Early enrollees ready to begin Notre Dame career


With school just days away from returning after Christmas break, Notre Dame’s early enrollees are preparing to make the transition from high school to college life. According to the university website, safety Chris Badger, cornerback Spencer Boyd, wide receiver Tai-ler Jones, quarterback Tommy Rees, and cornerback Lo Wood will join the Notre Dame student body when classes resume, five green college students competing for playing time while adjusting to their new surroundings from the day they step on campus and join their new teammates in off season workouts before spring practice commences.

Each one of the five freshman walk onto campus as skill players looking to dent the two deep roster at their respective position. For Rees, he gave up his prep basketball career to get a jump start on the backup quarterback position, and he’ll likely take the lion’s share of reps during spring ball with Dayne Crist recovering from his ACL surgery and walk-on Nate Montana just getting back to campus after a semester playing junior college football.

Wide receiver Jones is coming off an impressive Under Armor All-American performance (something we’ll touch on later), and looks to use his versatility and athleticism to pick up some of the slack left after Golden Tate’s early departure. Jones has as much experience in Kelly’s offense as every other receiver on the squad, so if he’s one of the best four wideouts to suit up for the Irish, expect him to get some PT.

Badger, Boyd, and Wood all look to challenge in a secondary that was a disaster last year. Badger is a ferocious hitter from his safety position and while his measurables don’t seem to jump out at you, he looks to have exceptional instincts and football IQ, something the secondary could use. He’ll probably challenge at one of the two safety positions, and could have a Zeke Motta-like effect on special teams from the day he steps onto campus.

Boyd and Wood, both Florida natives that will step onto campus as cornerbacks, should expect the chance to compete with Robert Blanton, Gary Gray and Darrin Walls for time at corner. You’ve got to expect that Kelly and the new defensive staff will start from ground zero with the secondary, and after watching the secondary struggle last season, no job is safe.

The enrollment of five freshman at semester break is incredible when you think back to fairly recent days when Notre Dame was unwilling to let any recruit enroll early, setting back the Irish dramatically in battles for elite players. But credit the players that have come in early and the Irish support staff, as there have been very few hiccups in a process that has to be challenging for the young men jump-starting their college careers.

Irish add commitment from CB Donte Vaughn

Donte Vaughn

Notre Dame’s recruiting class grew on Monday. And in adding 6-foot-3 Memphis cornerback Donte Vaughn, it grew considerably.

The Irish added another jumbo-sized skill player in Vaughn, beating out a slew of SEC offers for the intriguing cover man. Vaughn picked Notre Dame over offers from Auburn, LSU, Miami, Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Tennessee and Texas A&M among others.

He made the announcement on Monday, his 18th birthday:

It remains to be seen if Vaughn can run like a true cornerback. But his length certainly gives him a skill-set that doesn’t currently exist on the Notre Dame roster.

Interestingly enough, Vaughn’s commitment comes a cycle after Brian VanGorder made news by going after out-of-profile coverman Shaun Crawford, immediately offering the 5-foot-9 cornerback after taking over for Bob Diaco, who passed because of Crawford’s size. An ACL injury cut short Crawford’s freshman season before it got started, but not before Crawford already proved he’ll be a valuable piece of the Irish secondary for years to come.

Vaughn is another freaky athlete in a class that already features British Columbia’s Chase Claypool. With a safety depth chart that’s likely turning over quite a bit in the next two seasons, Vaughn can clearly shift over if that’s needed, though Notre Dame adding length like Vaughn clearly points to some of the shifting trends after Richard Sherman went from an average wide receiver to one of the best cornerbacks in football, and Vaughn will be asked to play on the outside.

Vaughn is the 15th member of Notre Dame’s 2016 signing class. He is the fifth defensive back, joining safeties D.J. Morgan, Jalen Elliott and Spencer Perry along with cornerback Julian Love. The Irish project to take one more.

With Notre Dame expecting another huge recruiting weekend with USC coming to town, it’ll be very interesting to see how the Irish staff close out this recruiting class.




Days before facing Notre Dame, USC coach Steve Sarkisian to take leave of absence


When Notre Dame takes on rival USC on Saturday, they’ll be facing a Trojans team without a head coach. USC athletic director Pat Haden announced today that effective immediately, head coach Steve Sarkisian will be taking an indefinite leave of absence. Offensive coordinator Clay Helton will be interim head coach.

While the details are still coming into focus, multiple reports point to another incident with alcohol. Haden himself said that he made the decision after speaking with Sarkisian.

“I called Steve and talked to him. It was very clear to me that he is not healthy. I asked him to take an indefinite leave of absence,” Haden said, according to multiple Los Angeles media reports.

Sarkisian’s decision-making and alcohol use came into the spotlight this August when the head coach made inappropriate statements at a large booster event. Sarkisian addressed the media after the incident, acknowledged mixing medication with alcohol, and vowed to seek help and not to make the same mistake again.

Today’s incident appears to be a relapse, and one that requires immediate attention. Helton ran the team’s practice today and steps back into an interim head coaching role, a job he handled after the Trojans fired Lane Kiffin and Ed Orgeron left after not being awarded the permanent job.

“Fortunately or unfortunately, I have been in this situation before,” Helton said. “Once again, I’m very fortunate to have a group of first-class kids that are extremely talented and want to do something special here.”

This is the second major sports persona to leave his season to seek treatment in recent weeks. New York Yankees pitcher CC Sabathia left the team to seek treatment for alcohol issues. The Trojans are coming off an upset loss to Washington on Thursday night, losing 17-12 as a 17-point favorite.