The Notre Dame Fighting Irish football program signed a whole class of new recruits today, so I wanted to look at both sides of the ball and chat a little about the guys who I think are bonafide, surefire stars coming in, and the guys who are flying under the radar a bit but could ultimately end up as very important contributors on the field.
So, let’s take a look at 3 stars and 3 sleepers on the defensive side of things!!!
The 2019 class is HEAVY on defensive star power, with 10 of the top 14 247sports.com-rated players in the class calling that side of the ball home.
Thus, it was a tough decision to pick just 3 guys who are stars, and also tough to call 3 of them “sleepers” considering the majority of them are 4-star, highly-thought-of prospects. But, here we go anyway.
Three Stars (Not to Be Confused With 3-Stars)
Kyle Hamilton - S, 6’3”, 195 lbs.
Kyle Hamilton is a freak athlete and the highest-ranked guy in the class, according to 247sports (they have him at #22 in the country, just barely outside of 5-star territory). His combination of size and speed at safety are enough to make any defensive coordinator salivate, and his ball skills make him an elite ball-hawking safety who will absolutely force a bunch of turnovers in his Notre Dame career. Add in his clear love of contact and how quickly he’s shot up different recruiting rankings this season and it’s clear that Hamilton is going to come to ND and immediately push guys like Derrik Allen and Houston Griffith for playing time behind Alohi Gilman and Jalen Elliott. Hell, maybe he will even make a run at earning a little time at nickel next season — he’s gonna be difficult to keep off the field early on.
Nana Osafo-Mensah - DE, 6’4”, 231 lbs.
Osafo-Mensah is the kind of defensive line recruit that the Irish usually struggle to bring in. He’s an elite, highly-ranked defensive end out of Texas who will immediately compete for time at the very least in providing a pass rush on 3rd downs. His signing is especially crucial considering Khalid Kareem and Julian Okwara could be thinking about leaving early for the NFL, and even if they don’t the recruiting at DE since then has been sparse enough to mean Osafo-Mensah could very well leap into the rotation immediately — he’s THAT physically gifted.
Jacob Lacey - DT, 6’2”, 285 lbs.
With Jerry Tillery graduating, this was another huge signing for Clark Lea and the Irish defense. Guys like Kurt Hinish, Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa, and Jayson Ademilola should all be key rotation guys next year, but none have yet shown they can be as effective in the middle as Tillery. Jacob Lacey brings ready-to-contribute talent and size that will add much-needed depth to the position, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he began getting some serious reps as part of that committee that will be used to replace Tillery’s production.
Honorable Mentions (Sorry, This Defensive Class is Too Good to Not Mention Some More Absolute Studs)
Litchfield Ajavon - S, 6’0”, 189 lbs.
If Kyle Hamilton weren’t in this class, we’d be talking MUCH more about Ajavon’s athleticism and how useful it will be in the back end of the secondary. He’s got great range and closing speed and can REALLY lay some big hits on people. Along with Hamilton, Allen, and Griffith, and then with the returning starters Gilman and Elliott, the ND safety position has gone from a huge weakness to one of the greatest and deepest strengths of the program in just a couple years.
Also, Ajavon’s hair is DYNAMITE.
Isaiah Rutherford and KJ Wallace - CB, 6’0”, 175 lbs. and 5’10”, 187 lbs., respectively
Last year’s class did a good job of bringing in solid depth for a cornerback position that had been missed in previous classes, but there weren’t really any highly-rated, pure cover corners in the group who have separated themselves (MAYBE TaRiq Bracy is an exception considering he played pretty well this year in relief of Troy Pride Jr., but he has had his share of struggles as a true freshman and was more of a surprise contributor than a future star corner).
So, signing Rutherford and Wallace, two guys who are 4-star, highly-rated corners, is huge for adding high-level talent to a deep group, especially if Julian Love moves on to the NFL after this season and if Shaun Crawford isn’t the same player he was before yet another ACL tear.
Osita Ekwonu - LB, 6’2”, 220 lbs.
With the graduation of Te’von Coney, the addition of a talented, athletic inside linebacker like Osita Ekwonu is another huge pickup for the Irish in this class. He’s got elite athleticism for the position, flies to the ball, hits people VERY hard, and those people rarely seem to fall forward when he hits them. I could see Ekwonu, after a year in the weight room, potentially taking over in the middle of Clark Lea’s defense and roaming the field sideline-to-sideline, wreaking havoc on opposing ball carriers.
Hunter Spears - DT, 6’4”, 280 lbs.
Even as a pretty highly-rated DT recruit from Texas, Hunter Spears is being slept on in this class. Everyone is talking about Jacob Lacey and Nana Osafo-Mensah, and of course that hype was earned by them. But Spears is a big, surprisingly athletic guy who moves well for his size, is already very strong, and has the attitude needed to shed blockers on the inside and make plays. I think he’ll end up being a top-notch DT for the Irish in a couple years.
Marist Liufau - LB, 6’3”, 210 lbs.
Liufau has good speed and a big frame with which to develop with Balis over the next couple years. He’s aggressive, plays with a mean streak, and oh yeah...is a linebacker prospect from Punahou in Hawaii. The last linebacker ND got from there worked out alright, I’d say...
Jack Kiser - LB, 6’2”, 215 lbs.
Kiser is one of the lowest-rated guys in the class, and for pretty good reason considering he played in the lowest class of football in Indiana. However, the kid played QB and won Indiana Mr. Football his senior year, so you know he has some speed and athleticism upon which to build. I think with a few years in the weight room and at the training table, Kiser can be a solid contributor on defense by the end of his career, and potentially a special teams standout even earlier on in his time at ND.