Tee Shepard

Elite CB recruit Tee Shepard is commit No. 1 for Irish


With eleven months to go until next year’s signing day, the Irish notched their first verbal commitment for the 2012 recruiting class. And while it’s hard to get too excited about a verbal commitment that’s far from binding, the Irish reeled in Fresno cornerback Tee Shepard, one of the most coveted cover corners on the West Coast.

IrishSportsDaily.com got the quote of record from Shepard:

“I committed to Notre Dame,” Shepard told IrishSportsDaily.com. “I am happy to get it over with. I didn’t want to play with the other coaches. They have a job to do, and I didn’t want to lead them on. I just wanted to get it out of the way. I mean, I had 27 offers, but I always wanted Notre Dame. I am excited.”

And a runner-up quote from ESPN.com’s Greg Biggins:

“They knew I was going to Notre Dame but thought I would go through the process a little longer,” Shepard said. “For me, it came down to knowing what I wanted to do and just not wanting to waste anyone’s time. The second they offered me, I knew I would be going to Notre Dame so there was no need to drag this out.

“Notre Dame had everything I was looking for. I love the tradition, the new coaching staff and what the school is all about. It’s a privilege to say you attend Notre Dame and I know the program has been down for a few years but they’re turning the corner and I’m excited to be a part of making them the top program in the country once again.”

We learned during the last recruiting cycle that a verbal commitment travels a long and winding round to actually signing on the dotted line, but there’s plenty to get excited about for Irish fans looking at commitment No. 1 for Brian Kelly and the Irish. Here are a few:


If you’re looking to judge Shepard on his offer list, get ready to be impressed. The 6-foot-1, 175-pound cornerback has offers from Alabama, Auburn, Cal, Miami, UCLA, Washington and USC among the 27 Shepard claims.


Shepard was the first cornerback offered by the Irish back in May of 2010, and during the Team USA All-Star game where 2011 commits Matt Hegarty, Stephon Tuitt, George and Josh Atkinson, and Anthony Rabasa played, Shepard was already hinting that he’d be joining the Irish soon.

He’s another great recruiting get by tight ends coach Mike Denbrock in California, who reeled in the Atkinson brothers and Troy Niklas this year, and kept Justin Utupo and Cameron Roberson in the fold in 2010.


It’s too early to get star crazy as the major websites haven’t gone through their initial evaluations, but all signs point to Shepard being a Top 100 player in the country, and potentially a five-star recruit.


This comes courtesy of Fresno Mike, who frequents the ND Nation board, and has probably, actually, shockingly had a chance to see Shepard play with his own eyes, something not many recruitniks can actually say:

His DB coach, Tony Perry, says that he’ll be the best corner that he’s coached. That’s a tall order as this particular area of Fresno (primarily Edison High but now also Central) has sent DB’s coached by Perry to Oklahoma, Michigan, Oregon, USC, UCLA, Cal, Georgia Tech, Arizona, Colorado and Fresno State among other schools over the past 10 years. That includes current Oregon starter Cliff Harris and Arizona starter Robert Golden. Harris has also indicated that Tee could be the best of the bunch. Oregon will be in the hunt also…especially since Harris is in Eugene and they do a great job recruiting this area.

Harris at Oregon. TJ McDonald…now a starting safety at USC. Robert Golden…now a starting corner at Arizona. Tevin McDonald…will start at UCLA this fall as a redshirt freshman. Courtney Viney…scholie to UCLA. Brandon Leslie…scholie to Georgia Tech…now going to Hawaii. Aaron Miller…scholie to Oklahoma. Johnny Sears…scholie to Michigan. Bernard Hicks and Robert Peele…scholies to Cal. Lorenzo Sims…scholie to Colorado. Clifton Smith…scholie to Fresno State and played in ’08 Pro Bowl. All of those kids played at Edison between the ’01 and ’09 seasons and the ’08 team had a starting defensive backfield of Harris, TJ McDonald, Golden and Leslie. Not a bad high school defensive secondary.

Translation: This guy could be good.


It might have taken a little longer than most wanted for that first recruiting domino to fall, but Shepard is the type of recruit that’s worth waiting for. Now all the Notre Dame staff has to do is hold off the rest of the country.



Evaluating VanGorder’s scheme against the option

ANNAPOLIS, MD - SEPTEMBER 19:  Keenan Reynolds #19 of the Navy Midshipmen rushes for his fifth touchdown in the fourth quarter against the East Carolina Pirates during their 45-21 win on September 19, 2015 in Annapolis, Maryland.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)

Notre Dame’s ability to slow down Georgia Tech’s vaunted option attack served as one of the high points to the Irish’s early season success. After spending a considerable amount of offseason energy towards attacking the option and learning more, watching the Irish hold the Yellow Jackets in check was a huge victory for Brian VanGorder, Bob Elliott and the rest of Notre Dame’s staff.

But it was only half the battle.

This weekend, Keenan Reynolds and Navy’s veteran offense come to town looking to wreak some havoc on a defense that’s struggled to slow it down. And after getting a look at some of the new tricks the Irish had in store for Paul Johnson, Ken Niumatalolo and his offensive coaches have likely started plotting their counterpunches days in advance.

How did Notre Dame’s defense slow down Georgia Tech? Brian Kelly credited an aggressive game plan and continually changing looks. So while some were quick to wonder whether Notre Dame’s scheme changes were the biggest piece of the puzzle, it’s interesting to see how the Irish’s strategic decisions looked from the perspective of an option expert.

Over at “The Birddog” blog, Michael James utilizes his spread option expertise and takes a look at how the Irish defended Georgia Tech. His conclusion:

Did the Irish finally figure out the magic formula that will kill this gimmick high school offense for good?

Not exactly.

The Irish played a fairly standard 4-3 for a large chunk of the game. James thought Notre Dame’s move to a 3-5-3 was unique, though certainly not the first time anybody’s used that alignment.

But what stood out wasn’t necessarily the Xs and Os, but rather how much better Notre Dame’s personnel reacted to what they were facing.

Again, from the Birddog Blog:

The real story here, and what stood out to me when watching Notre Dame play Georgia Tech, was how much faster the Irish played compared to past years. I don’t mean that they are more athletic, although this is considered to be the best Notre Dame team in years. I mean that they reacted far more quickly to what they saw compared to what they’ve done in the past.

Usually, when a team plays a spread option offense, one of the biggest challenges that defensive coordinators talk about is replicating the offense’s speed and precision. It’s common to hear them say that it takes a series or two to adjust. That was most certainly not the case here.

James referenced our Media Day observations and seemed impressed by the decision to bring in walk-on Rob Regan to captain what’s now known as the SWAG team. And while VanGorder’s reputation as a mad scientist had many Irish fans wondering if the veteran coordinator cooked something up that hadn’t been seen, it was more a trait usually associated with Kelly that seems to have made the biggest difference.

“It wasn’t that the game plan was so amazing (although it was admittedly more complex and aggressive than we’ve seen out of other Notre Dame teams),” James wrote. “It was plain ol’ coachin’ ’em up.

“Notre Dame’s players were individually more prepared for what they’d see. Notre Dame is already extremely talented, but talented and prepared? You can’t adjust for that. That’s more challenging for Navy than any game plan.”

Irish prepared to take on the best Navy team in years


Brian Kelly opens every Tuesday press conference with compliments for an opponent. But this week, it was easy to see that his kind words for Navy were hardly lip service.

Ken Niumatalolo will bring his most veteran—and probably his most talented—group of Midshipmen into Notre Dame Stadium, looking to hand the Irish their first loss in the series since Kelly’s debut season in South Bend.

“Ken Niumatalolo has done an incredible job in developing his program and currently carrying an eight-game winning streak,” Kelly said. “I voted for them in USA Today Top 25 as a top-25 team. I think they’ve earned that. But their defense as well has developed. It’s played the kind of defense that I think a top 25 team plays.”

With nine months of option preparation, Notre Dame needs to feel confident about their efforts against Georgia Tech. Then again, the Midshipmen saw that game plan and likely have a few tricks in store.

As much as the Irish have focused their efforts on stopping Keenan Reynolds and the triple-option, Navy’s much-improved defense is still looking for a way to slow down a team that’s averaged a shade over 48 points a game against them the last four seasons.

Niumatalolo talked about that when asked about slowing down Will Fuller and Notre Dame’s skill players, an offense that’s averaged over 48 points a game during this four-game win streak.

“We’ve got to try our best to keep [Fuller] in front of us, that’s easier said than done,” Niumatalolo said. “We’ve got to play as close as we can without their guys running past us. I’ve been here a long time and we’re still trying to figure out how to do that.”


Navy heads to South Bend unbeaten, defeating former Irish defensive coordinator Bob Diaco‘s team just two Saturdays ago. And while Diaco raised a few eyebrows when he said Navy would be the team’s toughest test of the year (they already played a ranked Missouri team), the head of the UConn program couldn’t have been more effusive in his praise.

“I have been competing against Navy for some time and this is the best Navy team I have seen for, let’s say the last half-dozen years,” UConn coach Bob Diaco told the New Haven Register. “I could click on footage from three years ago and see a lion’s share of players who are playing right now in the game as freshmen and sophomores. They have a veteran group, a strong group, a talented group and they look like the stiffest competition among our first four opponents.”

As usual, there will be those who look at this game as the breather between Clemson and USC. That won’t be anybody inside The Gug. So as the Irish try to get back to their winning ways in front of a home crowd, a complete team effort is needed.

“I’ll take a win by one,” Kelly said Tuesday. “That would be fine with me.”