Martin takes dead aim at recruiting perceptions

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One of the biggest questions when Brian Kelly was hired as the head coach of Notre Dame was whether or not he could recruit the blue-chip caliber players needed to compete at the highest level of college football.

Over the course of the eleven months or so Kelly and his staff have been on campus, those doubts have been quieted, with Kelly closing strong on the 2010 recruiting class, and the 2011 class jumping out to a staggeringly quick start.

Yet the recent decommitments of Clay Burton, Aaron Lynch, and Jordan Prestwood reignited some of those worries, with the Irish losing all three Florida commitments over the last few weeks as the first season of the Kelly era got stuck in neutral.

The decision of Clay Burton to accept Florida’s offer shouldn’t come as a surprise to Irish fans that pay close attention to recruiting, but the loss of Lynch and Prestwood, two top-end recruits at their perspective positions have gotten people worried. But defensive backs coach and recruiting coordinator Chuck Martin isn’t sweating it.

“The kids that are interested in Notre Dame right now and the kids that are thinking about coming to Notre Dame right now are some of the best kids in the country,” Martin said. “We’re going to get 20-to-22 of the better players in the country, and then we’re going to coach them up, and then we’re going to win with them.”

With the Irish sitting at 17 verbal commitments, it isn’t hard to deduct that the Irish are going to take aim at three to five more players to complete this recruiting class. We know one of them is quarterback Jacoby Brissett, a dual-threat QB with great size, is one of them, and he’ll be on campus this weekend to check out Notre Dame first hand. Other targets like Ishaq Williams and Christian French, two high-end athletes that’ll play on the edge of the defense, could make Irish fans forget about Lynch and Burton quickly.

Martin was also quick to shoot down any notion that Kelly’s previous track record at D-II, MAC and Big East schools won’t have him ready to recruit at Notre Dame.

“The theory that he hasn’t recruited at this level, to me, that’s so preposterous to me,” Martin said. “That really blows my mind.”

While this coaching staff’s past won’t make it too difficult to walk into high schools across the country, Martin acknowledged that combating negative recruiting is something they’ll have to be mindful of as they continue at Notre Dame.

“Somehow the kid has to sort it out and figure out what’s reality, which sometimes is hard,” Martin said. “You talk to parents and they’re so confused. I heard this and I heard this and I heard this. We’ve all got bad information that we’ve believed at some point in time.”

When you’re recruiting for Notre Dame, often times this, this, and this take on some pretty preposterous proportions. For Martin and the staff, it’ll be important to frame this season’s struggles in the right way, as the Irish have been forced to play through a myriad of issues. For the most part, the recruits have understood the process.

“I think most of them understand the first year, we’ve had some key injuries, new offense, new defense, and not necessarily not good enough personnel, but it’s maybe not in every spot the correct personnel,” Martin said. “For me we’ve just got to get back to the same old message and that usually calms them down. Yeah, that’s why I was interested in Notre Dame in the first place.”

With over three months to go until Signing Day, there’ll be plenty of time for Martin and company to not only combat some of the negative recruiting they’ve heard out there, but also to take aim at a few new athletes on their recruiting board and potentially bring a few others back into the fold. Unlike his predecessor, Brian Kelly’s made it clear that his coaching staff will take a different approach: Everyone — committed or uncommitted — will be recruited until Signing Day.



Report: Tarean Folston won’t return for fifth year

Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl

Tarean Folston will declare for the NFL Draft. The senior running back, who has a fifth-year of eligibility available after a medical redshirt in 2014, will instead turn his focus to preparing for the professional ranks. Irish Sports Daily’s Matt Freeman broke the news, confirming the decision with Folston.

The departure wasn’t totally unexpected, though Folston was also a candidate for a graduate transfer. But after running for 1,712 yards over four years, the 214-pound back will hope an NFL team takes a shot on him, likely looking at tape of Folston the underclassmen to make their evaluation.

The Cocoa, Florida native burst onto the scene as a freshman against Navy when he ran for 140 yards on 18 carries in the Irish’s 38-34 win. He was Notre Dame’s leading rusher in 2014, running for 889 yards and 5.1 yards per carry  and six scores in 2014.

Expected to do big things in 2015, Folston’s season lasted just three carries, a torn ACL suffered against Texas in the season opener. After Josh Adams emerged that season, Folston fell behind him in the depth chart, getting just 77 carries in 2016.

The move clarifies a depth chart that looked to be unchanged heading into next season. But with Folston’s exit, rising sophomore Tony Jones will join Adams and Dexter Williams in the rotation. Fellow sophomore Deon Macintosh and incoming freshman C.J. Holmes will also compete for playing time.

Quenton Nelson will return for his senior season

SOUTH BEND, IN - OCTOBER 17: Quenton Nelson #56 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish celebrates after a 10-yard touchdown reception by Corey Robinson against the USC Trojans in the fourth quarter of the game at Notre Dame Stadium on October 17, 2015 in South Bend, Indiana. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

Brian Kelly’s talked about the rare 6-star recruit: Harrison Smith, Manti Te’o, Michael Floyd, Zack Martin. Well, add Quenton Nelson to the list. Notre Dame’s starting left guard has made it official that he’ll return for his senior season.

The New Jersey native adds another key building block to the Irish offensive line, returning with Mike McGlinchey to anchor Harry Hiestand’s unit. Like McGlinchey, Nelson had an option to be selected high in next year’s NFL Draft, staying in school even after receiving a second-round grade from the NFL’s Advisory Board, per Irish Illustrated.

Nelson took to social media to make the news public, with the NFL’s declaration deadline set for January 16.

“Excited for this team to grow every day this offseason by putting in nothing but hard work and grinding together. When we reach our full potential, look out. I’m right behind you Coach.”

Nelson was named a team captain for 2017 at the year-end Echoes Awards Show. He earned second-team All-American honors from Sports Illustrated and was rated by ESPN’s Mel Kiper as the No. 1 offensive guard in the 2017 draft class, a grade he’ll likely carry into next season.

Clark Lea formally named Linebackers Coach


Notre Dame formally introduced new linebackers coach Clark Lea on Thursday. The press release for the 35-year-old  included the following quote from the new assistant who has worked at Bowling Green, UCLA and Wake Forest, and rejoins Mike Elko in South Bend.

“I’m humbled to be a part of the Notre Dame football program,” Lea said in a statement. “It’s an honor to represent such a prestigious academic institution, and to be a part of this program’s rich tradition of athletic excellence. I’d like to thank Jack Swarbrick and coach Kelly for this tremendous opportunity. I’m excited to get to work building relationships with our players, and do my part in helping coach Kelly execute his vision for the program.”

That work has already begun, with Lea on the prowl as the recruiting dead period ended and the rebuilt Irish staff hit the road. Yesterday, Lea was with defensive coordinator Mike Elko visiting commit David Adams, a key piece of the Irish puzzle on the defensive side of the ball. That starts a mad rush that’ll keep Lea’s belongs in boxes until after the first Wednesday in February, as Elko and his reshuffled defensive staff open their recruiting board, finding replacements for a handful of de-commitments and pieces that’ll fit Elko’s scheme.

If there’s any reason for optimism after a tough few weeks in recruiting, it’s the young staff that Kelly has assembled. The youth movement includes not just Lea, but the 39-year-old Elko. New offensive coordinator Chip Long is just 33, moving to Notre Dame after one season at Memphis. Running backs coach Autry Denson just turned 40 while special teams coordinator Brian Polian is practically long in the tooth at 42. (All that comes before the expected announcement of 25-year-old Tommy Rees.)

Lea’s pedigree is rock solid, earning kudos in 2012 for his work as Linebackers coach at Bowling Green, Football Scoop’s Linebackers Coach of the Year.

“Clark is a wonderful addition to our staff,” Kelly said in the release. “Obviously, he brings a substantial amount of knowledge about coach Elko’s defensive system — having worked with Mike at both Bowling Green and Wake Forest. Clark has demonstrated throughout his career an ability to not only identify unique talent in the recruiting process, but also develop that talent into high-production linebackers. As a former student-athlete, he will relate exceptionally well with our kids and provide tremendous mentorship throughout their careers at Notre Dame.”




Reports: Lea, Alexander added to Irish coaching staff

ASU Sports Information

Brian Kelly is adding to his rebuilt coaching staff, reportedly finalizing deals with Wake Forest linebackers coach Clark Lea and Arizona State assistant DelVaughn Alexander. Lea will reunite with Mike Elko and coach linebackers and Alexander will coach wide receivers. While both hires are still going through formal university vetting, the Lea hire has long been rumored before being reported by SI’s Pete Thamel. broke the news on Alexander, before multiple outlets confirmed the report.

In Lea, Elko brings a piece of his coaching staff with him to South Bend. The 35-year-old spent last season working in Winston-Salem and spent three seasons at Syracuse before that. He worked with Elko and Demon Deacons head coach Dave Clawson at Bowling Green and has spent time as an assistant at UCLA as well. He earned three letters at Vanderbilt, a 2004 graduate.

Alexander is a veteran presence to help replace Mike Denbrock and fill his void coaching receivers. He’s also a coach with first-hand knowledge of new coordinator Chip Long, having worked alongside him in Tempe under Mike Norvell. The move also comes in time for the reopen of the recruiting season’s home stretch, bringing a capable West Coast recruiter to the staff at a time when Notre Dame’s 2017 class is leaking a bit of oil.

Alexander played wide receiver at USC, playing for Larry Smith and John Robinson, before breaking into the coaching ranks there as a graduate assistant. He’s also had stops at UNLV, coached for Jim Harbaugh at San Diego, and spent significant time at Wisconsin and Arizona State where he coached multiple positions, taking over tight ends after Long left for Memphis.