recruited by many as a linebacker including then head coach Charlie Weis and his staff.   Eventually, he settled in at safety and was one of the reasons for Notre Dame’s dominant defensive performance in the 2012 regular season.  If Tranquill can play a similar role to Motta, sign me up.


  • Height: 6-2
  • Weight:  205
  • Hometown/High School: Fort Wayne, IN / Carroll HS
  • 40 Yard Dash: 4.5

Competition: Cincinnati, Minnesota, Penn State, Purdue, Wisconsin

Rankings & Stars

  • Rivals – 3-star, #32 S
  • Scout – 4-star, #14 OLB, #171 overall
  • 247 Sports – 4-star, #24 S
  • ESPN – 3-star, #43 OLB

Andrew Trumbetti

One of two early enrollees at Notre Dame this year along with wide receiver Justin Brent, Trumbetti is nearly a consensus 4-star DE – only Rivals held out in giving the Under Armour All-American a 4th star during his senior season.  That shouldn’t temper the enthusiasm from Notre Dame fans though.  An early commitment to Notre Dame in March didn’t help Trumbetti build up much hype for that 4th star either as early commitments rarely see their stocks rise too much.

Trumbetti is a very talented defensive end who will benefit from a full off-season in the strength and conditioning program as well as spring practice.   Because of Trumbetti’s early start, he could provide some depth for Notre Dame this fall if called upon although like Hayes, I would imagine the coaches would prefer to ease him into action.  As we saw this year though, injuries can change the plans of a coaching staff at a moment’s notice.

While Rivals is bullish on Trumbetti’s rankings, 247 Sports and ESPN both rank him as a top 100 recruit nationally regardless of position.  Scout isn’t too far behind either at #166.  Bottom line.  Notre Dame has a more than solid defensive end on their hands who will benefit from early enrollment.


  • Height: 6-5
  • Weight:  250 lbs
  • Hometown/High School: Demarest, NJ / Demarest HS
  • 40 Yard Dash: n/a

Competition: Boston College, Clemson, Florida, Florida State, Miami, Michigan State, Penn State, Purdue, Stanford

Rankings & Stars

  • Rivals – 3-star, #17 WDE
  • Scout – 4-star, #20 DE, #166 overall
  • 247 Sports – 4-star, #5 SDE, #96 overall
  • ESPN – 4-star, #10 DE, #97 overall

Nick Watkins

Heading into Signing Day, Notre Dame has just one cornerback in the #GoldenArmy14 (that could change with the announcement of Terrence Alexander though) after signing three of them last year, but the one they got was a stud.  Watkins is a consensus 4-star prospect with an offer list featuring almost every elite SEC program – Alabama, Auburn, Alabama, Georgia, LSU, et al.  What makes adding Watkins to this year’s class even more incredible for Notre Dame is that the Irish were able to go into the heart of Texas and steal an elite corner from the in-state powers that be.

Like Hayes, fans tend to skip over Watkins when reviewing this class as everyone has been focused on the last 5 or 6 recruits for the last month or so, but just like Hayes, Watkins is also a headliner.  The fact that a 4-star corner with that offer list isn’t drawing more fanfare is actually a testament to the job Brian Kelly and this staff have done.

Watkins is also the exact type of recruit that Notre Dame fans should be fawning over too.  He visited for the USC game and then shut down his recruitment and didn’t make another visit to any other school despite the chance to visit almost any elite program of his choosing.  Watkins has the talent to challenge for playing time this fall already.


  • Height: 6-1
  • Weight:  190 lbs
  • Hometown/High School: Dallas, TX / Bishop Dunne
  • 40 Yard Dash: 4.49

Competition: Alabama, Arizona State, Auburn, Colorado, Florida State, Georgia, Georgia Tech, LSU, Ole Miss, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Stanford, Tennessee, Texas, Texas A&M, UCLA, USC

Rankings & Stars

  • Rivals – 4-star, #15 CB, #186 overall
  • Scout – 4-star, #20 CB, #205 overall
  • 247 Sports – 4-star, #23 CB
  • ESPN – 4-star, #14 CB, #123 overall

Jhonathon Williams

Probably the most under the radar recruit in this year’s class, Jhonny Williams is also one of the most intriguing as well.  Standing 6 foot 6 inches tall and weighing 230 lbs while running a reported 4.5 40 jumps off the page and screams pass rushing nightmare from the CAT position.  It is just prototypical 3-4 defense OLB size.  Williams is, however, very raw and is going to need a lot of seasoning on the college level before he is ready to tap into his potential.

With Williams’s measureables, the one thing that I can’t figure out is why more MAC schools did not get in on Williams before Notre Dame and Missouri did.  Williams is the exact type of raw recruit that MAC programs make their living off of.  Their loss is Notre Dame’s gain, however, as there has been quite a bit of chatter since Williams committed to Notre Dame that Irish indeed have a steal here.  Michigan, for instance, offered the local product around the same time as Notre Dame but were unable to draw any interest from Williams.

Notre Dame was almost a little too late to the party as well.  Williams had been committed to Missouri for some time before Notre Dame offered in November and got the raw pass rusher on campus for an official visit for the BYU game.  It will be a little while until we know if Williams can turn his raw ability into the pass rushing nightmare Notre Dame coaches are hoping they uncovered, but his career is going to be a fun one to watch develop.


  • Height: 6-6
  • Weight:  230 lbs
  • Hometown/High School: Berrien Springs, MI / Berrien Springs HS
  • 40 Yard Dash: 4.5

Competition: Missouri, Nebraska, Michigan

Rankings & Stars

  • Rivals – 3-star, not ranked at SDE
  • Scout – 3-star, #51 DE
  • 247 Sports – 3-star, #36 SDE
  • ESPN – 3-star, #138 DE


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