Notre Dame: Top Defensive End Recruits Of The Last Decade

Bryan Driskell

Defensive end recruiting has been a bit up-and-down at Notre Dame, but there have been stretches where it has been quite good. Current defensive line coach Mike Elston and former line coach Keith Gilmore ended up landing a number of incredibly talented players during the last decade.

Below is my ranking of the five best defensive end recruits to sign with Notre Dame during the Brian Kelly era. It takes into account the rankings from the recruiting services as well as my own analysis of each player. It is only a breakdown of what each player was as a recruit, not what they became in college.

1. AARON LYNCH, 2011

Recruited By: Mike Elston and Tony Alford

247: #6 nationally
Scout: #10 nationally
ESPN: #15 nationally
Rivals: #28 nationally

Oh what could have been. Lynch was one of the most dominant prep defensive ends of the last decade, and that’s for the entire country. His combination of elite size, power and explosiveness was truly special. What he did to the West offensive linemen at the Army All-American game was unlike anything I’d seen before or since in that all-star game.

His recruitment was a roller coaster, with Lynch committing early to Notre Dame, flipping to Florida State, and then ultimately signing with the Irish at the last minute. If his attitude was as good as his talent he could have been an all-time great edge player for the Irish.

2. STEPHON TUITT, 2011

Recruited By: Mike Elston

Rivals: #22
247: #38
Scout: #44
ESPN: #90

Tuitt was somewhat overshadowed by Lynch in the 2011 class, but he was a dominant player in his own right. More of a power player, Tuitt was a man amongst boys in high school, and he played that way at Notre Dame as well. His size (6-5, 265) and power were special, and he used it to dominate for Monroe (Ga.) Area and during the week of the Army All-American game.

Like Lynch, Tuitt had a bit of a roller coaster recruitment. He was committed to Notre Dame for some time before taking a visit to Auburn and then flipping to Georgia Tech. Elston and the rest of the staff did an in-home visit where they were able to knock it out of the park, and before they left Tuitt was on the phone with me announcing his re-commitment to the Irish.

3. ISHAQ WILLIAMS, 2011

Recruited By: Mike Elston and Bob Diaco

Rivals: #16
Scout: #20
ESPN: #42
247: #45

Sometimes we forget just how special the 2011 defensive line class was. Lynch left after one year and Williams never panned out, but coming out of high school it was truly outstanding. Williams was a long and athletic edge player that might have been more comfortable in a four-down defense, but the Irish staff was able to get him on board to play outside linebacker.

Williams was a player the Irish had to battle hard for, but in the end Notre Dame won out thanks to the long-term effort of Elston and the late work put in by then defensive coordinator Bob Diaco, whose midnight visit had a big impact on Williams and his family.

4. DAELIN HAYES, 2016

Recruited By: Keith Gilmore and Mike Elston

Rivals: #31
ESPN: #227
Scout: #240
247: #132

Lynch, Tuitt and Hayes were all committed to other programs at one point during their prep careers before the Notre Dame staff was able to flip them. Hayes was committed to USC for over a year, but then line coach Keith Gilmore and Elston kept battling and ultimately landed his commitment.

There was some cloak and dagger going on with this recruitment, which made it fun to cover. Notre Dame hosted Hayes on multiple visits while he was committed to USC, but the staff worked hard to make sure it didn’t leak. In fact, on one particular trip they pushed back a visit from another top defensive end to make sure no other recruits were on campus with Hayes.

Despite playing just eight games of high school football, Hayes was a special recruit due to his rare combination of athleticism and power. He could have played inside linebacker, outside linebacker or end in college. Rivals had him as a five-star recruit, and when you combine that with my Top 50 grade of him he wasn’t far behind Williams in this list.

5. ISAIAH FOSKEY, 2019

Recruited By: Mike Elston

Rivals: — (Four-star)
247: #203
ESPN: #209

Isaac Rochell, Jordan Botelho and Khalid Kareem were all ranked higher by the recruiting services, but Foskey being on this list is due in part to my ranking of him as a Top 50 caliber recruit. It also comes through his upside, which is enormous. 247Sports ranked him as the nation’s #203 overall player and ESPN ranked him #209.

Foskey was initially a tight end recruit, but Notre Dame convinced him his future was at defensive end, and although he’s incredibly raw, his talent there is special. He has prototype edge length and power, he’s athletic and if he can put it all together he could have a tremendous career at Notre Dame. 

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