Final recruiting weekend proves pivotal

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As the final weekend on the recruiting calendar approaches, the Irish coaching staff pulled out all the stops to make this weekend the biggest in the Brian Kelly era.

With less than a week left before letters-of-intent begin to get faxed into the Notre Dame football office, Kelly and his staff have put together an impressive group of players that will trip to South Bend for official visits.

Here’s a quick look at the recruits who’ll be visiting:

Matt James (OL): Every list should start with this hulking offensive lineman from Cincinnati. James, who will decide between the Irish, Ohio State, and Cincinnati, is the most likely candidate of the true blue-chippers to commit to the Irish, and he’ll be all ears to Kelly and his staff this weekend.

Luke Massa (QB): Massa is one of the trio of quarterbacks to be recently offered by the Irish. Even though he’s a verbal to the Bearcats, he’ll join his high school teammate James in South Bend for the official visit. Some suspect that the Massa offer was an attempt at a package deal. If it works as well as the Roby Toma offer, Irish fans should be pinching themselves.

Jeremy Ioane (S): Speaking of Toma and Manti Te’o, Ioane was a prep teammate of the duo from Punaho. He represents a need for the Irish, and a more than capable replacement for Dietrich Riley, who looks to be extending his decision for a few days.

Kona Schwenke (DE): Another eleventh hour offer from Kelly and another Hawaii native. (Talk about the Pineapple Express…) Schwenke is committed to BYU, but projects to be a long-bodied defensive end prospect that has shown some real athleticism. This would be a great steal for Notre Dame, especially after the loss of Blake Lueders.

Brandon Bourbon (RB): Now this would be a great vengeance recruit. Bourbon, committed to Stanford since August, hopped at the offer by Kelly, and will take his trip to Notre Dame this weekend all ears. If the Irish manage to reel in Bourbon, that’ll be a four-for-one trade with Stanford, losing Lueders, but gaining Chris Badger, Tai-ler Jones, and Tate Nichols.

Danny Spond (QB/ATH): Spond was the first of the “big skill” offers from Kelly, who just happened to play quarterback. The Colorado native grades out impressively as an athlete and would be a great recruiting victory for Kelly, who deserves credit for targeting the one-time Colorado commitment.

Derek Roback (QB/ATH): Another recent offer, Roback doesn’t necessarily profile out as the best quarterback visiting, but he’s got a lot of great attributes as an athlete. He looks like a perfect example of a developmental player that Kelly and staff successfully targeted at Cincy.

Also joining the crew on campus will be commitments Christian Lombard (OL), Andrew Hendrix (QB), Austin Collinsworth (WR/S), Daniel Smith (WR), and Tate Nichols (OT) who will all be taking their official visits. Each of these committed recruits will be critical building positive momentum as the undecided prospects take their final visits before locking into a college choice.

South Bend expects chilly temperatures and a decent chance of snow before clearing up and warming slightly over the weekend. Kelly and company could use a picturesque campus to go along with his proven track record when making his sales pitch.

This is Brian Kelly’s biggest weekend as the head coach of Notre Dame. We’ll tell if he won or loss Saturday by the number of faxes that come in on Wednesday.  

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.

 

 

Jaylon Smith goes to Dallas with 34th pick

PITTSBURGH, PA - NOVEMBER 07:  Jaylon Smith #9 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish celebrates by wearing the hat of team mascot, Lucky The Leprechaun, following their 42-30 win against the Pittsburgh Panthers at Heinz Field on November 7, 2015 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
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Jaylon Smith’s nightmare is over.

After watching his football life thrown into chaos with a career-altering knee injury, Smith came off the board after just two picks in the second round, selected by the Dallas Cowboys with the 34th pick. His selection ended the most challenging months of Smith’s young life, and come after cashing in a significant tax-free, loss-of-value insurance policy that’ll end up being just shy of a million dollars.

No, it’s not top-five money like Smith could’ve expected if he didn’t get hurt. But Smith isn’t expected to play in 2016.

And while there was a pre-draft fascination that focused on the doom and gloom more than the time-consuming recovery, it’s worth pointing out that Dallas’ medical evaluation comes from the source—literally. After all, it was the Cowboys team doctor, Dr. Dan Cooper, who performed the surgery to repair Smith’s knee.

Smith joins Ezekiel Elliott with the Cowboys, arguably the two best position players in the draft. While he might not be available in 2016, Smith will be under the supervision of the Cowboys’ medical staff, paid a seven-figure salary to get healthy with the hopes that he’ll be back to his All-American self sooner than later, especially as the nerve in his knee returns to full functionality.