After finishing 4-8 in 2016, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish have revamped their coaching staff and have reorganized its recruiting efforts with signing day just around the corner. With the number of recruits flipping their decision, taking official visits to other schools while committed to others or opening their recruitment back up, you really couldn’t celebrate any commitments in this cycle until this week.
All five of Notre Dame’s early enrollee candidates have signed the paperwork to officially make them student-athletes in South Bend on Jauary 17th.
This time last year, five talented freshman also enrolled early in South Bend. WDE Daelin Hayes, SDE Khalid Kareem, Safety Spencer Perry, WR Kevin Stepherson and FS Devin Studstill all got an early feel for the academic rigors of being a student at Notre Dame. They began grinding it out with Paul Longo in the strength and conditioning program, and took part in spring camp and the Blue & Gold game.
They all saw the field in ‘16.
Daelin Hayes got a significant amount of reps- though not as many as fans would’ve liked, and is primed to improve the Irish’s pass rush in ‘17. Khalid Kareem got snaps at both DE spots, but seemed out of shape and didn’t make much of an impact. Kareem did get experience under his belt and will be counted on to man the SDE position with Jon Bonner and perhaps Jay Hayes next season. Spencer Perry saw limited action but the former IMG prep star will be in the discussion at Rover in Coach Elko’s defense this year. Kevin Stepherson filled in admirably for Torii Hunter Jr. and scored 5 touchdowns- including an impressive deep ball over Adoree Jackson in the season finale against rival USC. Stepherson will likely start at X WR this year. Devin Sudstill got a good portion of first team reps at FS last Spring in an attempt to motivate Max Redfield to perform at his 5 star ranking level. Redfield was dismissed from the team which resulted in Studstill starting most games in ‘16, which he will likely do again in ‘17.
Let’s have a look at the newest members of the class of 2021.
Aaron Banks - OL
The 6’7, 315 lb. El Cerrito, CA giant was a huge pull from the west coast for Harry Heistand. Banks, the #147 overall high school football player was heavily recruited by the likes of Michigan, UCLA, USC, Oregon, Nebraska among many other Power 5 schools. He held his decision very close to the chest making his decision announcement very exciting for Irish fans. Banks reported to the Nike Camp in Oakland at 344 pounds last May. Heistand advised big Banks that if he wanted to excel at the college level, he should drop the weight- and that’s exactly what he did. By losing around 30 pounds, Banks showed that he has the work ethic and desire to be great. Brian Kelly and Harry Heistand both made their pitch to Banks and his family at their home this winter and as a result they landed a major talent to one of the best offensive lines in the country. Banks could play both guard or tackle but many project him to play guard in South Bend. He joins a lot of young talent up front with Tommy Kraemer, Liam Eichenberg, Robert Hainsey and Joshua Lugg among others.
CJ Holmes - RB
CJ Holmes attended Notre Dame’s invite-only recruitment camp “Irish Invasion” last spring and the 6’0, 200 lb. running back out of Connecticut made big play after big play. He showed elite talent as a pass catcher, break-away speed and explosive cutting ability. Although he doesn't have a similar stature as former Irish running back and current Detroit Lions stud Theo Riddick, he possesses a similar skill set. He also has potential in the return game. Holmes, rushed for 1,168 yards and 11 TD’s for his high-ranked prep school this year. He will add another dynamic to a talented backfield including current starter Josh Adams, Dexter Williams who showed plenty of flashes in ‘16 and IMG academy’s Tony Jones who Kelly raved about in the Spring. The Notre Dame RB position is locked and loaded.
Robert Hainsey - OL
The #79 overall recruit in the nation chose the Irish over offers from LSU, Ohio State, Florida, Michigan and a list that included almost 30 Power 5 programs. Hainsey grew up near Pittsburgh but spent his junior and senior season at the #1 football prep program in the country, IMG Academy. He started at left tackle this year and received plenty of college level reps in practice lining up across from 5 star Defensive Ends Josh Kaindoh (Florida State commit) and Robert Beal (former Irish commit who sadly flipped to Georgia). Those reps proved to be very valuable as Hainsey, who recently weighed in at 295 pounds, man-handled top talent at the Under Armour All-America Camp. He received high-praise from coaches and took reps at Guard and Tackle spots. Although Hainsey has plenty of solid experience at tackle, he had better results at guard at the UA All-America game, and projects as a talented pulling guard in Heistand’s unit.
Isaiah Robertson - Safety
The 4 star Naperville, Ill. native turned down offers from Michigan State, Penn State, Iowa, Wisconsin among many other programs to join the Irish and help add much needed depth at safety, likely the Free Safety spot currently manned by last year’s early enrollee Devin Studstill. At 6’3 and 195 lbs., Robertson brings great size to Notre Dames defensive backfield and possesses great ball skills. From serving as his high school’s star WR, Isaiah Robertson excels at high-pointing footballs. He has tremendous jumping ability and when you watch his film, you see him making many big plays to put his team in position to win football games. He also has plenty of physical prowess in his game and knows how to drop the hammer on ball carriers. This kid is one of my favorite commits in this cycle and I expect great things out of him in the future and could very well see him being a solid contributer to special teams in ‘17.
Brock Wright - TE
Hall of Famer Deion Sanders took in practice at the Under Armour All-American Camp last week and stated that although he was seeing Brock Wright, for the first time, he was certain that the dominating Tight End from Texas will be playing in the NFL one day. Brock committed very early to Notre Dame and never wavered from his decision- despite being hounded by in-state Texas for his services as well as Alabama, Georgia, Oklahoma, USC, Stanford and just about ever Power 5 school. Wright is currently ranked #59 overall in the nation but there is speculation that he is due for a bump in ranking and possibly a fifth star after his dominant performance in the recent All-Star camp, where he was named captain and had 2 receptions for 45 yards and a two-point conversion. Considering Tight Ends aren’t typically targeted in the pass game at these camps, it was a very good showing to go along with his elite blocking skills. Wright will join fellow classmate and #3 ranked Tight End Cole Kmet, former #1 ranked Alize Jones, last years starter Durham Smythe, Nick Weishar and TE/H-Back Tyler Luatua to put together an embarrassment of riches for new offensive coordinator, Chip Long. This kid is widely considered the crown jewel of Notre Dame’s 2017 recruiting class.