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Sunday, April 21, 2024
The Observer

Irish add 12 recruits on defense during National Signing Day

Kyngstonn Viliamu-Asa, Linebacker

There’s a strong argument to be made that Kyngstonn Viliamu-Asa was the most important recruiting win of the 2024 cycle for Notre Dame. First, Viliamu-Asa is a tremendous player — he rates as a top-75 national recruit in the 247Sports composite ranking. But perhaps more notably, he comes from a powerhouse high school program in St. John Bosco. The Irish had to battle the likes of USC and Ohio State to add him to their class. Viliamu-Asa’s recruitment was seen as anyone’s game between those top three finalists up until his commitment announcement. His signing was a massive “proof of concept” point for Marcus Freeman, the type of recruiting win — against other top programs for a player at a football factory high school — that made the potential allure of his candidacy for head coach so strong.

So what is Notre Dame getting in Viliamu-Asa? Scouting reports describe him as a highly versatile player, the type of linebacker who can play a variety of different roles. This malleability could make him an asset for a relatively young Irish linebacker group that is likely still determining its rotations for next year. Viliamu-Asa has frequently been billed as an intelligent and instinctive player, traits that lend credence to the idea that he could fight his way to receiving snaps as a freshman. St. John Bosco’s defense is loaded with talent — over the last two recruiting cycles the Braves have had a combined eight defensive players with a four-star or higher ranking, per 247 — and it’s not a coincidence that Viliamu-Asa has shined among the best of the best.

Bryce Young, Defensive Line

No, he’s not the Heisman-winning Alabama quarterback who was the number one pick in last year’s NFL Draft. But Bryce Young has quite the football pedigree. His mom was a track star, while his father was Bryant Young, an NFL Hall of Famer and Notre Dame legend in the class of 1993. Notre Dame was the first player to offer Young back in the summer of 2022.

Young was on the smaller side back then, but he’s grown to 6-foot-5, 245 pounds. The Irish have always liked Young’s skillset. The four-star recruit out of Charlotte may play defensive line but the speed gifts from his parents are still a huge part of his game. Young’s background in wrestling and track and field shows in his ability to get off the line and maneuver around offensive linemen. Young has come just shy of 100 tackles each of the last two seasons. However, he took massive jumps in tackles for loss (33) and sacks (14) as a senior. He looks to be a fast riser who could make a difference for the Irish sooner rather than later.

Brauntae Johnson, Safety (E)

Brauntae Johnson is a 247 four-star rated prospect. He hails from Fort Wayne, Indiana, and played at North Side High School. While designated by some as an athlete, Notre Dame fully expects him to play safety, a position which he hasn’t necessarily focused on at North Side. Instead, Johnson spent most of his time playing as a wide receiver, while also playing on the North Side basketball team.

While his lack of experience at the position and his smaller frame are legitimate concerns, his pure athleticism and talent should more than make up for it. His transition into a collegiate safety might take a while. But if given the proper time, he can be a dynamic defender for the Fighting Irish. Notre Dame is building a bit of a track record in developing athletes into safeties, as Nagurski Award winner Xavier Watts committed to the Irish as a wide receiver before transitioning to safety.

Loghan Thomas, Edge (E)

Loghan Thomas, a consensus four-star from St. Edward High School in Lakewood, Ohio, committed to the Irish in May. The top-20 edge rusher in the nation chose Notre Dame over the likes of Georgia, LSU, Texas, Oklahoma and USC.

Thomas spent three years at Paetow High School in Katy, Texas, before finishing high school in the Cleveland area. He captured a state championship at both schools, posting 16 tackles for loss in the 2021 title season.

At the defensive end position, Thomas brings versatility, explosiveness and size to Notre Dame. He stands at 6-foot-3, 210 pounds with plenty of room to add weight as he enters college. With his ability to occasionally drop into an outside linebacker position, Thomas fits the mold of Notre Dame’s “vyper” defensive end.

Leonard Moore, Cornerback

Leonard Moore arrives at Notre Dame with a lanky 6-foot-2, 177-pound frame. Moore narrowly missed the cut-off to be considered a four-star by 247Sports but did earn that distinction from the 247Sports Composite. Moore hails from Round Rock, Texas, where he also played basketball and ran track, posting times in the 23-second range in the 200-meter dash. He burst onto the scene as a sophomore, earning Texas District 25-6A Co-Defensive Newcomer of the Year with a 40-tackle, 4-interception campaign.

That was Moore’s most productive high school season. But he’s still very much considered a vital piece of Notre Dame’s future secondary. The Irish are losing Cam Hart at corner but have several talented younger corners such as sophomores Benjamin Morrison and Jaden Mickey and freshman Christian Gray. Odds are Moore will be just a depth piece early on, but he has the tools to be a strong starter down the line.

Sean Sevillano Jr., Defensive Line (E)

Sean Sevillano Jr., a defensive lineman from Clearwater, Florida, is officially committed to Notre Dame. A three-star recruit, Sevillano ranked 63rd among defensive linemen in the 2024 class. He will provide much-needed size to the interior defensive line, an area where the Irish have been lacking in the past. Coming in at 315 pounds, Sevillano has impressive size with strength to match reflected by his weight room numbers.

At the point of attack, he may have some technique issues that will need to be addressed, especially when he can no longer bully his competition. While he won’t be brought in to get to the quarterback, he showed playmaking upside at Clearwater International, especially in the 2022 season, when he averaged well over a sack per game. With proper development over time, Sevillano should fit right in with this Irish unit.

Teddy Rezac, Linebacker

Viliamu-Asa deservedly has a ton of hype surrounding him. But he’s just one of three linebackers in Notre Dame’s haul. Omaha, Nebraska, native Teddy Rezac is another addition for defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Al Golden to mold. Rezac is listed as an athlete after playing both wide receiver and linebacker at Westside High School, where he also played baseball.

His senior year was easily his most productive on the defensive side of the ball. Rezac recorded 70 tackles while showing a knack for making big plays, forcing 5 fumbles and notching 4 interceptions. He currently measures at 6-foot-3, 195 pounds. The Irish recruited him as a rover, which makes sense given his wide skillset and ability to contribute in several areas.

Karson Hobbs, Cornerback (E)

Karson Hobbs committed to the Irish in November 2022 after de-committing from South Carolina in July of that year. Hobbs is a cornerback out of Cincinnati and attended Archbishop Moeller High School. He excelled on the defensive side of the ball for his high school. Standing at 6-foot-1 and 180 pounds, he combined excellent speed, superb catching ability and an ability to physically overpower receivers on their routes to receive six Division I offers.

His dynamic play earned him a three-star rating, with 247 giving Hobbs a composite score of 0.8811. He is currently ranked as the 52nd-best cornerback in the 2024 class and the 23rd-ranked player out of Ohio. He could be to be a competitive presence in what promises to be an elite secondary for the Irish next season.

Taebron Bennie-Powell, Safety

Listed as an athlete, Bennie-Powell played defensive back, linebacker and wide receiver at Lakota West High School in West Chester, Ohio. The three-star recruit received offers from Duke, Kentucky, Pitt and West Virginia, along with several other smaller schools. He enjoyed a breakout senior season that helped him garner national attention. The coaching staff hopes to tap into Bennie-Powell’s potential as he is the lowest-rated defensive back to sign with the Irish since Nicco Fertitta in 2015.

Part of the reason for his rating is Bennie-Powell was forced into linebacker duties while waiting for current Irish safety Ben Minich to graduate. At 6-foot-2, 203 pounds, Bennie-Powell has the frame to be a rangy safety with strong tackling ability. Given the success the Irish have had developing safeties in recent years (especially those late to the position like current senior Xavier Watts), Bennie-Powell is an intriguing prospect.

Bodie Kahoun, Linebacker

A two-sport athlete in football and lacrosse, Bodie Kahoun was offered by Notre Dame in February and announced his commitment on May 15. Kahoun is a three-star prospect who measures 6-foot-2, 214 pounds. Several ACC schools and top programs pursued Kahoun, including Florida State and Tennessee. Ultimately, the Roanoke, Virginia, native decided to come to South Bend.

Kahoun put up a large chunk of his high school production at Patrick Henry during his senior season. In 2023, he produced 203 of his 405 tackles, 27 of his 45 tackles for loss, 9 of his 15 sacks and 4 of his 6 forced fumbles. As a result, Kahoun earned First Team VSHL 6-A All-State honors, boosting the excitement around him.

Kennedy Urlacher, Safety

It’s difficult to not immediately notice Kennedy Urlacher’s name — he’s the son of former Bears legend Brian Urlacher. But the younger Urlacher is an accomplished player in his own right, as evidenced by the fact that Notre Dame had to overcome interest from schools like Miami and Penn State to earn his pledge. Unlike his father, a Hall of Fame linebacker, Urlacher plies his trade at safety. Unlike some other recruits in the Irish class, the Arizona native should have a chance to fight for reps early on.

Notre Dame’s safety room hinges on the potential return of Xavier Watts — if the 2023 breakout star comes back for another year in South Bend, then the Irish have a centerpiece to build their rotation at the position around. If Watts chooses the NFL draft, Notre Dame will likely turn to a competition between a young room that would get even younger with the likes of Urlacher, Johnson and Bennie-Powell. If Watts departs, Notre Dame will be returning essentially zero meaningful snaps at the safety position from 2023. Urlacher’s chance to earn a spot for 2024 could be as good as anyone’s.

Cole Mullins, Edge (E)

The Irish are seeking another solid year from the defensive line, and the commitment of defensive end Cole Mullins marks an important addition to this process. A three-star recruit from Hoschton, Georgia, Mullins is the nation’s No. 44 defensive end and Georgia’s No. 77 player.

Mullins declined offers from USC, Miami, North Carolina, Kentucky, Pittsburgh and Duke, among others, in favor of Notre Dame. Defensive line coach Al Washington and defensive coordinator Al Golden look to Mullins to add depth to the D-line with this 2024 recruit. In 2022, he put up 58 tackles, 10 for a loss and 6 of which were sacks.

Recruiting rankings via 247Sports

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