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Meet the Notre Dame Fighting Irish class of 2023 commitments

Mike Singer06/19/22
Article written by:On3 imageMike Singer

MikeTSinger

Marcus Freeman
Marcus Freeman is in his first year as the Notre Dame head coach. (Chad Weaver/BGI)

Get to know the class of 2023 prospects committed to the Notre Dame Fighting Irish in this feature from BlueandGold.com.

We have provided background info on each of the commits below (in chronological order from the newest pledge to the oldest), and will continue to update this article each time Notre Dame lands a new commitment.

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Phoenix Pinnacle offensive tackle Elijah Paige

Height: 6-6.5

Weight: 307

Commitment date: June 10, 2022

On3 Consensus Ranking: No. 333 NATL, No. 23 OT and No. 6 player from Arizona.

Going into his Notre Dame official visit during the first weekend of June, Paige didn’t have the Fighting Irish on top of his list of favorite schools. But the visit couldn’t have gone better, as he informed the staff the day after returning home from South Bend that he wanted to commit to Notre Dame. Paige committed to the Irish over USC, UCLA, Michigan State, Washington and others.

Paige was named to the Arizona Interscholastic Association 6A All-Conference first team for his efforts in 2021. The local NBC news affiliate in Phoenix listed Paige to its “All-Fever” first-team offensive line. He was also on the 2021 Desert Valley All-Region first-team offensive line.

Paige junior film

Topeka (Kan.) Hayden interior offensive lineman Joe Otting

Height: 6-4

Weight: 270

Commitment date: June 7, 2022

On3 Consensus Ranking: No. 698 NATL, No. 64 IOL and No. 7 player from Kansas.

Otting’s recruitment with the Fighting Irish came together pretty quickly and without drama. He grew up loving Notre Dame, received an offer from the Irish in May, camped for the staff the first weekend of June at the Lineman’s Challenge and announced his pledge a few days later. Iowa, Kansas, Kansas State, Missouri, Baylor and Minnesota are among the other schools that were after Otting.

KHSAA Covered and Sports In Kansas list him on their respective 2021 Kansas All-Class 3A first-team offensive line. He’s on the second-team offensive line for the 2021 All-Gannett Kansas High School Football Teams. Otting was also listed in the inaugural TopSports.news Top 22 All-Shawnee County football team following his junior campaign.

Otting junior film

Lake Stevens (Wash.) High running back Jayden Limar

Height: 5-11

Weight: 190

Commitment date: May 26, 2022

On3 Consensus Ranking: No. 274 NATL, No. 15 RB and No. 4 player from Washington.

Lake Stevens (Wash.) High running back Jayden Limar picked Notre Dame over finalists Arizona, Michigan and Oregon. Limar was on campus for the Blue-Gold Game April 23, but a couple weeks before that visit, he had already informed the staff that he’d be committing to Notre Dame. It’s a big recruiting win for the Irish, landing a player who is drawing playing style comparisons to former Notre Dame running back Kyren Williams.

He helped lead Lake Stevens to an undefeated regular season, but his team fell in the 2021 4A Washington State title game. Limar totaled 1,918 yards from scrimmage and 25 scores on his way to earning The Herald‘s 2021 all-area first-team offense. He totaled 1,549 rushing yards and 20 touchdowns, plus 369 yards and four receiving scores. He also had a kickoff return touchdown.

Limar junior film

Belmont (N.C.) South Point offensive tackle Sullivan Absher

Height: 6-6

Weight: 297

Commitment date: May 13, 2022

On3 Consensus Ranking: No. 187 NATL, No. 15 OT and No. 6 player from North Carolina.

Some pundits felt that Absher was leaning towards Clemson, but it was actually Notre Dame that held a lead for the impressive offensive tackle prospect for much of the calendar year. While he was wanting to stretch his recruitment into the fall, Absher knew that he wanted to play for the Fighting Irish during his spring game visit in April. He committed to Notre Dame a few weeks later.

Absher was named to the 2021 Big South 3A first-team all-conference team. He helped pave the way for South Point to reach the 2021 North Carolina 3A state semifinals as a No. 16 seed. The Red Raiders finished the season 11-4 with their run-heavy offense, rushing for 3,973 yards and 50 touchdowns.

Absher junior film

Hagerstown (Md.) St. James School defensive lineman Devan Houstan

Height: 6-5

Weight: 270

Commitment date: May 7, 2022

On3 Consensus Ranking: No. 224 NATL, No. 28 DL and No. 6 player from Maryland.

Notre Dame beat out the likes of Michigan, Northwestern, Penn State, Pittsburgh, Rutgers and Wake Forest for Houstan. Houstan, who is actually from Mississauga, Ontario in Canada, only needed one visit to know that Notre Dame was the place for him. He was on campus in late January.

Houstan was named to the 2021 All-Mid-Atlantic Conference team for his efforts as a junior. He recorded 50 tackles (8.0 for loss), 7.5 sacks, two forced fumbles and one fumble recovery in leading St. James School to a 7-1 record. He was also listed on the 2021 Washington County Athletics Association first-team defense. He received the Yellott Award, which goes to his county’s top defensive lineman. Houstan’s older brother, Caleb, averaged 10 points and four rebounds per game for the Michigan basketball team in 2021.

Houstan junior film

West Roxbury (Mass.) Catholic Memorial defensive lineman Boubacar Traore

Height: 6-4

Weight: 254

Commitment date: April 27, 2022

On3 Consensus Ranking: No. 123 NATL, No. 15 DL and No. 3 player from Massachusetts.

Boubacar Traore committed to Boston College back in August of 2020 when he was just a sophomore and held onto that pledge until his decommitment March 12. At that point, it seemed like just a matter of time before he’d end up on Notre Dame’s commitment list. The Irish offered him in the fall of 2021 and built a strong connection with him. He committed to the Irish during his first visit to South Bend in late April.

Traore helped lead Catholic Memorial to a 13-0 season in 2021 capped off by a Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association Division 2 championship — the program’s first in 43 years. He made 40 stops and 10 sacks.

Traore sophomore film

Pfafftown (N.C.) Reagan offensive lineman Sam Pendleton

Height: 6-4

Weight: 295

Commitment date: April 25, 2022

On3 Consensus Ranking: No. 396 NATL, No. 29 IOL and No. 14 player from North Carolina.

Sam Pendleton announced a top-five schools list of Clemson, Michigan, N.C. State, Penn State and Virginia Tech on Feb. 1. Notre Dame offered him about six weeks later and instantly became a contender. He set a visit to see South Bend April 8, and it was his only trip to Notre Dame before his commitment later that month. The high-level combination of offensive line tradition and academics at Notre Dame made it a slam-dunk decision for Pendleton.

Pendleton was named to the 2021 Central Piedmont Conference All-Conference Football Team. He was also listed as a 2021 HSOT North Carolina All-State football first-team performer. Reagan High went 8-3 in 2021, and Pendleton helped pave the way for the Raiders to rush for 2,338 yards and 25 touchdowns on 307 carries as a team. Reagan High averaged 212.5 yards per game and 7.6 yards per carry.

Pendleton junior film

Round Rock (Texas) Stony Point wide receiver Braylon James

Height: 6-3

Weight: 174

Commitment date: April 19, 2022

On3 Consensus Ranking: No. 144 NATL, No. 23 WR and No. 27 player from Texas.

Notre Dame landing a pledge from four-star pass catcher Braylon James is a big deal. The Irish have struggled building strong depth and talent in the receiver room, and James helps the Irish in both departments right away. It was a strong recruiting win for the new position coach Chansi Stuckey.

James visited Notre Dame during the weekend of March 18 for the first time. He was leaning towards the Irish going into the weekend, and the Lone Star State product informed the staff during the visit that he’d be committing to them. He made that news public April 19.

James was named to the Texas All-District 26-6A first-team offense for his efforts in 2021. In 10 games as a junior last fall, James caught 47 passes for 568 yards and six touchdowns. He made 39 receptions for 419 yards and five scores as a sophomore. He is committed to playing in the 2023 Under Armour All-America Game in April 2021.

James junior film

Lawrence (Mass.) Central Catholic linebacker Preston Zinter

Height: 6-2

Weight: 220

Commitment date: Feb. 12, 2022

On3 Consensus Ranking: No. 429 NATL, No. 41 LB and No. 6 player from Massachusetts.

Preston Zinter visited Notre Dame as many times as he saw local Boston College, just to give folks an idea of how much he valued getting out to South Bend. He was at Notre Dame twice last summer, saw the Irish knock off USC 31-16 and made it back at the end of January for the visit that sealed the deal. It was a full staff effort in recruiting Zinter, and the lead recruiter was analyst Nick Lezynski, who actually took a position at Vanderbilt the day that Zinter committed to the Irish. Still, Zinter is expected to remain solid with Notre Dame.

Zinter, who was the 2021 Merrimack Valley Defensive Player of the Year and was named to the Massachusetts Super 26 all-state team, held offers from the likes of Georgia, LSU, Michigan, Ohio State and Penn State.

Zinter junior film

Denton (Texas) Guyer safety Peyton Bowen

Height: 6-0

Weight: 180

Commitment date: Jan. 1, 2022

On3 Consensus Ranking: No. 55 NATL, No. 6 safety and No. 9 player from Texas.

It came down to Alabama, Notre Dame, Oklahoma and USC for Denton (Texas) Guyer’s Peyton Bowen, and it was a rather easy choice for him to choose the Fighting Irish, especially after Lincoln Riley left the Sooners for the Trojans, plus the fact that Marcus Freeman was elevated to head coach. After committing to Notre Dame, Bowen has visited Ole Miss and Oklahoma, so there’s still a battle for the Irish to hold on to his pledge.

Bowen is an impressive prospect with his range, athleticism and playmaking ability, and he comes from one of the very best programs in Texas. He was named to the 2021 MaxPreps High School Football Junior All-America Team.

Bowen junior film

Merrillville (Ind.) Andrean linebacker Drayk Bowen

Height: 6-2

Weight: 215

Commitment date: Nov. 3, 2021

On3 Consensus Ranking: No. 75 NATL, No. 3 linebacker and No. 1 player from Indiana.

When Notre Dame offered Merrillville (Ind.) Andrean linebacker Drayk Bowen back on Feb. 12, 2021, it seemed like just a matter of time before the four-star recruit would eventually choose the Fighting Irish. While that ended up being true, it wasn’t as clear of a slam dunk as many thought it would be, as Auburn and Clemson were strong contenders throughout Bowen’s recruitment. But the option of staying close to home and strong recruiting efforts by Freeman and Co. proved to be too much for the Southern schools to overcome.

Bowen will also play baseball at Notre Dame. During his sophomore baseball season, Bowen played every position except catcher, and hit .400 with 26 runs scored, 16 runs batted in and a team-high 23 stolen bases, per NWI.com. He’s played both in the infield and outfield at the high school level.

Bowen junior film

Concord (Calif.) De La Salle tight end Cooper Flanagan

Height: 6-5

Weight: 222

Commitment date: Sept. 2, 2021

On3 Consensus Ranking: No. 206 NATL, No. 12 tight end and No. 14 player from California.

Notre Dame wants to keep its tight end tradition strong and should be able to do so with the addition of Concord (Calif.) De La Salle’s Cooper Flanagan in the 2023 cycle. Flanagan received his Notre Dame scholarship offer on Aug. 6, 2021 after a few months of building a relationship with former Irish tight ends coach John McNulty. Flanagan visited Notre Dame’s campus in June and loved his experience. At that point, it was clear that if Notre Dame offered Flanagan, he would end up choosing the Irish. Alabama, LSU and others are still pushing for Flanagan and hope to flip him, but by all accounts, he’s locked in with his Notre Dame pledge.

Flanagan also held scholarship offers from Arizona, California, Colorado, Michigan, Michigan State, San Jose State, Tennessee, Utah and Washington.

Flanagan sophomore film

Irvington (N.J.) High safety Adon Shuler

Height: 5-11

Weight: 187

Commitment date: Aug. 15, 2021

On3 Consensus Ranking: No. 225 NATL, No. 19 safety and No. 2 player from New Jersey.

Notre Dame offered Irvington (N.J.) High’s Adon Shuler in May 2021, and the coaching staff loved the four-star prospect even more after seeing him in person at their camp in late July. Notre Dame’s life after football pitch and relationship with the coaching staff were big factors for Shuler in picking the Fighting Irish.

He was named to the 2020 All-Essex County first-team defense and the 2020 Liberty Red Division first-team defense. He erupted as a junior, leading his team to a state title and being named a USA Today first-team all-state performer. Shuler held scholarship offers from Boston College, Cincinnati, Florida, Georgia Tech, Kentucky, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nebraska, Notre Dame, Penn State, Pittsburgh, Syracuse, Temple and West Virginia.

Shuler junior film

Mentor (Ohio) High defensive end Brenan Vernon

Height: 6-5

Weight: 240

Commitment date: June 29, 2021

On3 Consensus Ranking: No. 80 NATL, No. 9 defensive lineman and No. 2 player from Ohio.

Notre Dame pulled off a massive recruiting upset June 29 when Mentor (Ohio) High’s Brenan Vernon announced his pledge to the Irish over Ohio State, the long-perceived favorite. Notre Dame offered Vernon on Jan. 31, 2020 during a conversation with former defensive line coach Mike Elston. The Irish staff kept things steady with Vernon throughout 2020 and into 2021, but it didn’t really heat up until May 2021. The Irish staff started having weekly Zoom calls with the four-star prospect, which went very well. Some coaching staff changes have not affected Vernon’s status with Notre Dame, as he’s still locked in with his commitment.

Vernon visited campus twice last June and wrapped up his recruitment early. Alabama, Cincinnati, Duke, Indiana, Iowa State, Kent State, Kentucky, Michigan, Michigan State, Nebraska, Notre Dame and Ohio State made up Vernon’s offer list.

Vernon sophomore film

Tampa (Fla.) Berkeley Prep defensive end Keon Keeley

Height: 6-5

Weight: 220

Commitment date: June 28, 2021

On3 Consensus Ranking: No. 11 NATL, No. 1 EDGE and No. 3 player from Florida.

Tampa (Fla.) Berkeley Prep defensive end Keon Keeley became Notre Dame’s first commitment of the 2023 class when he gave his pledge June 28 over Florida, Florida State, Miami, Michigan, North Carolina and others. The Fighting Irish offered Keeley during its Pot of Gold recruiting initiative on March 17, 2021, and the staff recruited him hard in the following three months. Keeley made his way up to Notre Dame for a visit the weekend of June 11 and was blown away. It was at that point that Keeley knew he wanted to call Notre Dame home.

Keeley still has other programs in pursuit, and the likes of Alabama, Georgia, Florida and Ohio State offered him a scholarship after his commitment to Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish will have to hold off other powerhouse schools to keep Keeley in the class.

Keeley junior film