“Yes, we've got challenges, just like anybody else. But we'll go to work on it right away, and we'll do that by continuing to recruit what I call the RKGs, the right kind of guys, those that match the mission of this University. We'll continue to look towards player development as being the key and the cornerstone of our success. We're going to develop our players intellectually, we're going to develop them socially, spiritually, we're going to develop their skill and make sure that they understand that they physically need to continue to grow. I'll guarantee our players' player development, and that to me has been my background.” -Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly at the December press conference introducing him as the Irish football program’s next head coach.
The last month has been an extremely busy period for the Notre Dame football staff. After defeating Miami 33-17 in the Sun Bowl, the Irish coaches have worked hard to try to buoy their on-the-field success into off-the-field success. So far it has paid huge dividends. Over the last month the Irish have added four players to their commitment list, with all four coming in the last week. Indiana OL Nick Martin (Indianapolis, Ind./Bishop Chatard) got the ball rolling when he committed to the Irish. Martin had been committed to Kentucky since August, but the Notre Dame staff kept working on him. Last Tuesday Martin made the switch, spurning the Wildcats for the Irish. Heading into the weekend it appeared Notre Dame would receive some bad news from OLB Ishaq Williams (Brooklyn, N.Y./Lincoln), who was rumored to be ready to decide for Penn State. A 4:30 AM visit from Notre Dame Defensive Coordinator Bob Diaco helped Williams change his mind, as the elite pass rusher decided to choose the Irish.
On Saturday, Notre Dame received their second five star commitment in two days when Florida DE Aaron Lynch (Cape Coral, Fla./Island Coast) followed his heart back to Notre Dame. Lynch committed to Notre Dame in July, only to de-commit in November before eventually committing to Florida State. But in the end he could not walk away from his first love. After dominating in the Army All-American game, Lynch decided to visit Notre Dame one final time. It was during that visit that he re-upped with the Irish, giving them 22 commitments on the season. Yesterday another DE prospect decided to switch his commitment when long-time Florida commit Chase Hounshell (Mentor, Ohio/Lake Catholic) dropped the Gators for the Irish.
In past years the months of December and January have usually been brutal times, as the Southern schools like Florida and Florida State were able to consistently beat the Irish for elite prospects. Whether it was uncommitted players (Christian Jones to Florida State) or one time Notre Dame commits (Omar Hunter to Florida, Justin Trattou to Florida), the Southern schools consistently whipped the Irish late. But during the 2011 recruiting cycle it is the Notre Dame coaches that are wreaking havoc in the South. The flips of Martin and Hounshell give Notre Dame two players that were one-time SEC commits. The flip of Lynch gave Notre Dame the best defensive end from the state of Florida and a player the Seminoles strongly coveted.
It has not been a perfect time for the Irish, as they have lost out on some players as well. On Saturday RB/WR Amir Carlisle (Sunnyvale, Calif./The King’s Academy) decided the academic and spiritual opportunities at USC were more suited for him than those of Notre Dame. It isn’t every day that a player picks USC for academic and spiritual reasons, but the speedy Carlisle chose to take his talents to Los Angeles. Oregon DE Brennan Scarlett (Portland, Ore./Catholic) decided to stay out West, choosing Cal over the Irish. In December another speedy WR, Miles Shuler (Long Branch, N.J./Long Branch) decided to end his recruitment a bit earlier than expected when he chose Rutgers before visiting Notre Dame. The Irish coaches have not given up on Shuler, but his decision to go to Rutgers seems solid at this moment.
There were misses, but on the whole it would be very hard to find fault with the job the Irish staff is doing on the recruiting trail. Lynch and Williams are two of the best defensive prospects Notre Dame has signed in quite some time. As early enrollees, both players have already arrived on campus, so Notre Dame won’t have to worry about them changing their minds. QB Everett Golson (Myrtle Beach, S.C./Myrtle Beach), DE Brad Carrico (Dublin, Ohio/Coffman), and K/P Kyle Brindza (Canton, Mich./Plymouth) are also already on campus as early enrollees. This should allow the Notre Dame coaches to focus their attention on a smaller cast of recruits as they seeks to keep their current commits on board as well as adding to what is shaping up to be an outstanding class.
Everett Golson, QB, 6’0, 175, Myrtle Beach, S.C./Myrtle Beach
Cam McDaniel, RB, 5’10, 190, Coppell, Texas/Coppell
George Atkinson, WR, 6’2, 195, Livermore, Calif./Granada
#91 DaVaris Daniels, WR, 6’3, 190, Vernon Hils, Ill./Vernon Hills
#80 Ben Koyack, TE, 6’5, 230, Oil City, Pa./Oil City
Conor Hanratty, OL, 6-4, 300, New Canaan, Conn./New Canaan
#24 Matthew Hegarty, OL, 6-5, 280, Aztec, N.M./Aztec
Nick Martin, OL, 6’4, 260, Indianapolis, Ind./Bishop Chatard
Brad Carrico, DE, 6’5, 260, Dublin, Ohio/Coffman
Chase Hounshell, DE, 6’5, 250, Mentor, Ohio/Lake Catholic
#51 Aaron Lynch, DE, 6’6, 260, Cape Coral, Fla./Island Coast
Tony Springmann, DE, 6’6, 265, Fort Wayne, Ind./Bishop Dwenger
#120 Stephon Tuitt, DE, 6’5, 260, Monroe, Ga./Monroe Area
Ben Councell, OLB, 6’4, 225, Asheville, N.C./A.C. Reynolds
#100 Anthony Rabasa, OLB, 6’3, 230, Miami, Fla./Columbus
#29 Ishaq Williams, OLB, 6’5, 225, Brooklyn, N.Y./Lincoln
Jarrett Grace, ILB, 6’4, 240, Cincinnati, Ohio/Colerian
Eilar Hardy, S/CB, 6’0, 175, Pickerington, Ohio/Central
Matthias Farley, S/CB, 6’1, 185, Charlotte, N.C./Christian
Josh Atkinson, CB, 6’0, 180, Livermore, Calif./Granada
Jalen Brown, CB, 6’0, 175, Irving, Texas/MacArthur
Bennett Okotcha, CB, 6’0, 175, Coppell, Texas/Coppell
Kyle Brindza, K/P, 6’1, 200, Canton, Mich./Plymouth
The commitments of Lynch, Williams, Martin, and Hounshell bring the total number of players committed to Notre Dame to 23. It also raises the number of ESPN Top 150 players to seven. Numbers are getting very, very tight for the Irish. They will have to be a bit selective moving forward. I can see the Irish taking two more players, but if you take any more than that you are going to have to turn away some 5th year seniors who would have had a chance to compete for playing time in 2011.
Here is where Notre Dame stands with the remaining recruits left on the board.
#34 Savon Huggins, RB, Jersey City, N.J./St. Peter’s Prep: Notre Dame continues to battle with Rutgers and North Carolina for the pledge of this talented runner. The one piece missing from this class is an elite running back. I like Cam McDaniel, and I believe he can be a player for Notre Dame, but Huggins is a special back. He’s that rare combination of player that can pound you between the tackles, make plays on the perimeter, and catch the ball out of the backfield. He can truly do it all, and he would be a tremendous pickup for the Irish. Bob Diaco was in to see Huggins on Friday before the St. Peter’s standout visited Michigan State. The Irish will not go down without a fight, but if I had to guess I would say the Irish are third behind Rutgers and North Carolina. My guess is that Huggins loves everything about Notre Dame except their offense. The hope for Notre Dame is that they can point to the final four games, and the success of the run game, as evidence to support what they are telling him about how he will fit into their system. Notre Dame is also going to sell him on the fact he will be coming into South Bend with one of the nation’s best recruiting classes. PREDICTION: North Carolina
Miles Shuler, WR, Long Branch, N.J./Long Branch: The Irish coaches connected with Shuler down in San Antonio after the Army All-American Bowl. Shuler originally planned a trip for Notre Dame on January 29, but he abruptly ended his recruitment by picking Rutgers in the middle of December. One thing I love about this staff so far is they do not quit, and they will not quit on Shuler. Notre Dame continues to try to get the speedy wideout to visit South Bend, but so far their attempts have been unsuccessful. One thing to watch for is how well does Rutgers do on the recruiting trail over the next month. Shuler has stated before that he wants to come in with a top class, and so far Rutgers is not having a good recruiting season. Notre Dame on the other hand is putting together one of the nation’s top classes. Shuler would fit in nicely between George Atkinson and DaVaris Daniels. In San Antonio he showed that his transition to wide receiver will go relatively smoothly, as the speedster earned a starting role in the game. During the game he hauled in a 22 yard touchdown reception. PREDICTION: Rutgers
#42 Ja’Juan Story, WR, Brooksville, Fla./Nature Coast: You have to give the Notre Dame coaches high marks for their effort on the recruiting trail. They have continued to try to talk to Story about visiting South Bend, but so far they have not had much luck. Story considered Notre Dame during the summer before he chose the Gators. When Urban Meyer retired he opened up his recruitment, although he never officially de-committed. Tony Alford has worked hard to get in on Story, but in the end I believe the Irish will be on the outside looking in. PREDICTION: Florida
Cameron Clear, OL/TE, Memphis, Tenn./Central: Clear and his father say all the right things about Notre Dame. They are interested, they are thinking about visiting, they like the coaches, the coaches keep calling. In the end I do not believe Notre Dame has been or will be a serious player for Clear. First of all is his insistence on playing tight end. Perhaps he could play tight end in a run-first, pro-style offense; but in Notre Dame’s fast paced spread offense that requires tight ends that run and catch like receivers he is an offensive tackle. Right now Tennessee and Alabama remain on top, with the Crimson Tide and Auburn Tigers looking to get his final visits. PREDICTION: Tennessee
#35 Antonio Richardson, OL, Nashville, Tenn./Pearl-Cohn: Richardson certainly fits the mold of what Notre Dame is looking for in an offensive lineman. He is big, athletic, and has the ability to play tackle or guard. The problem is Richardson has just never seemed to show the kind of interest in Notre Dame that Notre Dame showed in him. Richardson and his father have always said the right things, but actions certainly speak louder than words. The actions I’m referring to are coming to campus. Richardson made an unofficial visit to South Bend during the summer, but despite the staffs best efforts he has never made it back to South Bend for an official. Lately they have talked about Notre Dame being out of the mix, but the Irish coaches have not given up trying. In the end, the talented Tennessee lineman will stay in the South. PREDICTION: LSU or Tennessee
Troy Niklas, OL/DE, Anaheim, Calif./Servite: Yesterday Brian Kelly traveled out to Anaheim to visit with Niklas. Niklas’s interest in Notre Dame seems quite real, but I have a hard time seeing him leave the West Coast for South Bend. What is also in question is where will Notre Dame recruit Niklas? Some schools are looking at the 6-foot-6, 245-pound standout as an offensive lineman, others as defensive end, while others view him as a tight end. It seems now that Stanford, USC, and Notre Dame are his final three schools. Niklas has an official set up for Notre Dame on January 28, and if he makes it I will believe Notre Dame has a real chance with him. With current commits Conor Hanratty and Nick Martin projecting more as interior players, the Irish could still use a right tackle in this class. Niklas, who moved to the offensive line during his senior year, could fit that bill assuming the Irish coaches believe he can gain the necessary weight for the position. With the depth concerns along the offensive line moving forward, Niklas would be a huge catch for the Irish coaches. PREDICTION: USC
#82 Anthony Chickillo, DE/OLB, Tampa, Fla./Alonso: Chickillo is another player who says all the right things concerning his interest in Notre Dame. But I still do not believe he will ever step foot on the Notre Dame campus. The 6-foot-3 end played very well in the Under Armor All-American game, harassing the White quarterbacks the entire game. Chickillo lacks the athleticism of the other OLB’s and DE’s in the Notre Dame class, but he has a motor that is unmatched. But again, I do not see him leaving the South. I believe Chickillo will take all his visits, but in the end he will go where his heart has always been, and that is Miami. The only way I see him going elsewhere is if he makes the decision that he only wants to play in a 4-3 defense. PREDICTION: Miami, FL
Bryce Haynes, LS, Cumming, Ga./Pinecrest Academy: Haynes is an interesting player. He is considered the best long snapper in the country, and some even say he is the best long snapper to come along in years. Many might wonder why you would take a long snapper when you have so many players left on the board and so few scholarships remaining. But I ask this, who will play more over the next three years, an offensive lineman who will need time to develop, or a long snapper than can play from day one? If Notre Dame believes they have the room, I would love to see them land this young man. Haynes zips the ball back to his punter with impressive velocity and accuracy. He could compete for playing time from the moment he steps foot on campus. He will decide between Notre Dame, Ohio State, North Carolina, and Harvard. I do not have a read on where he will go.
S Quincy Aldridge – TCU; WR DeAnthony Arnett – Tennessee; OT Brendon Austin – Stanford; DE Sterling Bailey – Georgia; WR Kelvin Benjamin – Florida State; DT Michael Bennett – Ohio State; RB MichaelBellamy – Clemson; OLB Brennen Beyer – Michigan; RB Brandon Bigelow – California; WR Victor Blackwell – USC; CB Devin Bowman – Georgia; ATH Nikalas Brassell – Mississippi State; RB Malcolm Brown – Texas; OLB Clay Burton – Florida; S Hasean Clinton-Dix – Alabama; RB/LB Rodney Coe – Iowa; OT Brey Cook – Arkansas; OT Watts Dantzler – Georgia; ILB Trey DePriest – Alabama; S Eric Dixon – Kentucky; WR Philip Dorsett – Miami; DE Chase Farris – Ohio State; QB Phillip Ely – Alabama; WR George Farmer – USC; QB Kiehl Frazier – Auburn; ATH Christian French – Oregon; OLB Jason Gibson – California; RB Aaron Green – Nebraska; WR RashadGreene – Florida State; OT Garrett Greenlea – Texas; TE Ray Hamilton – Iowa; LB Rob Hankins – Arizona; RB Justice Hayes – Michigan; OT Desmine Hilliard – Baylor; RB Kenny Hilliard – LSU; DE Nathan Hughes – Oklahoma; WR Kameel Jackson – Oklahoma; S Lyndell Johnson – Oklahoma State; S Christion Jones – Alabama; WR Jarvis Landry – LSU; QB Christian LeMay – Georgia; CB Albert Louis-Jean – Miami; CB/S Wayne Lyons – Stanford; QB Braxton Miller – Ohio State; DE Steve Miller – Ohio State; Tevin Mitchell – Arkansas; DE Giorgio Newberry – Florida State; CB Dominique Noble – Georgia Tech; DE Jeoffrey Pagan – Clemson; WR Charone Peake – Clemson; CB Brandon Phelps – Virginia; RB Jameel Poteat – Cincinnati; OL Jordan Prestwood – Florida State; DE Shane Ray – Missouri; DE Cedric Reed – Texas; DE Chris Rock – Michigan; ATH Richard Rodgers – California; TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins – Washington; WR DevinSmith – Ohio State; WR Evan Spencer – Ohio State; QB Bubba Starling – Nebraska; OT Zach Sterup – Nebraska; TE Max Stevenson – Oklahoma; TE/DE Dan Tapko – Oklahoma; CB T.J. Thorpe – North Carolina; ILB Lawrence Thomas – Michigan State; DE Greg Townsend Jr. – USC; CB Josh Turner – Texas; TE Nick Vannett – Ohio State; ILB James VaughtersAnthony Wallace – Oregon; ATH Jabriel Washington – Alabama; OT Christian Westerman – Texas; S Jermaine Whitehead – Mississippi State; OL Jay Whitwire – Virginia; RB/LB James Wilder – Florida State; S Karlos Williams – Florida State; WR Kasen Williams – Washington; QB Max Wittek – USC; QB Justin Worley – Tennessee; DE Conor Wujciak – Stanford; LB – Boston College