Notre Dame Recruiting: 2016 Irish Invasion Preview

2016 Notre Dame Irish Invasion
Photo: Brian Spurlock // USA TODAY Sports

Notre Dame is gearing up for its third annual Irish Invasion recruiting event this weekend, and South Bend will soon be flooded with elite high school prospects from across the country. Although a recent creation, the Irish Invasion has been very successful for Notre Dame’s recruiting efforts, and head coach Brian Kelly’s staff has done an excellent job of drawing top talent to this year’s camp.

While the list of prospects is lengthy and an argument can be made for many others, UHND will outline five important prospects to keep an eye on moving forward.

Robert Beal

Hometown: Norcross, GA
Position: DE
Star Ranking: Rivals 4-star; ESPN 5-star; 247Sports 4-star
Top Offers: Alabama, Georgia, Ohio State

One of the biggest weaknesses of the Brian Kelly era has been the inability to create any kind of effective pass rush, although Notre Dame has begun to turn the tide by landing 5-star linebacker Daelin Hayes in the last recruiting cycle. Which is why Beal, the No. 2 weakside defensive end in the Class of 2017, pledging for Notre Dame last fall had the potential to completely transform Notre Dame’s defense – at least until he backed off his commitment to the Irish in February.

The talented Georgian is once again reconsidering Notre Dame and Kelly’s staff has managed to convince Beal to visit for the Irish Invasion. Landing back-to-back elite pass rushers would be a major coup for the Irish defense, and Irish fans should be hopeful Beal’s return trip serves as a reminder why he committed to Notre Dame in the first place.

Baron Browning

Hometown: Kennedale, TX
Position: OLB
Star Ranking: Rivals 5-star, ESPN 4-star; 247 Sports 5-star
Top Offers: Alabama, Clemson, LSU

How important is it for Notre Dame to land another pass rusher? Important enough that despite the wealth of talent coming to the Irish Invasion at the skill positions – such as both younger brothers of Equanimeous St. Brown – the top two players Irish fans should be focusing on are on the defensive side of the ball.

Browning has an explosive highlight film and boasts offers from nearly every major program, and just getting the 5-star Texan on campus is an enormous development. But Notre Dame will have to make a serious impression to stay in the race for Browning moving forward, with Texas making serious strides and Ohio State pushing to become his leader.

Foster Sarrell

Hometown: Graham, WA
Position: OT
Star Ranking: Rivals 4-star; ESPN 4-star; 247Sports 5-star
Top Offers: Alabama, Michigan, USC

Offensive line coach Harry Hiestand has done an excellent job building Notre Dame’s reputation as a pathway to the NFL, but he’s also proving to be a top-flight recruiter. And if Notre Dame wishes to continue its successful offensive line run they must continue to sign blue-chip prospects.

Foster Sarrell has an elite offer list and is being recruited hard by the likes of Stanford and Washington, but the Washington native is making his first trip to South Bend with his family for the Irish Invasion. It is imperative a strong impression be made, not only to fend off West Coast competition but due to Notre Dame falling behind SEC competition for Andrew Thomas, another elite offensive line recruit and Irish Invasion attendee.

Houston Griffith

Hometown: Chicago, IL
Position: CB
Star Ranking: Rivals N/A; ESPN N/A; 247Sports 4-star
Top Offers: Florida State, Georgia, Michigan

One of the biggest strengths of the Irish Invasion is the opportunity for Notre Dame’s coaching staff to develop close relationships with prospects early in the recruiting process. Current offensive lineman Liam Eichenberg attended the first Irish Invasion camp as an underclassman, and the relationship he developed with Hiestand played a defining role in Notre Dame edging Ohio State for his signature.

Houston Griffith is a Class of 2018 cornerback and the son of Howard Griffith, a two-time Super Bowl Champion with the Denver Broncos. Although projected as a cornerback, the versatile Chicago standout has played quarterback for his high school and is expected to be a top prospect for the Class of 2018. Given the number of big plays the Irish secondary surrendered last season, any elite defensive back on campus should generate a buzz.

J.T. Daniels

Hometown: Santa Ana, CA
Position: QB
Star Ranking: N/A
Top Offers: Arizona State, Cal, UCLA

Between DeShone Kizer and Malik Zaire, the arrival of Ian book and the commitments of Avery Davis and Phil Jurkovec, quarterback should be one of the last positions of need for Notre Dame. Yet J.T. Daniels, a Class of 2019 prospect, visiting for the Irish Invasion is an enormous development.

Daniels threw for 3,042 yards and 33 touchdowns as a freshman for Mater Dei High School, a program that has produced the likes of John Huarte, Matt Leinart, Matt Barkley, Max Wittek and Colt Brennan. The young California quarterback is projected as a future 5-star prospect that may wind up the No. 1 quarterback in his class.

Given Phil Jurkovec’s status as the No. 1 dual-threat quarterback for the Class of 2018, Notre Dame is positioning itself to potentially land the top quarterback prospect in back-to-back recruiting cycles.

Scott Janssen is a blogger for the Huffington Post and has written several nationally-featured articles, including an appearance on MSNBC as a sports contributor. He talks football 24 hours a day, much to the chagrin of his wife and those around him. Scott can be reached at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.

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