This weekend, Notre Dame appears ready to hosts its biggest recruiting weekend of the season and impress prospects at the expense of USC.
It’s already been an incredibly tumultuous week at USC. After a coaching change, a season-ending injury to a starting center and multiple decommitments from recruits, Notre Dame appears all too eager to send USC continuing down its spiral. The Fighting Irish are set to host as many as 15 official visitors and upwards of 40 total visitors.
Quarterback commit Ian Book, who committed to Notre Dame in early August -- flipping his commitment from Washington State -- will be on hand as an official visitor and is one of several California prospects making the trip. He’ll be joined by wide receiver Javon McKinley and safety Brandon Burton on official visits, as well as running back Darian Cornay on an unofficial visit. This isn’t the first time the Irish have brought in several of their top California prospects for a game against USC.
In 2011, Notre Dame hosted Californians Jordan Payton, Bryce Treggs, Deontay Greenberry, Tee Shepard, Byron Marshall, Arik Armstead, Shaq Thompson and Ishmael Adams, as well as national prospects Zach Banner, KeiVarae Russell and John Theus. Following a 14-point loss that year, Notre Dame eventually signed just one of the California prospects, though Shepard quickly left the school. In 2013 -- where visitors saw a close Notre Dame win -- the Irish brought in Tyler Luatua, Juju Smith-Schuster, Damien Mama, Michiah Quick and Erik Brown from California. Though it signed just Luatua from that group, Notre Dame saw much better results with that overall weekend, signing national recruits Corey Holmes, Nyles Morgan, Nick Watkins and Alex Bars.
Neither Book nor McKinley set their official visits for this weekend solely because it was USC and Notre Dame coaches didn’t push either of them to be in town for the rivalry game, but Notre Dame coaches weren’t going to turn them away from visiting with the Trojans in town.
“It was by far the best one to go to with my schedule and their schedule,” said Book, an El Dorado Hills, Calif. native. “When I picked it, all the coaches said that’s a good game, probably the best one to go to.”
Both McKinley and Book appeared likely to wind up at USC in the very early stages of their recruitments. That relationship has cooled during the process and now Notre Dame could author signature recruiting wins if it is able to lure both Southern California prospects to South Bend.
Notre Dame will have an opportunity to deliver a serious blow to USC with another visitor as well, as former USC commit Daelin Hayes will be on campus. Hayes was a longtime Trojans commit, but announced his decommitment earlier this week, shortly after coach Steve Sarkisian was place on leave.
Linebacker Jeffrey McCulloch, cornerback Damar Hamlin and defensive end Khalid Kareem, all ESPN 300 players, are also scheduled to be on campus. The Irish are hosting so many players the head coach Brian Kelly is concerned his staff won’t get enough time with every visiting recruit.
“Every year we sit down and we go, ‘We’re only going to take 13 (official visitors), we’re only going to take 12,’” said Kelly, of trying to limit official visitors, “and then we go back into another staff meeting and then John Smith, who runs the 4.2 and benches 700 pounds is available to come up and we say, ‘Okay, let’s bring him up.’”
The “John Smith” this week is Kareem, who decommitted from Alabama on Wednesday and immediately set this official visit to Notre Dame.
Book has been speaking with a number of these visitors in anticipation of the weekend, but this is likely to be another eye-opening experience for him as he spends time around these recruits.
“When I committed to Washington State, we had some big-time recruits and I was excited to be a recruiter,” Book said. “And I’m not banging on any of them, but once I committed to Notre Dame, it was a whole new ballgame with the level of recruits -- all the guys committed to Notre Dame that are playing in All-American games and in the ESPN 300. It’s just a different level.”