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If you sat Brenan Vernon down in April and told him he would be committing to Notre Dame at the end of June, what would his response have been?

“I would’ve said, ‘I guess we’ll see how things play out’ because I had no emotion to where I wanted to go,” Vernon answered. “My relationship wasn’t anywhere near what it is now [with Notre Dame] back in April. It would have raised an eyebrow.”

The strong side defensive end from Mentor (Ohio) High, who ranks as the nation’s No. 9 overall player in the 2023 class, surprised many when he announced his commitment to Notre Dame June 29. Pundits pegged him to land at Ohio State.

He visited Notre Dame’s campus the first and last weekends of June and loved everything he saw. He also checked out Alabama and Ohio State last month, but in Vernon’s eyes, Notre Dame was the best fit. And he had seen enough to make a commitment before the start of his junior year of high school.

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While pundits believed Vernon was headed to Ohio State, the elite prospect fell in love with Notre Dame.
While pundits believed Vernon was headed to Ohio State, the elite prospect fell in love with Notre Dame.

“The atmosphere was different man,” Vernon said of Notre Dame. “It totally suits me as an individual compared to all of the other school. Notre Dame is different, and it’s a whole lot different. It suits my lifestyle, and it clicked as soon as I got on campus. I knew it was special.”

While the football component of Notre Dame was important to Vernon’s decision, it was the off-the-field factors that seemed to be most crucial.

“First of all, it’s a low-key school,” he added. “You’re talking about 8,000-something students compared to 50,000 if you were to go to an Ohio State, Alabama or a school like that. I’m more of a low-key individual, and I like to keep to myself and go about my business. At Notre Dame, that’s what I can do.

“At a smaller school, you know everyone, and everyone is family there. When you’re in a classroom with 20 people, you’re going to know everyone’s name compared to other schools. It suits me; I need that connection.”

Notre Dame defensive line coach Mike Elston led the charge in Vernon’s recruitment, and defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman and defensive recruiting director Chad Bowden helped move the needle as well.

“They meant the world; I love those guys,” Vernon said. “They made such an impact. They’re authentic people. You can feel that true love and authenticity. They weren’t spitting bull crap. They are real people and I felt cared for.”

Vernon echoed similar thoughts about Irish head coach Brian Kelly.

“He’s such a down to earth guy, and like the rest of the staff, he’s so authentic,” Vernon said. “He cares about his players, and you can see it. He always has a smile on his face and is such a great guy to talk to. He’s a caring individual, and I know I can go to him with anything.”

Vernon is Notre Dame’s second commitment in the 2023 class. A day before he announced, Tampa (Fla.) Berkeley Prep defensive end Keon Keeley committed to the Irish. It’s quite the strong start for Elston, who now has his vyper in Keeley and a strong side end in Vernon.

“I’m going to run that big end position,” Vernon said. “I’m working to be the powerhouse of our defensive line while Keon is rushing that edge. He’s our quick, fast guy and is one heck of a player. I’ll be the big boy who wreaks havoc and destruction. I’m going to work and make the offense feel my presence.”

Alabama, Cincinnati, Duke, Indiana, Iowa State, Kent State, Kentucky, Michigan, Michigan State, Nebraska, Notre Dame, Ohio State made up Vernon’s offer list, per Rivals.

Rivals ranks Vernon as the No. 3 strong-side defensive end and No. 9 overall player in the 2023 class. There are only four five-star players early on in the 2023 rankings, but it looks like the Irish may end up having its first Rivals five-star defensive lineman since Daelin Hayes in the 2016 class with Vernon in the fold.

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