For the first time last year, Notre Dame football held the type of summer camp that many other premier programs have been holding for a while now - an event dubbed Irish Invasion by the staff, as much geared towards evaluation and relationship building as actual camp work. The camp paid immediate dividends in the 2015 recruiting cycle, solidifying relationships with then-commits Jalen Guyton, Tristen Hoge, Jerry Tillery, Trevor Ruhland, Shaun Crawford, Elijah Taylor, Brandon Tiassum, Micah Dew-Treadway, and Nicco Fertitta, and building significant inroads with eventual signees Dexter Williams, Josh Adams, and Te'Von Coney.
So that's great. But, as any true recruitnik could tell you, the true value of these camps often lies less in the current cycle than in future cycles - and we see some of that effect from the first Irish Invasion in the 2016 cycle too, with a commitment from Liam Eichenberg and solid relationships built with Luke Farrell, Parker Boudreaux (who ended up not making it but did start talking to the staff back then), and potential flip candidate Daelin Hayes. This year's camp will similarly look to put down some roots with some excellent 2017 prospects, but also, due largely to the staff turnover that set everything back a bit with evaluation, it will also play an enormous role in the 2016 cycle. No pressure, guys...
Without further ado, then, the roster of prospects who have said they'll make it to Irish Invasion 2015. All rankings are from the 247 Composite, and given as overall/position ranking. Where possible I've linked the player's name to his Hudl, YouTube, or other highlights. Please remember that this list is neither exhaustive nor final - the only constant is change. If a player is listed here it's because he said he's coming, but that's not a guarantee that he'll actually be there.
Something immediately jumps out about this list - seven out of eight visitors are classified as pro-style quarterbacks, including all seven from the 2017 class. A statistical blip, or an indication of Sanford's preference? Classifications are very subjective, of course, and keep in mind that both Gunner Kiel and Deshone Kizer were classified as pro-style, so it's not like we didn't go after those guys before Sanford got here. But it's interesting and bears watching.
Xavier Gaines, 2016, #279/#10 (dual threat) - Gaines is a dark-horse candidate for the 2016 cycle. He's drawing a ton of interest from Southern teams and he may be tough to pull out of the region, but he's a name to keep an eye on, especially if the Irish don't land Hunter Johnson or if that saga starts to drag out.
Hunter Johnson, 2017, #9/#1 (pro-style) - With all due respect to Xavier, Johnson is unquestionably the main story line among the signal callers in camp, and in fact one of the main story lines overall. Quarterback dominoes in the 2016 and 2017 classes depend on what Johnson decides to do, as he is the staff's clear #1 target at the position in both classes. Mike Sanford has made a big impression on Hunter and his family.
Lindell Stone, 2017, #220/#9 (pro-style) - no offer - Stone goes to Woodberry Forest in Virginia, which has given the Irish Doug Randolph, Greer Martini, and CJ Prosise. Not bad. He also got an offer from UCLA as a freshman. They're not in the picture now, but Texas is, even without an offer, and will be tough competition. Follow?
Tyler Lytle, 2017, #328/#15 (pro-style) - no offer - Lytle has been on the road a lot this spring, making visits to Arizona State, Arizona, Miami, Florida, Central Florida, UCLA, and Alabama. The Servite product may be leaning to Miami, where he just camped, but an Irish offer could shake things up.
Sean Clifford, 2017, unranked (pro-style) - no offer - Clifford hopes to earn a Notre Dame offer in camp. While he doesn't have a Composite ranking yet, Big Five programs have definitely started to notice him this spring. Since March, he has picked up offers from Pitt, Cincinnati, Louisville, West Virginia, Missouri, Boston College, Northwestern, and Kentucky. Keep tabs on this young man.
Dante Sparaco, 2017, unranked (pro-style) - no offer - Sparaco will be one of a handful of repeat Irish Invasion campers. He clearly likes Notre Dame - he also visited on his own dime last September for the Michigan game - but he hasn't earned an offer yet and it seems unlikely he will. The only offer the Coloradan holds now is from Colorado State, and that was extended when Jim McElwain was still there; one wonders if Sparaco could be a preferred walk-on candidate.
Tony Jones Jr., 2016, #301/#13 - Notre Dame commit - Jones notably became Notre Dame's first-ever recruit from IMG Academy back in March, and went right to work recruiting some of his teammates. Some of that work has paid off, as you'll note below in the safeties section (tease!). Jones was just at the Sound Mind Sound Body camp in Detroit and will head to The Opening in Oregon in July. Busy, busy, busy.
Toks Akinribade, 2016, #641/#36 - no offer - The Hoosier State prospect is Hunter Johnson's teammate, but it looks like the Irish still will hold off on offering for now. With room for only two backs in this class and Tony Jones on board, they can afford to be choosy.
AJ Dillon, 2017, #163/#17 - no offer - Dillon displays a tantalizing combination of size and speed, reporting a 4.6 40 at about 230 pounds. Perhaps most interesting to Irish fans is the fact that Dillon is Irish legend Tom Gatewood's grandson. There's a solid chance that Dillon could earn an offer in camp, and that Notre Dame would become a serious player here if that happens.
Biaggio Ali-Walsh, 2017, unranked - no offer - Continuing the trend of generational connections, Biaggio is the grandson of The Greatest; he also plays for Las Vegas powerhouse Bishop Gorman. Yes, that Ali, and that Bishop Gorman that can claim three current Irish players. Don't expect that "unranked" thing to last very long - he ran a laser-timed 4.41 40 at The Opening regional event in Los Angeles. As a smaller speed back he would be an excellent complement to Dillon. A guy can dream.
Ahmir Mitchell, 2016, #76/#6 athlete - It's not easy to project what position Mitchell will get most of his minutes at, but it is easy to understand why: He's a phenomenal athlete. Notre Dame could play him at receiver or safety or even both, like Juju Smith at USC. From a trio of New Jersey prospects who had to cancel Junior Day visits due to a snowstorm, Mitchell is the only one who is now actually making the visit. The Irish will get a big chance here with one of the best athletes in the country.
Marquez Callaway, 2016, #91/#8 athlete - While many consider Georgia to be the leader by default for the Peach State standout, his recruitment has been fairly quiet and it's hard to know exactly where anyone stands. He has expressed sincere interest in the Irish before, though, after good work by Autry Denson and Scoot Booker to get on his radar. Could the Irish impress Callaway enough to earn an official visit?
Javon McKinley, 2016, #105/#14 - You may remember that McKinley visited in March and scheduled an official visit for the USC game this fall. There were some questions about whether he would make it to Irish Invasion, but he confirmed last week that he will in fact be in town. There's quite a bit of sentiment out there that USC could get him if they really wanted to, but there's no question that the Irish have made quite an impression on Javon and his family and are in good shape with him.
Donnie Corley, 2016, #112/#18 - Corley is another repeat Irish Invasion attendee, though to be honest it was kind of a surprise when I heard recently that he would returm; Michigan State has seemed pretty firmly in the lead for a while now, as they often are for kids from Detroit Martin Luther King. Notre Dame will probably get one more chance to make a big impression here.
Kevin Stepherson, 2016, #634/#96 - Stepherson is one of those guys whose cohort doesn't match his ranking; you wouldn't think that the 634th best player in the country would be worthy of offers from Notre Dame, LSU, Florida, Miami, Michigan, Michigan State, North Carolina, and West Virginia, among others. Stepherson is very high on the Irish and is the guy probably most on commit watch out of all the attendees.
Chase Claypool, 2016, #940/#145 - The #1 player in Canada also attended the Sound Mind Sound Body camp, where the elite coaches of the Midwest saw him firsthand and raved. Claypool is a fascinating prospect - somewhat mysterious as he's from an out-of-the-way town in British Columbia, possessing a college-ready physique at 6'5" and 205 pounds, and with the potential to move to outside linebacker or rush end. How often do you hear that about a receiver? Worth noting is that Claypool has specifically praised the work of Mike Denbrock, who more skeptical Irish fans doubt as a recruiter, in building a relationship.
Craig Yeast, 2017, #201/#31 - no offer - Yeast's recruitment has been on the rise lately*, picking up offers from Louisville, Maryland, Illinois, Iowa, and Indiana over the last two months. Irish Invasion will be his third camp in the last week, after Michigan State and Ohio State, as he tries to earn some higher-profile offers.
* I couldn't help it. I'm sorry.
Jaevon McQuitty, 2017, unranked - no offer - McQuitty just claimed his first scholarship offers, from Nebraska and Kansas. That will undoubtedly change as he hits the camp circuit; already, Rivals named him the top underclassman at their St. Louis camp in May.
Josh Palmer, 2017, unranked - no offer - The big target (6'3"/190 as a junior) holds only two scholarship offers right now, one from Temple and one from Michigan, and is also drawing some interest from Michigan State. While he'll play ball for powerhouse St. Thomas Aquinas in Florida next year, he's actually from Ontario and will move south in the offseason; the interest from the two Michigan schools isn't as random as it might seem at first. Palmer hopes to earn a Notre Dame offer this weekend.
Noah Turner, 2016, #713/#31 - no offer - The Carmel Catholic product was just at Sound Mind Sound Body, where he was interviewed by Rivals. He said North Carolina is his leader but he'd give serious consideration to Notre Dame if they offer. Unfortunately, he's probably a fallback option for both Cary Angeline and Luke Farrell, so he may have to wait for a while.
Brock Wright, 2017, #57/#1 - Wright received an offer when he visited for Junior Day in March and the Irish immediately became serious players here. 247 analysts Steve Wiltfong and Tom Loy put Crystal Ball predictions in for the Irish as soon as Wright was offered - intriguing... Something else to watch here is that Mike Sanford is personally handling Wright's recruitment.
Cole Kmet, 2017, unranked - no offer - Kmet will arrive at Irish Invasion having just camped at Ohio State, where he picked up an offer from the Buckeyes. His father Frank played defensive end for Purdue, but interestingly, the Boilermakers aren't really in the picture at this point. He visited South Bend in April and will look to pick up an offer this time around.
Matt Dotson, 2017, unranked - no offer - Dotson also just picked up an offer at Ohio State's camp. Dotson also holds a Tennessee offer and has visited Knoxville before, so it's safe to assume the main competition is those two schools.
Tommy Kraemer, 2016, #39/#5 OT - Notre Dame commit - Kraemer was the first commit in the 2016 cycle and has been as solid as that status suggests he would be. He rebuffed Urban Meyer a couple of months ago and has been working hard to recruit other top targets. He also just put on a dominant show at The Opening regionals and earned an invite to the finals in July.
Liam Eichenberg, 2016, #99/#12 OT - Notre Dame commit - Eichenberg broke Meyer's heart again in spurning the Buckeyes for the Irish, and has been just as solid as Kraemer. They should be bookend tackles on the Notre Dame line of the future.
Jedrick Wills, 2017, #118/#18 OT - Wills picked up a Notre Dame offer in April. He also holds offers from Alabama, Florida, Florida State, Louisville, Michigan State, South Carolina, and hometown Kentucky. So, he's pretty good. He was just named one of the top underclassmen at the Rivals Five-Star Challenge in Baltimore, and competition will be fierce - but he'll be here, and that's a huge first step.
Matt Bockhorst, 2017, #270/#7 OG - no offer - It would indeed be a stunning development if Bockhorst doesn't finally earn his Notre Dame offer in camp. The Irish are in good shape in his recruitment, despite some of the hand-wringing you might read, and may even be in the driver's seat.
Dillan Gibbons, 2017, #292/#31 OT - Notre Dame commit - Gibbons made 2017 the third consecutive Notre Dame recruiting cycle that began with a commitment from a then-offensive lineman, joining 2016's Tommy Kraemer and 2015's Jerry Tillery. Gibbons is as solid as they come.
Daniel Joseph, 2016, #263/#15 SDE - no offer - Joseph will camp at Notre Dame in the hopes of earning an offer. He has offers already from Duke, Stanford, and Vandy, so he's smart; he also has offers from Michigan, Michigan State, and Penn State, so he can play. Michigan and Penn State are in front, but if he gets an Irish offer that could change.
Tomon Fox, 2016, #524/#33 WDE - One of the more recent offers on the defensive line, Fox is an intriguing prospect whose recruitment is beginning to heat up. North Carolina has long been in front for Fox, but he scheduled his Irish Invasion trip immediately after getting his offer and is likely to give Notre Dame a real look. Fox also has offers from Auburn, Georgia Tech, Miami, Missouri, Penn State, Tennessee, UCLA, West Virginia, and Wisconsin, among others.
Jeremy Darvin, 2016, #621/#44 DT - no offer - Darvin is another prospect who will camp in the hopes of earning an offer from the Irish staff. With defensive tackle not really a position of need in this cycle, Darvin will probably have to wow the staff to earn that offer.
Luiji Vilain, 2017, #82/#4 WDE - no offer - Vilain just visited Notre Dame last week and, in his own words, was "blown away" by everything about the school. He even mentioned how his mother would be excited that it's a Catholic school. There's a strong chance that Vilain will earn an offer in camp.
James Hudson III, 2017, #136/#5 SDE - no offer - Hudson is yet another prospect who could earn an offer this weekend. He only has offers from Iowa, Kentucky, Toledo, and West Virginia to date, but Ohio State and Michigan State are interested. Entry into the Finer things Club (automatic for anyone with a III or higher on his name) could perhaps sway him to Notre Dame.
Vandarius Cowan, 2017, #167/#9 WDE - FSU commit - Cowan just committed to the Seminoles a week ago but, interestingly, is still visiting Notre Dame for Irish Invasion. We'll see what the staff can do to sow the seeds of a flip. Cowan is a former teammate of current early enrollee freshman Te'Von Coney.
Corey Malone-Hatcher, 2017, #193/#10 WDE - Malone-Hatcher attended Irish Invasion last year and has made a few visits to Notre Dame since then. He could be a tough pull away from Michigan and Michigan state, but anyone who has visited as often as he has must have real interest.
Robert Beal, 2017, #203/#11 WDE - Another guy whose cohort outshines his ranking, with offers from Alabama, Auburn, Georgia, Florida, and Florida State. The Irish are legitimate players here, with Georgia and Florida State looking like the main competition.
Caleb Kelly, 2016, #18/#3 OLB - The addition of Kelly to the Irish Invasion roster is one of the biggest story lines of the camp. Yes, he's from Fresno, which has been unkind to us and very kind to Oklahoma the last few years, but if Kelly is legitimately interested you have to chase him. The staff will hope to convince Kelly to take an official visit this fall.
Chase Pine, 2016, #815/#58 OLB - no offer - Pine is very high on Notre Dame and really wants to earn an offer this weekend. He has some stuff to square away in the classroom; if that is not an obstacle, the Irish will be tough to beat here. The main competition here is Georgia, North Carolina Sate, North Carolina, Pitt, and Virginia Tech.
Bryce Ray, 2018 ILB - no offer - It's hard to find much information out there about Ray, which isn't exactly surprising since the Ohioan just finished his freshman year of high school. Perhaps that will change after this weekend.
Eric Cuffee, 2016, #266/#23 - Notre Dame had been hanging out on the fringes of Cuffee's recruitment - getting him to Irish Invasion is excellent work by the staff. Actually pulling him out of Texas may ultimately prove too difficult, though.
Carlos Becker, 2016, #431/#39 - Becker just named his top ten "not in order," and Notre Dame, who had extended an offer shortly before, was in the list. Florida State, who is the 247 Crystal Ball favorite, was not. Go figure.
Davonte Robinson, 2016, #1071/#106 - Kentucky commit - Robinson has been committed to hometown Kentucky since October, but when the Irish offered in April he showed some interest immediately. So far Kentucky and Notre Dame are his only offers; the staff obviously sees something they like there.
Simeon Gatling, 2016, #1988/#136 - no offer - The two-star prospect is a potential preferred walk-on candidate or, gasp, is actually coming to camp just to work on his game. Such a novel idea...
Tyrell Ajian, 2017, #43/#3 athlete - One of the most electrifying athletes in the 2017 class, Ajian recently picked up a Notre Dame offer and is very interested. He could see time on offense and special teams as well, but the staff is primarily targeting him as a corner.
Ambry Thomas, 2017, #149/#11 - The teammate of 2016 WR target Donnie Corley, and like Corley a repeat Irish Invasion attendee. Will this year's visit earn the talented Michigander an offer?
Jonathan Sutherland, 2017, unranked - no offer - Sutherland is a teammate, countryman, and fellow transfer student with 2017 DE target Luiji Vilain and 2017 S Patrice Rene - all are from Canada and all will play in Virginia next year. Sutherland is due for significant bump when updated ratings come out and would be an excellent get for the Irish. He and Vilain visited last week and are back again for camp; many expect them both to get an offer this weekend.
Houston Griffith, 2018 - no offer - Griffith is an Illinois legacy - his father Howard played running back for the Illini and went on to earn a couple of Super Bowl rings with the Broncos. Not surprisingly, Illinois is one of his two early offers (Kentucky is the other); despite legacy status, though, it looks like Griffith wants to shop around at this point. When Composite rankings come out for the 2018 class, there's a pretty good chance that Griffith will be a top-50 level guy.
Cameron Lewis, 2016, #275/#14 - LSU commit - The Irish have been working on Lewis for a while, with Todd Lyght doing excellent work to get the Louisianan in for Irish Invasion. It seems most likely that Lewis will stick with LSU, but the Irish will give it their best shot.
Craig Watts, 2016, #283/#16 - Watts is close with Tony Jones, who has been instrumental in getting him to South Bend for camp. He's a big hitter and a great athlete who could potentially play either safety spot.
Patrice Rene, 2016, #348/#33 cornerback - no offer - The third in our list of the Canadian Virginia triumvirate, Rene is also the hardest to pin down as far as legitimate interest in either direction. Ohio State and Rutgers are his leaders now, with a very ACC flavor - North Carolina, Syracuse, and Virginia Tech - making up the next group.
Ikenna Okeke, 2016, #505/#32 - Arguably the staff's top target at safety, Okeke is a Mayock-approved dude, a big guy with athleticism to spare. Okeke is a high academic prospect who also holds offers from Stanford, Northwestern, and Vanderbilt. He is very high on the Irish and can safely be considered on commit watch this weekend.
Devin Studstill, 2016, #506/#33 - Studstill is why Okeke is "arguably" the staff's top target - the two together are clearly top of the board guys for VanGorder and Lyght. Studstill is freakishly athletic and considered by pretty much every analyst to be severely underrated (which raises the question of why he's still underrated, but I digress). The Irish are in excellent shape here with Te'Von Coney's former teammate.
Spencer Perry, 2016, #575/#38 - Florida commit - Perry is an IMG teammate of Tony Jones, and not surprisingly, Tony has again done good work in recruiting his friend. As has Autry Denson - we're not taking anything away from the rookie coach here, who is making a name for himself on the recruiting trail. A flip is a possibility.
Tyquan Statham, 2016, #619/#39 athlete - Statham is a monster of a safety prosect at 6'2" and 213 pounds - in fact, he could end up a hybrid safety/linebacker like Drue Tranquill. Academics are important to Statham, who just visited Duke and will also visit Stanford over the summer.
Chacho Ulloa, 2016, #628/#42 - Ulloa is a versatile athlete who just happens to be Javon McKinley's best friend; the pair has talked quite a bit about playing together at the next level. While USC is the lurking competition for McKinley, though, the main competition for Ulloa is Stanford. This is Ulloa's second visit on his own dime, and he already has an official visit scheduled for the USC game.
Jalen Elliott, 2016, #658/#47 athlete - The big question here is how serious anyone other than Virginia Tech is here, since Elliott's parents are both former Virginia Tech athletes. He says they're not pushing him and his recruitment is wide open, which is probably true. However, Tech was on the under-the-radar prospect long before anyone else and that relationship may be hard to overcome. We'll know more after this weekend.
Jeremiah Jones, 2016, #1090/#68 - Jones committed to West Virginia back in September, but decommitted a couple of weeks ago. He has been on the staff's radar and could earn an offer when the staff sees him in person, although as you can see here, it's a crowded safety field in this cycle for Notre Dame. Jones has said that he has always been a Notre Dame fan, so expect the Irish to be in good shape if they do offer.
For the second straight year, none. Sorry, PunterBro. Better luck next year.