Notre Dame 2023 recruiting targets to watch: Top 10 prospects key to building on Marcus Freeman’s hot start (2022)

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Chansi Stuckey started his recruiting push on Jan. 24 in Texas, but the new receivers coach had to finish onboarding with Notre Dame before entering Del Valle High School just outside of Austin. Notre Dame’s hiring process, renowned for being protracted and meticulous, got over the finish line that day, about a week after Marcus Freeman made the decision to tab the former Clemson receiver and Baylor assistant to help the Irish fill in recruiting gaps at Stuckey’s position.

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When Stuckey finally got the green light that morning, he walked straight into Del Valle to reconnect with a former colleague and watch a four-star receiver work out. Stuckey’s three years with the New York Jets included working with an intern named Bobby Acosta, who is entering his second season at Del Valle after coaching at IMG. That means Acosta not only knows must-have receiver Carnell Tate, he’s also the current coach of four-star 2023 wideout Braylon James.

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Stuckey saw both in his first week on the job.

“(Stuckey) is gonna be a rock star in this profession,” Acosta said. “He knew every top receiver in the country. He said, ‘Coach, if I could have Carnell and Braylon in my first class, that would be amazing.’ Carnell is a five-star character kid. Same with Braylon. They’re similar that way.”

Stuckey spent more than three hours at Del Valle on his first day on the job, Acosta said, watching James work out in the morning and reconnecting with the head coach in the afternoon. Acosta had Stuckey autograph a Jets hat he had kept from his time in New York. Stuckey’s signature followed, joining the signatures of Bubba Franks, Dustin Keller, Kellen Clemens and Chad Pennington.

“He knows the process of recruiting. It’s all about relationships,” Acosta said. “I have one of the best athletes in the state of Texas, and to get the student-athlete, you really have to get in with the coach. We talked about Baylor, his career, how it took off from Clemson. Making it up to Notre Dame, he never thought he’d make it to a place like that. It’s the Mecca of the profession.”

Raising Notre Dame’s talent level will require more visits like these by Stuckey and the rest of the Irish staff as the recruiting calendar officially flips to the 2023 cycle. The Irish are still short a defensive coordinator — sources indicate Al Golden remains a lead contender while he coaches Cincinnati Bengals linebackers through Super Bowl prep — but are expected to round out the offensive staff with Gerad Parker from West Virginia. Sources indicated that the Mountaineers’ co-offensive coordinator will replace John McNulty as tight ends coach after McNulty’s departure to become offensive coordinator at Boston College. Former Indiana offensive coordinator Nick Sheridan, who recently moved to Washington, was also a candidate of interest.

Notre Dame is also expected to add running backs coach Deland McCullough from Indiana for the same position.

As for what these coaches will be chasing moving forward, the mandate from Freeman is clear. Either Notre Dame’s recruiting has to improve or its results won’t, particularly in the College Football Playoff, where a bottleneck of talent at Alabama, Clemson, Georgia and Ohio State has made reaching the national championship game increasingly difficult for everyone else.

How does Notre Dame become a better version of itself in the College Football Playoff era? Build on a strong start to the 2023 cycle.

Notre Dame already has eight commitments, all four-star prospects, with four slotted in the top 100 according the industry average rankings compiled by On3 Sports. Defensive end commit Keon Keeley, a five-star on On3, recently was offered and visited Alabama. This is the kind of prospect Notre Dame needs to sign in multiples to win in the College Football Playoff. So are these other 10 prospects, which will determine whether this cycle is the one when Notre Dame finds a new recruiting level.

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QB Dante Moore

The 6-foot-2, 195-pound quarterback from Detroit has been arguably Notre Dame’s top overall prospect regardless of position since the Irish moved early on the standout from King High School. Moore has already logged multiple visits to South Bend, including one in tandem with Carnell Tate. Offensive coordinator Tommy Rees visited twice during the January contact period. Marcus Freeman visited once. Moore is as top-20 prospect on all four major recruiting services, with the most serious interest from Notre Dame, Michigan and Michigan State. Moore was in East Lansing last weekend for the Michigan-Michigan State basketball game. The biggest wrinkle to this recruitment might be what happens with Jim Harbaugh and the NFL. Landing Moore would give Notre Dame its highest-rated quarterback prospect since Jimmy Clausen.

QB Christopher Vizzina

Tommy Rees flew to Birmingham, Ala., in January to visit Vizzina, who’s a priority target for Clemson and has connections to Dabo Swinney, an Alabama native. Notre Dame’s position here appears to be in the lead pack, with a visit to South Bend already in the books and the connection to Rees. Vizzina is a top-100 prospect on three of the four major services and doesn’t have offers from Alabama or Georgia, but he has one from just about everybody else around the SEC. It’s worth noting that Clemson (Cade Klubnik) and Alabama (Ty Simpson) signed five-star quarterbacks last cycle and Georgia got one a year earlier (Brock Vandagriff), plus a four-star this cycle (Gunner Stockton). In theory, Notre Dame should have more opportunity to pitch in its quarterback recruiting considering the wide-open nature of the position for the Irish right now, with Tyler Buchner, Drew Pyne and early enrollee Steve Angeli competing without a clear pecking order among them.

WR Carnell Tate

A top-20 overall prospect on On3, 247Sports and Rivals, Tate has been a known commodity for Notre Dame since his freshman season at Marist in Chicago. He transferred to IMG during his sophomore year in order to play when the fall 2020 high school football season in Illinois was wiped out. Tate has already made multiple visits to Notre Dame, and Notre Dame has made multiple visits to IMG, including Stuckey. Ohio State and Notre Dame have been going head-to-head for Tate for almost a year, even as Tate insists his recruitment is open. It’s too reductive to say Tate is a must-have for Notre Dame this cycle, as the receiver board is expansive. But the Irish have invested in the 6-foot-2, 178-pound athlete for years. At some point, beating Ohio State head-to-head in recruiting is a must in order to beat Ohio State on the field or win in the College Football Playoff.

WR Braylon James

Chansi Stuckey’s first recruiting visit, the Texas receiver appears to be a fit for Notre Dame on multiple levels. Del Valle head coach Bobby Acosta said James is a high academic prospect who happens to be 6-foot-4, 200 pounds and is a top hurdler. “He’s looking for academics,” Acosta said. “I told him about Notre Dame’s prestige, academics, you leave with branding, you can get a job anywhere in the world. It sets you up at the highest level.” On top of Notre Dame, James also holds offers from Stanford, Texas A&M, Texas, Baylor and USC. In other words, not only does James have a high-academics offer in hand, Stuckey already recruited him at Baylor. He’s a top-100 prospect on ESPN and Rivals and a four-star prospect on every network. Notre Dame’s recruitment is in its early days, but James’ academic inclination and prior relationship with Stuckey should keep the Irish in play.

CB Christian Gray

Assuming Notre Dame can hold onto its three current 2023 defensive back commitments — Peyton Bowen, Justyn Rhett and Adon Shuler — Gray would be the top priority to elevate Irish recruiting at the back of the defense. The cornerback is a top-200 prospect on the four major services, with Ohio State, LSU and USC on his offer list. Gray has made multiple visits to Notre Dame since Marcus Freeman’s promotion to head coach, including last weekend’s prospect day. He plays for DeSmet in St. Louis, and his former head coach Robert Steeples just landed on Brian Kelly’s staff at LSU. Among the 10 players on this list, Notre Dame’s position with Gray is probably the strongest moving into spring recruiting. If the Irish signed Gray, Bowen, Shuler and Rhett, it would give Notre Dame four defensive backs rated as top-200 prospects. It signed three top-200 defensive backs in the previous four cycles combined.

OT Charles Jagusah

The 6-foot-5, 280-pound offensive tackle from Rock Island, Ill., was one of the first stops for offensive line coach Harry Hiestand after his official hiring, similar to Braylon James and Chansi Stuckey. Three of the four major services rate Jagusah as a top-100 prospect, with On3 rating him No. 31 overall. The Midwest connections should help, as will Hiestand’s offensive line resume, on top of the uncertainty at Michigan. Notre Dame just signed back-to-back banner classes of offensive linemen, and the position usually projects well to Notre Dame. Jagusah could be flipped out for Monroe Freeling, Chase Bisonitis, Harris Sewell, Luke Montgomery or Sullivan Absher. All are national prospects, and Notre Dame is involved with each. Freeling and Absher are from the Carolinas. Montgomery is an Ohio product being chased by Ohio State. Sewell and Bisonitis have been Notre Dame targets for months. Ultimately, offensive line recruiting should come down to Hiestand’s choosing.

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DE Jason Moore

A unanimous top-100 prospect across the four networks, the 6-foot-6, 255-pound defensive end got a visit from head coach Marcus Freeman at DeMatha Catholic (Md.) during the January evaluation period. Moore has already returned the favor by visiting Notre Dame. In addition to the Irish, Alabama, Michigan, USC and Penn State have already offered. Notre Dame is overdue to take a top prospect out of DeMatha, which has been better to the Irish basketball program than to football. Even with Keon Keeley and Brenan Vernon committed, this needs to be a banner class of defensive end talent, comparable to Brian Kelly’s first haul that included Stephon Tuitt and Aaron Lynch. It’s early in the process, but the Freeman bounce and defensive line coach Al Washington’s first cycle should give Notre Dame a fighting chance with Moore.

WR Malik Elzy

A three-star on 247Sports and On3, the Chicago receiver is higher up the list with Notre Dame than he might be nationally. And there are multiple other receivers who could make this list: Kyle Kasper, Rico Flores, Jaden Greathouse, etc. Elzy is an interesting prospect because Notre Dame has already logged a lot of work recruiting him via Tommy Rees, with Marcus Freeman also pitching in. Elzy stars at Simeon High School, which Notre Dame last recruited seriously when it chased five-star defender Martez Wilson, who chose to sign with Illinois in 2007, Jimmy Clausen’s recruiting class. In a class that needs to go deep with receiver numbers, finding a local product who fits can boost the group. Notre Dame moved early on Elzy, who also holds offers from Michigan, Michigan State, Wisconsin and Ole Miss.

ATH Rodney Gallagher

Notre Dame could project Gallagher at multiple skill positions, with the 5-foot-11, 160-pound athlete capable of helping outside the numbers on either side of the ball. He already holds offers from Michigan, Michigan State, Penn State, Wisconsin and Texas. He’s a unanimous four-star prospect across the four recruiting services. He’s also a top-five player in Pennsylvania, which means the Nittany Lions will be tough to beat; Gallagher has already made multiple visits to State College. Beating James Franklin might require Marcus Freeman to be heavily involved in this recruitment, which Notre Dame’s head coach has indicated he’s willing to do across the board.

LB Troy Bowles

Could Notre Dame beat out Ohio State for Bowles after hiring his primary recruiter from Columbus in Al Washington? The Irish aren’t hurting at linebacker after last year’s class, but Notre Dame needs to build on what the defensive staff assembled last cycle. Bowles, the son of Tampa Bay defensive coordinator Todd Bowles, is a top-50 overall prospect on On3, 247Sports and ESPN. He attends Jesuit High School in Tampa, an area Notre Dame’s coaching staff hit during the January evaluation period. The Irish don’t need another banner linebacker haul this cycle, but continuing the trend of signing four-star talent is a must. Will a defense-first head coach help Notre Dame pull a surprise commitment from a prospect of Bowles’ caliber?

(Photo: Mark J. Rebilas / USA Today)

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