Notre Dame’s offensive recruiting took a massive hit on Tuesday when Will Shipley committed to Clemson, leaving Notre Dame with a bare recruiting board in the offensive backfield. Minutes after Shipley set sail for Clemson though, new cornerbacks coach Mike Mickens was busy locking up a 4-star corner to add to a secondary in need of an infusion of talent.
Notre Dame’s newest commit, Philip Riley, is a composite 4-star cornerback out of Florida ranked just inside the 247Sports composite top 300. While he’s not a 5-stat like Shipley, his addition should not be seen as a consolation prize to Notre Dame recruiting fans who no doubt felt like a jilted lover Monday night when news began to break that the Shipley recruitment wasn’t going to end well for Notre Dame.
Because Notre Dame struggled to recruit corners so much in the class of 2020, cornerback is arguably a much bigger need for 2021 than running back. Despite signing four corners in December, the Irish staff was left to reset their board after striking out on all of their top targets a year ago, similar to the same challenge Lance Talyor and the Notre Dame offensive staff faces now.
The four prospects the Irish ultimately signed were a combination of risks and recruiting for a profile and traits. One of those four, Landen Bartelson, never even made it to campus following an arrest earlier this year. Caleb Offord, Ramon Henderson, and Clarence Lewis are the other three, and while all three are high upside prospects, none are considered high floor recruits either.
That is why Tuesday’s commitment of Philip Riley was a big deal for Notre Dame’s recruiting efforts, even if the Irish faithful were still left reeling from the loss of Shipley. Notre Dame didn’t land a single 4-star corner in the class of 2020 and only have three former composite 4-star corners on the roster for the 2020 season – KJ Wallace, Isaiah Rutherford, and Shaun Crawford. Tariq Bracy was a composite 3-star.
Landing Riley was the first significant test for Mike Mickens, who, like Lance Talyor a year ago, was hired to replace a former all-time great Notre Dame player who struggled to recruit at an elite level as a Notre Dame coach. Mickens replacing Todd Lyght and Taylor, Autry Denson.
What makes Mickens first recruiting win so impressive is two-fold. For starters, Mickens was only hired officially by Notre Dame in February, so he’s only been on the job a few months. Secondly, Riley committed to Notre Dame despite only being offered at the end of March and without ever stepping foot on campus for an official visit.
Normally Notre Dame would not even accept a commitment form a recruit who has not visited Notre Dame yet, but we are not living in normal times. Ironically, many Notre Dame fans are lamenting the loss of the big March recruiting weekend that never was because of coronavirus, rationalizing that Shipley would have picked Notre Dame had he just made it to campus all while Riley committed without ever visiting. Shipley at least visited unofficially last fall for the USC game.
Notre Dame isn’t getting a flier of a recruit in Riley either. While he might not be a top-50 or 100 overall prospect at the moment, he is a bonafide 4-star recruit with elite offers, including one from Clemson, to prove it.
As a reminder, Clemson does not throw out offers like bags of candy on Halloween like some schools (hello, Michigan). Clemson is selective in their offers, so securing a commitment from a 4-star corner with an offer from Clemson in addition to Florida State, USC, Penn State, Virginia Tech, and Washington (and a lot of others) is a big deal.
The timing of the Riley commitment was also big for Notre Dame. After such a high profile loss like Shipley, where the staff put all their eggs in one basket only to come up empty-handed, they needed some good news. Just like they needed good news in March when Deion Colzie decommitted, but they quickly added an elite defensive end in David Abiara. In this instance, Riley was that good news, and their new cornerbacks coach was one of the reasons why.
Now, Notre Dame can’t keep losing high-profile, elite offensive talent and replace them quick elite defensive talent and still get to where they want to be. Still, momentum is huge in recruiting, and stemming the loss of Shipley by landing a 4-star corner was big.
There is still work to be done at the corner position for Notre Dame this cycle, with the biggest name left on the board being Ceyair Wright. If Mickens and defensive coordinator Clark Lea can add Wright to this class to pair with Riley, Notre Dame will be lightyears ahead of where they were last year in terms of cornerback recruiting.
Mickens has his work cut out for him this fall with an inexperienced depth chart to work with, but so far, the early returns on his skills as a recruiter are very positive. Time will tell if his X’s and O’s skills will match. Right now, though, all any Notre Dame fan could have asked for out of Mickens, given the circumstances, is exactly what we are getting right now.