Friday notes: Recruiting, recruiting, recruiting


It seems like many of you are searching for recruiting news. There are plenty of places out there on the net to get your fix, but it might cost you ten bucks a month. It’s money well worth it at a few different sites if you want to know who’s visiting who, and when it’s happening, otherwise you’re stuck with me. I’ll do my best to keep up with the ins and outs of recruiting better over the summer months. 

That said, there’s some great free information out there, too. Brian Smith’s blog over at has been some great reading the past few weeks, and earlier in the week he put together a  great run down of Notre Dame’s recruiting targets and who is likely to receive a scholarship offer this summer, and who might even be ready to pull the trigger and commit. 

Here’s a taste:

Two recruits that appear to be the best bets to commit to ND by early
July should not surprise anyone.  Both of the Dixie products do not
hide their affinity for Notre Dame.

Ben Councell, OLB, 6-5, 220, Asheville, N.C.,
(Reynolds) — It’s rare to find linebackers with a knack for defending
the pass.  Councell’s proficiency within that particular area makes him
more than just an ordinary linebacker target.  The height and wing span
will also help Councell adapt to the college game.  Councell plans to
roam through North Carolina to visit a few schools before sojourning to
Notre Dame this summer.

Aaron Lynch,
DE, 6-6, 245, Cape Coral, Fla., (Island Coast) — If Lynch inhabits the
Notre Dame campus during the month of June, as he plans to do, that
will likely be enough for him to conclude his recruitment.  Perhaps
Lynch will need further proof that Notre Dame should be his future alma
mater, but do not expect him to drag his recruitment out past this

There’s plenty more to dig through, so those of you that are getting on me about recruiting news, that’s one good place to look.


While the info isn’t free, Tim Prister of IrishIllustrated takes a look at outside linebacker recruiting. It’s a key position for this year’s recruiting class, with the depth chart heavy on upperclassmen right now. 

From Prister:

Smith and Neal are in their final years of eligibility,
and Fleming and Filer begin the home stretch of their two remaining
seasons with the Irish. The only other scholarship outside linebacker in
the spring was sophomore Dan Fox, who did not play as a rookie in ’09.

Help is on the way with the freshman class that
arrives for summer school next month. But it’s uncertain as to exactly
which of the incoming freshmen will play outside linebacker. Danny Spond
appears to be the most likely candidate.

In other words, by the time any of the names on
Notre Dame’s outside linebacker recruiting list would arrive in South
Bend to begin their collegiate careers, Smith and Neal would be gone,
Fleming and Filer would be in their final years of eligibility, and Fox
and the freshmen would just be getting started.

Translation: the Irish need at least two outside
linebackers in the 2011 recruiting class, and a third probably wouldn’t

Currently, there are six outside linebacker
prospects on Irish Illustrated’s defensive master list. They are Clay
Burton from Venice, Fla., Anthony Chickillo from Tampa, Fla., Ben
Councell from Asheville, N.C., Christian French from Cedar Rapids, Iowa,
Anthony Rabasa from Miami, Fla., and Ishaq Williams from Brooklyn, N.Y.

The Irish would be happy with any one of these guys (or two), and will likely have their shot with most of them. Burton has the Irish in his top two behind leader Clemson, but will be visiting the Irish this June and already has his official visit set for September 11th versus Michigan. He’s also got Tony Alford recruiting him, so the Irish have to feel good about their chances.

Chickillo has the most impressive offer list of any of the players and is the son of former Miami Hurricane Tony Chickillo. He lacks the size of some of the other guys, but he’s as close to a ready-made football player as the Irish will find. He plans to visit the Irish this summer with his dad and again Tony Alford is on the case.

Councell is a long and lanky player, at 6-foot-5, 220-pounds he has some growing into his body to do, but he’s got a high ceiling and is a raw athlete that has elite speed and is a great student. He lacks the offers that most of the other OLB targets have, but certainly fits the big-skill mold Kelly looks for in edge players.

Speaking of raw athletes, Christian French is one of the more intriguing ones out there. The Iowa native has been clocked in the 4.4s, ridiculous when you see his 6-foot-6, 220-pound frame. French logged a 11.18 100 meter time at the prestigious Drake Relays, so his wheels seem legit. His offers are mostly Midwestern, and his position is still in question, but if properly coached up, French could turn into a freakish player off the edge. 

Rabasa hails from Miami, playing in a premiere conference and putting up silly numbers. At 6-foot-3, he doesn’t have ideal height, but he’s a terror on the football field, the kind of guy that Brian Kelly and company are making a priority to get. Rabasa has guaranteed Notre Dame an official visit this fall, and he’s already comfortable playing the outside backer position in the 3-4, something he does in high school.

Williams is a truly national recruit, and his raw skill set has colleges coast to coast offering the Brooklyn product. He’s playing things close to the vest, hasn’t scheduled a visit to Notre Dame yet, but would be a major get for the Irish if they can manage to reel him in.


While it isn’t Freekbass, our friends over at pulled up a cool video that unearthed a tradition that I didn’t know about either: The Irish Trumpets.

It’s not my favorite Irish video, but it’s a really well put together clip that highlights another great tradition. And it won’t get you laughed at by your work colleagues, so that’s a plus.

Swarbrick: Kelly will be back in 2017

SOUTH BEND, IN - AUGUST 30:  Head coach Brian Kelly of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish watches as his team takes on the Rice Owls at Notre Dame Stadium on August 30, 2014 in South Bend, Indiana.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

Brian Kelly will be coaching Notre Dame in 2017. That’s according to his boss, athletic director Jack Swarbrick.

So even with a 2-5 record and a difficult slate still to come, there will be no change atop the Irish football program.

“Brian will lead this team out of the tunnel opening day next year,” Swarbrick told

Swarbrick’s vote of confidence is nothing new—he’s taken a similar stance in his weekly appearances the past few weeks. But it likely became necessary as the season continues to frustrate, and Notre Dame’s head coaching position becomes part of the hot seat discussion.

But even with plenty to accomplish during this week off, both on the field and in the classroom, Kelly was out front and on the ESPN airwaves, openly shouldering the blame of this season’s failures, while also mentioning this is the youngest team at Notre Dame since 1972.

See the entire segment here:


Bye Week Mailbag: Now Open

SOUTH BEND, IN - OCTOBER 15: DeShone Kizer #14 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish runs the ball during the game against the Stanford Cardinal at Notre Dame Stadium on October 15, 2016 in South Bend, Indiana. Stanford defeated Notre Dame 17-10. (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)

It’s been too long. Or maybe it hasn’t.

Against my better judgment, I’m opening up the mailbag. Drop your questions below or at Twitter @KeithArnold.

How we got here: The Defense

05 September 2015:  Notre Dame Fighting Irish defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder stands with his players in action during a game between the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and the Texas Longhorns at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend, IN. (Icon Sportswire via AP Images)

The first of a multi-part series as we look at the 2-5 Irish at the bye week. 


Notre Dame’s season was sunk by Brian VanGorder’s defense. That sentence is much easier to write after seeing the unit without its former coordinator. But it was just as clear after watching the Irish play their first four games of 2016 that Brian Kelly needed to make a change. The Irish gave up a combined 124 points in their three September defeats, a season-high for either yards or points (against FBS competition) for Texas, Michigan State and Duke.

For many VanGorder detractors, the move came four games too late. The Irish were plagued by big plays and schematic breakdowns throughout 2015 (and before), a fatal flaw of a defense filled with talented personnel that too often underperformed.

How did the Irish get here? Any why did Kelly make the decision to hire VanGorder—a decision that has already impacted his legacy in South Bend?

Let’s look back.



When Brian Kelly tapped VanGorder to replace Bob Diaco, he was hiring a coach who seemed like an evolutionary next step. While Diaco’s 3-4 base and point prevention philosophies were the perfect tonic for improving a team that was wrecked by the Tenuta era, Alabama undressed the Irish at the end of the 2012 season, a simplicity in Notre Dame’s scheme that received a few comments from Alabama players in the postgame glow that likely had Kelly wondering if they’d hit their ceiling.

That’s an important factor to remember when Kelly was hiring Diaco’s replacement. Because the foundation of the defense was well established. Kelly needed someone to build on top of it.

That likely made VanGorder’s pitch music to Kelly’s ears. Because while Diaco relied heavily on his base set, VanGorder’s DNA included sub-packages, complementary parts, Rex Ryan-inspired blitzes, and a philosophy that no throw would be conceded— underneath or otherwise.

Add to that Kelly’s personal relationship with VanGorder. Kelly had watched his former Grand Valley State colleague from the beginning of his career. He had seen him work with young players and believed in him as a teacher (something he referenced multiple times when he introduced VanGorder to the local media) before blazing his own trail, earning a head coaching opportunity at Wayne State, a high-profile coordinator position at Georgia and eventually making his way to the NFL—for a long time, farther up the food chain than Kelly.

Perhaps that was enough to dismiss his chaotic year at Auburn, when the Tigers season—and defense—went up in smoke as Gene Chizik was fired and VanGorder’s defense gave up 63 to No. 20 Texas A&M, 38 to No. 5 Georgia, and were blown out 49-0 to Alabama—after after mid-October.

But for a variety of reasons, likely his success turning to coaches with a personal connection, Kelly once again did so, hiring an NFL position coach who was a few years removed from being an elite-level coaching target for a vacancy that was a high-profile national opening.



The challenge with VanGorder’s struggles always seemed to be the caveats. Injuries decimated his first defense, a group that shutout Michigan and stymied Stanford, but crumbled by the end of the season, with USC naming a number and the Irish tumbling after giving up big, ugly scores to Arizona State, Northwestern, Louisville and USC.

The 2015 defense had strong moments—dominating Texas, holding Clemson to 24 points and nice wins over option opponents Georgia Tech and Navy—but obviously imploded late against Stanford and never stood a chance against Ohio State, with injuries once again leveling the depth chart.

But there were improvements. Between 2014 and 2015 VanGorder’s unit got a better handle on up-tempo attacks. An offseason committed to stopping the option saw those goals achieved with successful defensive performances against Georgia Tech and Navy. And even if VanGorder’s veteran-heavy 2015 unit was mostly moving on (the talent exodus is staggering now that you look at it), most had talked themselves into believing that Year Three would have better institutional knowledge for all, a depth chart ready to step in and perform.

[A necessary footnote: Luck certainly wasn’t on VanGorder’s side. Injuries, transfers and suspensions certainly didn’t do him any favors, either. Whether it was the disappearance of edge rushers—Kolin Hill, Jhonny Williams, Bo Wallace—or the loss of KeiVarae Russell and Max Redfield, injuries to Jarron Jones, Shaun Crawford, Nick Watkins and Drue Tranquill, there was always the defense VanGorder hoped to put on the field… and then the one that he actually did.]



Austin, Texas. Opening night, 2016.

The Irish defense was exposed against the Longhorns, shredded by both the power running attack and freshman Shane Buechele’s passing. It was an all-systems failure: Scheme, blown assignments, questionable personnel decisions—all pointing back to a game plan that required a bunch of assumptions (new offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert was difficult to scout), but nonetheless was a disastrous start.



Even if Kelly gave the staff’s performance a passing grade, by noon after the loss to Duke, the decision was made to relieve VanGorder of his duties.

“This is a difficult decision,” Kelly said in a statement. “I have the utmost respect for Brian as both a person and football coach, but our defense simply isn’t it where it should be and I believe this change is necessary for the best interest of our program and our student-athletes.”



While Kelly won’t likely go any deeper into the decision to make the change than he’s done in a few media sessions, it’s telling just how different the defense is organized with VanGorder out the door.

Full-unit meetings have been turned into position group teaching sessions. Depth chart’s have been reshuffled, resulting in major personnel changes. A base three-man front has taken over as the status quo. And the defense has stopped giving up points and big plays, especially after they found their footing against Syracuse.

Where Kelly goes from here is anyone’s guess—especially considering he’s still trying his best to get this season under control. But after tapping into his personal coaching network to fill a premium vacancy, don’t expect Kelly to settle on the familiar—or for Swarbrick to allow it—when his roster is loaded with young talent and in need of a fundamentally sound plan.

CB Elijah Hicks commits to Notre Dame

Irish 247

Just hours after one member of Notre Dame’s 2017 class stepped away, another took his place. Southern California defensive back Elijah Hicks committed to the Irish. The four-star prospect, an all-purpose defender who can play safety, cornerback and contribute in special teams, pulled the trigger just days after taking his official visit to South Bend.

He made the news official via Twitter and recorded a commitment video with Irish 247’s Tom Loy. And even as Notre Dame’s season continues in the wrong direction, Hicks bought in to the message being sold by the Irish coaching staff, picking Notre Dame over programs like UCLA, USC, Michigan and Washington.

A year after stocking up the secondary—Hicks gives the Irish a nice piece to pair with Paulson Adebo and all-purpose athlete Isaiah Robertson. And as we watch Troy Pride, Julian Love, Donte Vaughn and Devin Studstill might a quick impact on the back end, Hicks compares favorably to that quartet, another prospect with elite offers who will come into South Bend ready to fight for a spot in the two-deep.

Hicks told why he pulled the trigger now:

“I chose Notre Dame because on my official visit I felt comfortable and it felt like home,” said Hicks. “One of my favorite quotes about Notre Dame is, ‘Other teams play college football, Notre Dame is college football.’ Coach Lyght, I feel like he could give me the tools that’s necessary to make it to the NFL and have a long career. Also, they have a rich tradition and great academic support.”

Hicks plays for La Mirada High School, the same program that produced reserve Irish tight end Tyler Luatua. He returns Notre Dame’s 2017 class to 18, a Top 10 group by any evaluation.