Catching up with… Ryan Harris

19 Comments

So “Catching Up” was on a little bit of a bye week.

But we’re coming back with a thunder this week and better late than never. After doing some hunting, I finally tracked down Denver Broncos right tackle Ryan Harris. Ryan is one of my personal favorites — he’s a graduate of both Cretin-Derham Hall and Notre Dame, a very good start — and is the true embodiment of a Notre Dame student athlete.

As Ryan and the undefeated Broncos prepares for a Monday Night Football clash with the San Diego Chargers, you may be surprised how much he’s thinking about another game this weekend as well.

ON IF HE’S FINDING TIME TO FOLLOW THIS WEEKEND IN SOUTH BEND:

Absolutely. As big as this week is for us, the Broncos, there are a lot of guys, coaches and players, talking about the big SC-Notre Dame game. That’s one of the things coming to the NFL — so many people ask about Notre Dame, it’s one of the first things coaches ask about. Now that the big game is coming up, they’re starting to show clips from my junior year, and it’s just… man. This game is good for college football and just shows you what a wide range of the people that are paying attention to the game. It’s not a bowl game, not a conference final or the SEC Championship or Big 12 Championship, it’s just a game on Notre Dame’s schedule. That speaks to how instrumental Notre Dame is in the world of college football.

ON THE SIMILARITIES BETWEEN CHARLIE WEIS AND JOSH MCDANIELS:

The offense is very similar, but the difference is that in the NFL, they blitz every play and you’ve got 16 games against teams that blitz 60 to 80 percent of the time. Beyond the playbook, I think that it’s the preparation to win. We really had that at ND, we felt that we had prepared so well that we were going to win the game because we knew what was going to happen, we knew the other team’s tendencies, the same preparations and points of emphasis we did at Notre Dame are used at the Broncos.

ON HIS FEELINGS FOR WEIS AS A COACH AND A MAN:

Coach Weis always had a good game plan. He had great game plans, and I honestly don’t know if there’s a better coach in college or the NFL that keeps his players prepared like that. He still shoots us texts, talks to us — he’s always been great about shooting us texts at the beginning of the year or after a big game, he keeps us a part of the family. That’s just another testament to the character of Coach Weis. No one is forgotten and you are a part of the Notre Dame family.

ON THE CONNECTION BETWEEN CRETIN-DERHAM HALL AND NOTRE DAME:

At Cretin, there’s no question that academics are stressed. I remember every time I got a college letter, Coach Scanlan would always say, “make sure you’re getting an education, too.” In school, they’d make sure that no one was treated differently, even if you’re an athlete. I think with the expectations that CDH has for its students, Notre Dame is one of the few colleges that can offer those expectations and a spiritual community while providing the utmost experiences in football and school. That’s why I think Notre Dame is attractive to not just Cretin-Derham athletes, but also Cretin-Derham students. It’s an environment we’re used to.

ON SEANTREL HENDERSON:

I’ve met him a couple times and every time he’s been kind, calm, cool, and collected. The thing people forget is that you’re talking about a kid. A 17- or 18-year old young man who really — and this goes for all recruits — who can make that decision at 17? That’s why I think getting them on campus is so good. You can see things for yourself. This is the expectation, this is the environment. You have no idea what 70,000 plus in a stadium feels like. No idea what the facilities are like, what the flight to these places is like. What classrooms, dorm rooms, living by yourself is like. I was fortunate that my parents were helpful and did a great job of guiding me. Seantrel has my best wishes, and of course being an ND alum, I’d love for him to go there, but he’s got to make the right decision for himself.

ON HIS DECISION TO CHOOSE NOTRE DAME AS A PRACTICING MUSLIM:

It was the best place for me. Period. The environment, that community of faith that understands other faiths. I became a better Muslim because of the respect and real genuine faith that’s practiced at Notre Dame. The respect and dialogue you can have with another student who also has faith, that’s a big thing. Prayer is a big thing in Islam, and I wonder that if I went to a state school and said, “Hey guys, before we go to dinner, I’ve got to go back and pray,” who knows what a guy outside of a religious community might say to that. At Notre Dame, it was always like, “Cool, take your time, go ahead and pray.” That understanding helped me be secure in my faith and secure in my practice of faith in everyday life. If I went to a public school, that would’ve been harder to experience.

ON HIS HIGH SCHOOL MTV FAME:

I never made any money from it, but I get made fun of all the time for it. It’s crazy how many people remember that episode. I look at it as a good experience though, because I learned at a young age that people recognized me just from that show. Learning that wherever  you are that you need to represent yourself the right way in public. A lot of times people — athletes in particular — learn that lesson the hard way. 

ON THE BIG GAME

As an Irish fan, of course I think it’s an Irish victory. It’s the only way I see it. That’s how Coach Weis is preparing those guys. I almost guarantee he’s preparing those guys to see the victory in the game plan and he’s doing that right now with them. We’ll see what happens, but I really think they can pull it off.   

Path to the draft: Ronnie Stanley

CHICAGO, IL - APRIL 28:  Ronnie Stanley of Notre Dame holds up a jersey with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell after being picked #6 overall by the Baltimore Ravens during the first round of the 2016 NFL Draft at the Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University on April 28, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Jon Durr/Getty Images)
Getty
Leave a comment

Your name didn’t have to be Mel Kiper or Mike Mayock to understand that from the moment Jaylon Smith stepped foot on campus at Notre Dame he was destined to be an early-round NFL draft pick. But as the dust settles on the Irish’s impressive 2016 draft haul, a look back at the developmental process of the team’s seven draft picks serves as a wonderful testament to Brian Kelly and the program he has built.

Notre Dame’s draftees come in all shapes and sizes. Fifth-year seniors like Nick Martin. Three-and-out stars like Jaylon Smith and Will Fuller. Consistent four-year performers like Sheldon Day and one-year wonders like C.J. Prosise.

But each followed a unique path to the NFL, one that was fostered by a coaching staff that allowed each athlete to develop at their own pace and ascend into a role where an NFL team thought highly enough to select each player in the first 103 picks of the draft.

Let’s take a trip down (recent) memory lane, as we connect the dots from recruitment, development and playing career as we look at Notre Dame’s seven success stories.

 

Ronnie Stanley
No. 6 overall to Baltimore Ravens

The first offensive lineman selected in the 2016 draft, Stanley’s recruitment saw the Irish find their first bit of success at Bishop Gorman High School, leading the way to Nicco Fertitta and Alizé Jones. A four-star prospect who hovered between a Top 100 and Top 250 player depending on the evaluation, Stanley was invited to the Semper Fidelis All-Star game, a second-tier game that all but signified his status outside of the elite, at least on the recruiting circuit.

That’s not how Notre Dame’s coaching staff felt about him, though.

“He’s probably as gifted of an offensive linemen that we have seen in many years,” Kelly said on Signing Day in 2012.

Stanley proved early that Kelly wasn’t blowing smoke. He saw the field in 2012’s first two games, earning reps against Navy and Michigan before he suffered an elbow injury that allowed him to save a year of eligibility.

But even offseason surgery didn’t prevent Stanley from stepping into the starting lineup, flipping to right tackle and playing 13 games in a very successful sophomore campaign across from first rounder Zack Martin.

Even though Stanley was blossoming into one of college football’s best players, we still openly wondered who would slide to fill Martin’s left tackle spot. (That’s how it goes with offensive linemen, their work only truly appreciated by those with either inside information or a coach’s eye of evaluation.)

In his opening comments before spring practice in 2014, Kelly named Steve Elmer, Christian Lombard and Mike McGlinchey as candidates along with Stanley, so it wasn’t necessarily a lock for the staff yet either. But it took just a few practices for the Las Vegas native to solidify his spot on the left side.

Stanley’s first season at left tackle was so solid that some wondered if there’d be two. While some of the online analysts saw Stanley as a potentially elite draft pick, the NFL Advisory Board came back with a second-round grade, perhaps all Stanley needed as he made his decision to stick around for his senior season. Still, Notre Dame took no chance. Kelly, Harry Hiestand and Jack Swarbrick traveled to Las Vegas to sell Stanley on the virtues of a final season in South Bend.

It worked. With a healthy offseason and weight-room gains needed, Stanley stuck to the script and played a mostly anonymous 2015 season. That was a very good thing—only along the offensive line can All-American honors and being named Offensive Player of the Year be considered ho-hum.

Add in the vanilla off-the-field life, and an elite academic profile that’s a comfort to teams investing millions in a potential cornerstone, Stanley’s placement as a Top 10 pick should have never been in doubt. While he lacked the dominance at Notre Dame that we saw from Zack Martin, he possesses athleticism and a body that Martin wasn’t given—a big reason the Cowboys shifted him inside to guard from day one.

Picked instead of Laremy Tunsil amidst a bizarre scenario that’ll go down as one of the draft’s cautionary tales, John Harbaugh talked openly about his relationship with Harry Hiestand and the comfort that came from Notre Dame’s offensive line coach as they pulled the trigger on Stanley. And Stanley, almost epitomizing that faith that the Ravens showed, all but embodied that when he told Joe Flacco in his first visit to Baltimore that he celebrated his selection by heading back to his hotel room and going to sleep.

Counted on by Baltimore to be a key piece of the puzzle as the Ravens look to rebuild an offensive line tasked with protecting a franchise quarterback in his prime, now it’s up to Notre Dame’s highest draft pick since Rick Mirer to continue his ascent.

Five Irish players sign UFA contracts

Matthias Farley
21 Comments

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
11 Comments

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
Getty
6 Comments

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.