Gary Gray Robert Blanton

Recruiting — The final countdown


Rarely can Irish fans almost sigh in relief when an elite, four-star recruit at a position of need leaves Notre Dame a bridesmaid in a recruiting battle. But when Portland defensive end Brennan Scarlett picked Cal this afternoon instead of the Irish, he helped clear up a complicated scholarship picture for the Notre Dame coaching staff.

For the first time in a long time, Notre Dame has a numbers crunch on their roster, and they’ll be forced to make some difficult decisions at both the front and back-end of the roster. With scholarships limited to 85, Notre Dame has themselves in a situation that’s actually enviable — more roster options than they can actually accommodate.

With Scarlett off the board, Notre Dame is still in the running for four defensive prospects: Aaron Lynch, Ishaq Williams, Troy Niklas, and (two-way player) Chase Hounshell. Offensively, the Irish are looking at running backs Amir Carlisle and Savon Huggins, along with holding out hope for offensive lineman Antonio Richardson, even less likely to come to Notre Dame after the Irish scooped up Nick Martin this week.

Lynch is set to visit Notre Dame this weekend, and if all goes according to plan, he could be enrolled in classes on Monday. The same could be said for Williams, who has gone into a holding pattern with his three finalists Penn State, ND, and Syracuse. Both guys are assured a scholarship if they want one, and you’ve got to think that the coaching staff is going to say yes to either Carlisle or Huggins, and probably only one of them.

The venerable Lou Somogyi of Blue & Gold succinctly broke down the scholarship options for 2011:

Here is a review of the current scholarship breakdown, with each class referring to the 2011 football season. There are 85 scholarships allowed, per NCAA rules:

• 22 seniors — This includes quarterback Nate Montana, who originally enrolled as a walk-on, and the return of Michael Floyd, who was contemplating turning pro.
• 15 juniors — Three players from the original group are no longer with the program: E.J. Banks, Bullard and Shaquelle Evans (UCLA).
• 19 sophomores — There were originally 23 signed last February, but offensive tackle Matt James died in a spring break accident, cornerback Spencer Boyd transferred to South Florida, safety Derek Roback transferred to Ohio U. and safety Chris Badger, who is on a Mormon mission in Ecuador, has a scholarship awaiting him in 2012.

That’s 56 scholarship players from those three classes, which leaves Notre Dame 29 for the 85 maximum

As mentioned, Kelly and Company would be ecstatic if they added two new early-enrollees to the class on Monday. But after the 20 committed recruits, every additional recruit Notre Dame welcomes in means that a fifth-year candidate isn’t likely to return.

Those candidates include:

Andrew Nuss, OL
Taylor Dever, OL
Matt Romine, OL
Mike Ragone, TE
Gary Gray, CB
Harrison Smith, FS
Emeka Nwankwo, DE
Steve Paskorz, LB
David Ruffer, K
Dan Wenger, OL* (Sixth-year candidate)

Let’s just assume we welcome back all the starters — Dever, Smith, Gray, and Ruffer. (Some aren’t assuming Ruffer is for sure back, but I’d be absolutely shocked if ND *didn’t* give him a scholarship.) Then you start weighing your options with guys like Nuss and Romine — solid offensive line depth and Ragone, a key back-up at tight end. With Chris Watt on the inside track at filling the guard spot Chris Stewart is vacating, maybe ND can afford not to bring back any fifth-year linemen, but the choice certainly isn’t clear cut.

Fifth-year candidates won’t be announced until likely after signing day, and the assumption that just because Nate Montana was on scholarship last season (likely a necessity, as he was the primary back-up quarterback for much of the year) means he’ll be back on scholarship this year shouldn’t be taken as fact.

But as recruiting comes down the home stretch, Notre Dame will finally be utilizing all 85 scholarships allotted to them. While it makes for some difficult decisions, it’s the first sign that the football program is almost back to full strength.

Five Irish players sign UFA contracts

Matthias Farley

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

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

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)

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.