New Notre Dame defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Marcus Freeman has hit the ground running on the recruiting trail to say the least. Following Wednesday’s commitment from top-100 linebacker Joshua Burnham, Notre Dame has two 4-star linebackers committed for the class of 2022, and there’s a good chance that the Fighting Irish will add to that haul with even more 4-star talent.
If you follow the Rivals FutureCast or the 247Sports Crystal Ball predictions, things look very, very good for Notre Dame football recruiting’s efforts at the linebacker position. In addition to their current commitments from Burnham and Nolan Zeiger, the Irish appear to be leading for at least three more elite, 4-stat linebackers at moment.
There had been predictions for Notre Dame for each of these composite top 200 overall prospects for a little while now:
- Niuafe Tuihalamaka – #68 overall, 6’1.5″, 235 lbs
- Devon Jackson – #152 overall, 6’2″, 200 lbs
- Sebastian Cheeks – $154 overall, 6’2″, 210 lbs
A fourth elite linebacker joined the group on Friday night as well – Jaylen Sneed, the #79 overall prospect in the country according to the 247 Composite rankings. Sneed will visit Notre Dame on Monday with his high school coach. Shortly after that news broke, the Clemson Insider placed a low-level confidence Crystal Ball prediction for Notre Dame, but a prediction nonetheless.
Crystal Ball and FutureCast predictions are far from infallible, but assuming these current predictions are remotely accurate how this all shakes out is going to be fascinating to watch unfold.
Notre Dame did not take a linebacker in the class of 2020 and then took just two in 2021, but one of them – Kahanu Kia – plans on taking a mission following the 2021 season. That means there will be just one scholarship linebacker, Prince Kollie, on the 2022 roster from the last two recruiting cycles. Translation: Notre Dame can take some numbers here. The question is, how many can they reasonably take in 2022?
Of the four linebackers listed above, all are must-take recruits at the moment. They’ll take at least four, but would Notre Dame take five if three of them wanted to commit? I don’t know if they could fit five in the class, but it would certainly be one hell of a good problem to have, wouldn’t it?
If Notre Dame were to get two out of Tuihalamaka, Cheeks, Sneed, and Jackson; they’d have four top 250 quality linebackers in the class. Zeiger is currently outside the top 250, but he is trending in that direction at the moment and could very well end up there before all is said and done. Burnham is just outside the top 100 in 247’s composite rankings now and Tuihalamaka and Sneed are already there.
In looking at profiles, adding Tuihalamaka and then one of Jackson, Sneed, or Cheeks seems like the most ideal scenario for the Irish at the moment. It’s been a while since Notre Dame has had a monster in the middle of the defense like Niuafe Tuihalamaka. He would add something the defense hasn’t had since Manti Te’o manned the middle of the Irish defense. That said, no one will be complaining if Notre Dame added two of Jackson, Sneed, and Cheeks.
Between the three outside backers, Cheeks seems like a perfect fit for Notre Dame from Chicagoland, but his recruitment has dragged on longer than some thought it would. Had Clark Lea not left Notre Dame, there is a good chance Cheeks might already have committed. Jackson, on the other hand, has already announced a top 5 that included Notre Dame last month. Sneed has a connection to Notre Dame through his head coach who is long-time friends with Marcus Freeman.
Even if Notre Dame were only to land one of the four to join Zeigler and Burnham, there are other 4-star linebacker prospects on their board they are in close contact with. In short, it would appear to be a monumental upset if Notre Dame didn’t land one of the best linebacker classes in the country for 2022.
Call it the Marcus Freeman difference. We saw it with Burnham. He was a Michigan lean with some thinking the Fighting Irish were third for his services in January when Freeman took over. It didn’t take long for Freeman to win him over just like it didn’t take long for Tyson Ford to flip from an Oklahoma lean to a Notre Dame football commitment shortly after Freeman was hired.
The kind of linebacker class Notre Dame looks like they could sign in 2022 is the kind of class they need to close the gap between themselves and the Alabamas, Clemsons, and Ohio States of the college football world.
Notre Dame still has some work to do at other positions, but defensive line recruiting looks promising with Ford committed along with Aiden Gobaira – who is already grabbing people’s attention this spring. Defensive back recruiting took a big step forward with last week’s commitment from 4-star defensive back Jaden Mickey too. Add that to the haul Notre Dame is building towards and linebacker and the Irish have a special class in the works on the defensive side of the ball.