Jan 19, 2010, 7:30 AM EDT
As we approach the home stretch of the recruiting calendar, Brian Kelly’s first class could hinge on the decision of four key recruits. While Kelly and his staff are likely to continue reaching out to both familiar names and wild cards, the balance of Notre Dame’s recruiting class still hinges on reeling in any of these four players.
While Seantrel Henderson may be the apple of many Irish fans’ eye, getting James seems to be a more realistic goal, and hardly a consolation prize. With Florida now out of the equation, James is down to Notre Dame, Ohio State, and Cincinnati. You would think that the Bearcats inclusion in James’ finalists was because of a coaching staff that mostly migrated to South Bend, and if Kelly is any type of salesman he can sway the gigantic tackle prospect to the virtues of Notre Dame over the upstart Cincy program. There have been reports that the Buckeyes actually have the lead for the St. Xavier star, but interestingly enough, James’ decision could hinge on Henderson’s choice, as it’s been widely reported that the St. Paul native has Ohio State as a front-runner as well. If James has aspirations to stay at left tackle, he may very well wait to hear where Henderson goes before deciding on a program. But there’s a realistic shot that either the Buckeyes or the Irish could land both these blue-chippers. It’d be a terrifying site for opponents to see James and Henderson on opposite sides of the offensive line. It’d also be a dream for Kelly and his staff if it’s in an Irish uniform.
Henderson’s recruitment is a complete mystery with the exodus of Pete Carroll. Many reports had Henderson and his family ready to move west and join a Trojan program that would groom the St. Paul native for the NFL. While Carroll’s departure pushed the Trojans back into line with Henderson’s other suitors, don’t discount the recruiting acumen of new coach Lane Kiffin and his ace-in-the-hole Ed Orgeron. It’d also be foolish to discount Jim Tressel, who has been a favorite of the Henderson family since the beginning of this process during Henderson’s freshman season. Cretin-Derham Hall has sent Rashon Powers-Neal, Marcus Freeman, Matt Carufel, and now Michael Floyd to Notre Dame, and a pipeline of Minnesota talent has flowed into the Irish program. That could either help or hurt Henderson, who could fall in line with a friend like Floyd, or chose to chart his own path. What Henderson decides to do on Signing Day could determine the fate of any program he choses, as he’s a rare breed that is hulking physical specimen that’s ready to step onto campus as a true freshman and compete for a left tackle job.
For the past few seasons, the Irish seemed to have a back-log of capable safety prospects, but now suddenly find themselves with a real question mark along the back-line of defense. Kyle McCarthy is gone, and Harrison Smith is a gigantic question mark after last season’s struggle transitioning to safety. As our friends at BGS mentioned, the Irish only return two-percent of their playing time at safety (if Smith is no longer a candidate to return to the defensive backfield) with Zeke Motta and Leonard Gordon leading the charge with only a bakers’ dozen of minutes played between them. Chris Badger is already on campus and working out with the team, but the Irish could use a player like Riley — an athletic roving safety that has the jets needed to cover ground in center field. The Irish felt good about their chances with Riley when Weis and his staff were still in charge. Now news comes that Riley has visited UCLA the past two weekends — his first an official visit, and last weekend unofficially — and the next two weekends will have Riley at LSU and USC respectively. Riley said he had Southern Cal as his leader before Pete Carroll left, but now claims that he’s starting over. For the Irish to have a chance, Kelly and his staff with have to wow Riley during their in-home visit, which is scheduled for this Wednesday. Riley’s high school — St. Francis in La Canada, California — has sent plenty of kids to Notre Dame for college and has a strong Catholic background. Whether that helps convince Riley that South Bend is the place for him, we’ll soon find out.
Barr is precisely the kind of athlete that Kelly prides himself on building his program around. Barr projects at a variety of positions, but recently made it known that he’d like to be considered as a safety, which works perfectly for the Irish depth chart. Over the weekend, there were rumors that Barr committed to UCLA, but those have been refuted. Still, Rick Neuheisel and staff made quite an impression on a recruit that has Irish blue and gold in his DNA. I’m incredibly high on Barr as a recruit and potential star in college, and he looks exactly like the long, lean, and cat-quick athlete that Notre Dame needs to bring into the fold. The fact that both his mother and father have strong ties to the program should help negate the fact that Kelly was late to the recruiting party. It’ll be an interesting few weeks for Barr, and the Irish coaching staff should pull every rabbit out of the hat to convince Barr he’s best suited to follow his father’s footsteps and play for the Irish.