On Thursday, news came out that Notre Dame defensive line coach and recruiting coordinator Mike Elston was returning to his alma mater — the University of Michigan.
Elston, who played linebacker at Michigan from 1993-96 and got his start in coaching on Lloyd Carr’s staff in 1997, replaces former defensive line coach Shaun Nua, who recently was hired by USC for the same position under Lincoln Riley.
There are several reasons why the Elston hire feels like a perfect fit for the Wolverines, but one of the major areas he should be able to impact in a positive way is on the recruiting trail. Let’s take a look at the past success Elston has had as a recruiter and talent developer, as well as the immediate impact he could make in helping shape Michigan’s 2023 class:
Elston had been coaching at Notre Dame since 2010 as a position coach and in 2015 was promoted to recruiting coordinator. He was responsible for the linebackers in 2015-16 and moved to coach the defensive line in 2017.
In 2018, Elston was promoted to associate head coach under Brian Kelly while still coaching the defensive line, and held those responsibilities through 2020. This past season, he still coached the defensive line while coordinating the Notre Dame running game, along with again being the recruiting director.
Although 2015 was the first year Elston was hired into the role of recruiting coordinator at a Power 5 school, he held the same title in 2002 and 2003 when he was an assistant at Eastern Michigan.
At Notre Dame, Elston had a knack for seeking out talent and developing players to become pro-ready for those who had enough potential to reach the NFL. In his early years as a coach for the Irish, Elston helped develop defensive tackles Stephon Tuitt (Monroe, Georgia., class of 2011) and Louis Nix III (Jacksonville, Florida, class of 2010), who were both selected within the first three rounds of the 2014 NFL Draft.
In the Irish’s 2012 class, Elston recruited defensive tackle Sheldon Day out of Indianapolis, Indiana, (four-star) who was eventually selected in the fourth round of the 2016 draft after finishing his career at Notre Dame with 141 tackles and 7.5 sacks.
In his more recent time with the Irish, Elston recruited and helped develop brothers and current Detroit Lions defensive ends Julian (four-star, class of 2016) and Romeo Okwara (three-star, class of 2012).
Cincinnati Bengals defensive linemen Khalid Kareem (Farmington, Michigan) and class of 2016 four-star defensive end was college teammates with Julian Okwara and was coached by Elston, while both Okwara and Kareem were selected in the 2020 NFL Draft (Okwara third round, Kareem fifth round).
Elston also helped produce a pair of 2021 draft picks in edge rushers and Michigan natives Daelin Hayes (four-star, Ann Arbor, class of 2016) and Adetokunbo Ogundeji (three-star, Walled Lake, class of 2016).
In his time at Notre Dame overall, Elston coached 12 NFL draftees, including five players drafted since 2019.
Elston’s potential recruiting impact at Michigan
Elston seems to be in a prime spot at Michigan with his ties to the Midwest region. He is poised to continue to excel in what has been one of his biggest strengths — finding talented defensive linemen in that area. He should be able to compete with top schools for players in the Midwest, but has also shown the ability to land players located in the southern part of the country.
Before leaving Notre Dame, Elston teamed up with current head coach Marcus Freeman to land defensive end Tyson Ford (140th overall player according to 247Sports) for the Irish’s 2022 class. For Michigan’s class of 2023, Elston has potential to lure several high-caliber prospects to Ann Arbor.
Five-star edge rusher Keon Keeley (Tampa, Florida) committed to Elston and Notre Dame in June of last year. With Elston’s arrival at Michigan, it would make sense for Keeley to give Michigan a look. The hire certainly helps Michigan’s chances to flip the No. 3 edge rusher in the class.
Brenan Vernon is another Irish commit who has a good relationship with Elston as the four-star defensive linemen from Mentor, Ohio committed to Notre Dame just a day after Keeley.
It may be difficult pulling Vernon away from his home state as 247Sports’ Crystal Ball projections have Vernon ending up at Ohio State, but Elston may be able to make it an interesting battle.
Top-100 player Luke Montgomery (Findlay, Ohio) has yet to make a decision regarding his college future, but Elston was his primary recruiter for the Irish and Michigan was already heavily in the mix.
The 6-foot-5, 260-pound lineman who has played on both sides of the ball at Findlay High School still has the Notre Dame offer at play along with offers from Clemson, Ohio State, Oklahoma and many more, but we will see if Elston and offensive line coach Sherrone Moore can make a push to land him. Moore was in Ohio Friday night watching Montgomery play his basketball game.
Sydir Mitchell, a four-star defensive lineman from Bergen Catholic (New Jersey) is visiting Michigan this weekend. The 6-foot-5, 324-pounder will have a chance to build a connection with Elston and the coaching staff as Michigan tries to emerge as a front runner.
Kendrick Gilbert from Cathedral (Indiana) is another four-star defensive lineman who will visit Ann Arbor fresh off the dead period. Elston recruited Gilbert when he was on staff at Notre Dame and this weekend will be an opportunity to strengthen the relationship between Gilbert and the Wolverines’ staff.
Elston also recruited defensive linemen and edge rushers Nyckoles Harbor, Samuel M’Pemba, Jason Moore, Chandavian Bradley, Keldric Faulk and David Hicks while employed at Notre Dame — all are Michigan targets.