Notre Dame’s Junior Day Draws Top Prospects

Notre Dame Football Recruiting 2016
(Photo: Matt Cashore // USA TODAY Sports)

Junior Days are one of the more important dates for college programs as they introduce themselves to a new round of recruiting prospects. Last year’s Junior Day was an important recruiting event for Notre Dame’s new and relatively unproven assistant coaches, and UHND reported Irish fans should keep an eye on prospects Khalid Kareem and Javon McKinley. Defensive line coach Keith Gilmore stated his intention to sign more Michigan-based recruits given his background in the area, and Gilmore came through by flipping Kareem away from his Alabama commitment and toward Notre Dame. Likewise, quarterbacks coach Mike Sanford was brought in with the hope of turning around Notre Dame’s California recruiting woes, and didn’t disappoint when Notre Dame managed to pry McKinley away from the West Coast.

With one season under their belts, this year’s Junior Day is more about building stronger relationships with recruits, and establishing those relationships sooner than in previous years (which has already paid dividends with the recent commitment of quarterback Avery Davis).

So who should Notre Dame fans be on the lookout for this year? While many recruits visited over the weekend, and interest in programs fluctuates throughout the year, the following prospects are worth keeping an eye on given their early level of interest in Notre Dame.

Thomas Graham
Hometown: Cucamonga, CA
Position: CB
Star Ranking: Rivals 4-star; ESPN 4-star; 247 Sports 4-star
Top Offers: LSU, Oklahoma, USC

Graham was one of the more intriguing prospects to visit Notre Dame over the weekend considering he offered a verbal commitment to the USC Trojans in July of last year. And although Graham has previously referred to USC as his dream school, he was interested enough to make the trip to South Bend with his family, and all indications are he enjoyed the visit and intends to return for an official visit at a later date.

Notre Dame will have a battle on its hands with the Trojans for the blue-chip athlete that boasts a 4.49 40-yard dash time, but it’s the kind of battle head coach Brian Kelly’s staff has won before after flipping 5-star linebacker Daelin Hayes from Southern Cal during the last recruiting cycle.

Corey Malone-Hatcher
Hometown: Saint Joseph, MI
Position: DE
Star Ranking: Rivals 4-star; ESPN 4-star; 247 Sports 4-star
Top Offers: Alabama, Michigan, Ohio State

It shouldn’t be a surprise to see Corey Malone-Hatcher’s name on the list of Junior Day attendees considering he’s visited Notre Dame over a dozen times in the past year. And despite the fact he stayed an additional night to get in more quality time with the team, Notre Dame has some more work to do here given Malone-Hatcher’s stated interest in programs like UCLA and Michigan.

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Notre Dame needs Keith Gilmore to channel the same magic with Malone-Hatcher that he used when luring fellow Michigan native Khalid Kareem to South Bend.

Tarik Black
Hometown: Cheshire, CT
Position: WR
Star Ranking: Rivals 4-star; ESPN 4-star; 247 Sports 4-star
Top Offers: Alabama, Michigan, Tennessee

Not too many elite prospects are produced in Connecticut, but then again there aren’t too many wide receivers that stand 6-feet-3 inches and can run a 4.4 40-yard dash. Tarik Black’s size and speed are drawing some of the nation’s top programs to the Constitution State.

Black’s recruitment is still in its infancy but so far the early favorites include Stanford, UCLA and Notre Dame. The No. 125 prospect according to Rivals.com praised his recent West Coast excursion, and this weekend stayed an additional night at the conclusion of Notre Dame’s Junior Day.

Wide receiver might not be an area of urgent need for the Irish, but Black is too talented not to pursue aggressively.

Kurt Hinish
Hometown: Pittsburgh, PA
Position: DT
Star Ranking: Rivals 3-star; ESPN N/R; 247 Sports 3-star
Top Offers: Baylor, Nebraska, Tennessee

Don’t let the star ranking fool you – Kurt Hinish is an important piece of Notre Dame’s recruiting puzzle. One look at the Pittsburgh Central Catholic standout’s highlight reel and you’ll see a run-stuffer with an explosive first step, and one even capable of gaining penetration into the backfield despite being triple-teamed. Hinish would be a great pickup for Notre Dame on his own but the possibility of being a packaged deal adds intrigue to his recruitment.

Hinish is high school teammates with 4-star inside linebacker David Adams, Notre Dame’s most recent commitment who boasts an offer list including the likes of LSU and Michigan, and both have expressed interest in playing together at the next level.

Hinish made this watch list due to previous statements about his affinity for Notre Dame, but Irish fans should keep an even closer eye on Hinish’s recruitment now that he has announced his intention to make a commitment 24 hours after Adams made his decision public. A decision shortly after a visit to Notre Dame is nearly always a good sign, but given Adams’ pledge the expectation is Hinish will announce his intention to play on Saturdays in South Bend.

Scott Janssen is a blogger for the Huffington Post and has authored 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 scottjanssenhp@gmail.com, or follow him on Twitter.

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