Recruiting stakes high this weekend

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While the game on the field will take precedent, the Irish have stacked the deck for recruiting this weekend in South Bend. 17 top recruits will be in South Bend on official visits (and countless more unofficially), making this one of the more important weekends in recent Irish memory.

Those recruits include all-everything prospects Seantrel Henderson of Cretin-Derham Hall in St. Paul, Chris Martin (who has been chronicled plenty in this blog), mammoth tackle prospect James Stone, Trojan target Dietrich Riley, and current Stanford commit but Irish legacy Tai-ler Jones to name a few.

Over the weekend, Eric Hansen Bob Wieneke of the South Bend Tribune did a nice piece on the impact the last great ND-USC game had on recruiting.

The 2005 Notre Dame-USC game earned a hefty billing, which helped attract some of the nation’s top talent.

Seven
players who had either committed to or eventually would commit to Notre
Dame — Walls, Raeshon McNeil, George West, Toryan Smith, Richard
Jackson, Zach Frazer and Matt Carufel — made their official visits that
day.

A number of other standouts the Irish were gunning for,
including defensive tackle Gerald McCoy and receiver Terrence Austin,
also were on hand.

Also attending, unofficially, was a junior
quarterback from Westlake Village, Calif., who at the time was still
flying a little under the radar. A few months later, however, Jimmy
Clausen was as much of a household name as a high school junior can be.

An
estimated 15 players made their official visits to Notre Dame that day;
many more were there unofficially. It was a day to impress.

Save
for a fourth-down, fourth-quarter pass that eluded Irish cornerback
Ambrose Wooden and found the hands of SC receiver Dwayne Jarrett, the
day went perfectly.

The Irish fell in the final, fleeting seconds to the No. 1-ranked Trojans, 34-31.

The
weather was ideal. The Irish stirred the crowd by breaking out their
green jerseys. The campus was buzzing, beyond what Walls’ stepmom was
thinking.

Walls, when asked to compare his Notre Dame visit with
others, talked about the excitement in Gainesville, Fla., when he,
along with future Gators Tim Tebow and Percy Harvin, watched Florida
host Tennessee.

“The atmosphere at Tennessee was great,” said
Walls, who not long before the SC game had committed to Notre Dame.
“But the atmosphere here for USC, it just can’t compare.”

There is a great opportunity for the Irish to impress this weekend, and a large piece of that will be predicated on whether or not the Notre Dame squad plays a complete football game and competes with the Trojans for the first time since 2005.

With a weather forecast that looks advantageous to the Irish and USC more susceptible this year than any other in the Charlie Weis era, the Irish have to feel like this is the year they can get over the top of the Trojan mountain.

Five Irish players sign UFA contracts

Matthias Farley
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Notre Dame had seven players selected in the 2016 NFL Draft, trailing only Ohio State, Clemson and UCLA on the weekend tally. But after the draft finished, the Irish had five more players get their shot at playing on Sundays.

Chris Brown signed with the Dallas Cowboys. Romeo Okwara will begin his career with the New York Giants. Matthias Farley and Amir Carlisle signed contracts with the Arizona Cardinal. Elijah Shumate agreed to a contract with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

After missing two seasons, Ishaq Williams will be at Giants rookie camp next weekend as well, working as a tryout player. Expect Jarrett Grace to receive similar opportunities.

Count me among those that thought both Brown and Okwara would hear their names called. Brown’s senior season, not to mention his intriguing measureables, had some projecting him as early as the fifth round.

Okwara, still 20 years old and fresh off leading Notre Dame in sacks in back-to-back seasons, intrigued a lot of teams with his ability to play both defensive end and outside linebacker. He’ll get a chance to make the Giants—the team didn’t draft a defensive end after selecting just one last year, and they’re in desperate need of pass rushers.

Both Shumate and Farley feel like contenders to earn a spot on rosters, both because of their versatility and special teams skills. Shumate played nickel back as a freshman and improved greatly at safety during 2015. Farley bounced around everywhere and was Notre Dame’s special teams captain.

Carlisle might fit a similar mold. He played running back, receiver and returned kicks and punts throughout his college career. With a 4.4 during Notre Dame’s Pro Day, he likely showed the Cardinals enough to take a shot, and now he’ll join an offense with Michael Floyd and Troy Niklas.

 

Robertson picks Cal over Notre Dame, UGA

Demetris Robertson
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Demetris Robertson‘s decision wasn’t trending in Notre Dame’s direction. But those that expected the Savannah star athlete to pick the in-state Bulldogs were in for a surprise when Robertson chose Cal on Sunday afternoon.

Notre Dame’s pursuit of the five-star athlete, recruited to play outside receiver and hopefully replace Will Fuller, likely ended Sunday afternoon with Robertson making the surprise decision to take his substantial talents to Berkeley. And give credit to Robertson for doing what he said all along—picking a school that’ll give him the chance to earn an exceptional education and likely contribute from Day One.

“I am excited to take my talents to the University of California, Berkeley. The first reason is that the education was a big part of my decision. I wanted to keep that foundation,” Robertson said, per CFT. “When I went there, it felt like home. Me and the coaching staff have a great relationship. That’s where I felt were the best of all things for me.”

Adding one final twist in all of this is that Robertson has no letter-of-intent to sign. Because he’s blown three months through Signing Day, Robertson merely enrolls at a college when the time comes. That means until then, Kirby Smart and the Georgia staff will continue to sell Robertson on staying home and helping the Dawgs rebuild. Smart visited with Robertson Saturday night and had multiple assistant coaches at his track meet this weekend.

Summer school begins in June for Notre Dame. Their freshman receiving class looks complete with early enrollee Kevin Stepherson and soon-to-arrive pass-catchers Javon McKinley and Chase Claypool.

Sheldon Day drafted in 4th round by Jaguars

North Carolina v Notre Dame
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Former Notre Dame captain Sheldon Day didn’t have to wait long on Saturday to hear his name called. The Indianapolis native, All-American, and the Irish’s two-time defensive lineman of the year was pick number 103, the fourth pick of the fourth round on Saturday afternoon.

Day was the seventh Irish player drafted, following first rounders Ronnie Stanley and Will Fuller, second round selections Jaylon Smith and Nick Martin, and third rounders KeiVarae Russell and C.J. Prosise.

Day has a chance to contribute as he joins the 24th-ranked defense in the league. Joining a draft class heavy on defensive players—Jalen Ramsey, Myles Jack and Yannick Ngakoue already picked ahead of him—the front seven will also include last year’s No. 3 overall pick Dante Fowler, who missed the entire season with a knee injury.

Scouted by the Jaguars at the Senior Bowl, Day doesn’t necessarily have the size to be a traditional defensive tackle. But under Gus Bradley’s attacking system (Bradley coordinated the Seahawks defense for four seasons), Day will find a niche and a role in a young defense that’s seen a heavy investment the past two years.

Smith, Martin, Russell and Prosise all drafted Friday night

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - SEPTEMBER 13: William Fuller #7 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and Nick Martin #72 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish celebrate a touchdown during the game against the Purdue Boilermakers at Lucas Oil Stadium on September 13, 2014 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)
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Jaylon Smith, Nick Martin, KeiVarae Russell and C.J. Prosise were all selected on Friday, with four Irish teammates taken on the second night of the NFL Draft. As mentioned, Smith came off the board at pick 34, with the Cowboys gambling on the injured knee of the Butkus Award winner. Nick Martin was selected at pick 50, joining former teammate Will Fuller in Houston.

The third round saw Russell and Prosise come off the board, with Kansas City jumping on the confident cornerback and the Seahawks taking Notre Dame’s breakout running back. It capped off a huge night for the Irish with Sheldon Day, one of the more productive football players in college football, still on the board for teams to pick.

Here’s a smattering of instant reactions from the immediate aftermath.