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With season over, let the recruiting games begin

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It’s that time of year again. When college football fans read into the clothing choices of four-star recruits or the hats that parents of recruits are wearing around the US Army All-American Bowl. For those of you that swill the recruiting Kool-Aid, it’s the most wonderful time of year.

For the first time in… well — a long time, the Irish enter the home stretch of recruiting on a serious roll. Four straight victories, culminating with a beat-down of the Miami Hurricanes after dispatching the USC Trojans for the first time since Bob Davie. Adding to the intrigue is the downward slide of some key Irish rivals.

Consider:

Michigan’s in a recruiting free-fall thanks to athletic director David Brandon’s refusal to either cut Rich Rodriguez lose or give him a vote of confidence, a decision that likely won’t be made until Jim Harbaugh decides what he wants to do.

Harbaugh’s decision is likely between two “dream jobs” Michigan — his alma mater — and the San Francisco 49ers, a local team that has plenty of Notre Dame ties. Team president Jed York, a 2003 Notre Dame graduate, could take great pride in not only scoring the hottest coach on the market, but also sticking it to the Wolverines, whose fanbase would revolt if they lost out on Harbaugh, waited until all the other top-programs filled vacancies, and had to reach for a guy like Brady Hoke, a coach whose resume isn’t close to Rodriguez’s.

Harbaugh’s decision to leave Stanford after the season could also be good news for the Irish when it comes to recruits like Amir Carlisle and Troy Niklas, two guys that have Stanford at the top of their list but would likely lose interest if Harbaugh leaves town, which is all but a foregone conclusion right now.

Stanford and Michigan aren’t the only place where a coaching change could help the Irish. While Florida is officially bringing on Charlie Weis to install a pro-style offense, it didn’t stop Ohio native Chase Hounshell from decided not to enroll early at Florida and instead open up his recruitment to the Gators and Irish. He may not be in the rarefied air of some other recruits the Irish are chasing, but he’s a big bodied offensive line prospect with great offers at a position where the Irish are thin.

Meanwhile, the Irish didn’t just beat up Miami on the field last week, they’re taking dead aim at Anthony Chickillo, an outside linebacker/defensive end prospect that is the Hurricane’s top-rated commitment. Chickillo would be a third generation Hurricane if he eventually signs with Miami, but he’s considering taking a visit to South Bend at the end of January, and Tony Alford is on the case for Notre Dame.

With the US Army All-American Bowl and the Under Armor All-American Bowl both on tap for the next week, nearly a dozen Irish commitments or targets are matched up with some of the top players in the country, and will be making their college decision soon. Notre Dame is still after, and looks in a strong position to sign Ishaq Williams (his dad was reportedly wearing a Notre Dame hat this week) and Brennan Scarlett from San Antonio and Savon Huggins and Amir Carlisle in Orlando.

If you like it, the next two months will be some of the most hectic on the college football calendar. If you don’t, plug your ears, steer clear of the message-boards, and I’ll do my best to keep you up to speed. Either way, for the first time in a long while, Notre Dame is in a position of strength going into the home stretch of recruiting, and head coach Brian Kelly and his staff are ready to take advantage of the momentum.

Five Irish players sign UFA contracts

Matthias Farley
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Notre Dame had seven players selected in the 2016 NFL Draft, trailing only Ohio State, Clemson and UCLA on the weekend tally. But after the draft finished, the Irish had five more players get their shot at playing on Sundays.

Chris Brown signed with the Dallas Cowboys. Romeo Okwara will begin his career with the New York Giants. Matthias Farley and Amir Carlisle signed contracts with the Arizona Cardinal. Elijah Shumate agreed to a contract with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

After missing two seasons, Ishaq Williams will be at Giants rookie camp next weekend as well, working as a tryout player. Expect Jarrett Grace to receive similar opportunities.

Count me among those that thought both Brown and Okwara would hear their names called. Brown’s senior season, not to mention his intriguing measureables, had some projecting him as early as the fifth round.

Okwara, still 20 years old and fresh off leading Notre Dame in sacks in back-to-back seasons, intrigued a lot of teams with his ability to play both defensive end and outside linebacker. He’ll get a chance to make the Giants—the team didn’t draft a defensive end after selecting just one last year, and they’re in desperate need of pass rushers.

Both Shumate and Farley feel like contenders to earn a spot on rosters, both because of their versatility and special teams skills. Shumate played nickel back as a freshman and improved greatly at safety during 2015. Farley bounced around everywhere and was Notre Dame’s special teams captain.

Carlisle might fit a similar mold. He played running back, receiver and returned kicks and punts throughout his college career. With a 4.4 during Notre Dame’s Pro Day, he likely showed the Cardinals enough to take a shot, and now he’ll join an offense with Michael Floyd and Troy Niklas.

 

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.