Hegarty ready to watch and learn during freshman season


I’ve been pretty open about Notre Dame’s need to embrace redshirts. Whether they continue to ignore the term, a fifth-year of college football is an incredibly important opportunity for not just linemen, but also skill position players as well. (If you don’t believe me, consider Harrison Smith’s transformation from defensive liability to team captain and All-American contender.)

Last year, I took a look at how Charlie Weis’ inability to properly use redshirts cost the football program. This isn’t all on Weis, he was playing the hand that he was dealt, but his decision to go very young in 2007 to try and develop depth on the field ended up costing him dearly as his tenure went on.

Incoming freshman Matt Hegarty’s hometown newspaper, The Farmington Daily Times, had an in-depth article on Hegarty as he begins final preparations and leaves home in New Mexico on his way to South Bend. It was a great look at some of the things we forget about big-time college student-athletes, mainly that they are just like the rest of us as we embark on that uncertain journey to college and life away from home.

“This opportunity is very exciting. At the same time, I have a lot of people here that are dear to me that I will miss and everything,” Hegarty said. “A melancholy feeling set in when (Aztec Coach Brad) Hirsch started the spring workouts and the messages on the whiteboard didn’t exactly pertain to me anymore. Things like that, it is just weird. I know kind of looking at the schedule it is not going to leave me a lot of time off to come home, so it is kind of a different feeling knowing that the next time I come around to Aztec I will be kind of a stranger.

“I’m going to miss it, but at the same time the Aztec program and the Brotherhood was great to me, and I enjoyed my time,” Hegarty said. “It has been kind of hard for me, though. A lot of what I have been thinking is just about the things I will be missing. I spoke with a friend the other day and she was stressing to me to focus more on the things to be excited for, and I think that is really a part of it. There is a lot out there and I really just want to soak it all in and try to enjoy it. I am excited to see where it goes because it is all going to be kind of unknown for me.”

When you consider a goliath 6-foot-5, 290-pound offensive lineman who immediately bolsters depth along the Irish offensive line, you forget to consider that he’s also dealing with the challenges that come with attending school 1,500 miles away. And while Hegarty’s recruiting profile and experience playing in a spread offense makes him a likely candidate to be in the running for early playing time, the Irish’s depth along the offensive line, not to mention Brian Kelly’s experience on the collegiate sidelines, makes the decision to redshirt a promising athlete like Hegarty all the more wise.

“They have a pretty good rotation going on right now with lineman, so there won’t be a real high demand for me to play right away, which I really appreciate getting the extra year of schooling,” he said. “Coach Brian Kelly brings a lot of great concepts I am used to here, and this next year I really just want to adjust to the game’s speed and tempo. It will be a lot easier for me, I think, staying in a spread instead of coming from a triple option or something.”

The strength and conditioning coaches finally get their hands on Hegarty and the rest of the incoming freshman, as summer semester and unofficial workouts are set to begin soon. While some freshman (more on this later) are expected to challenge to see the field soon, Hegarty and fellow linemen Conor Hanratty, Nick Martin and Troy Niklas will likely spend the season on the scout team.

Exactly where they should be.


Even amidst chaos, Kelly expecting USC’s best

JuJu Smith-Schuster, Rocky Hayes, Blaise Taylor

USC head coach Steve Sarkisian was fired on Monday, with interim head coach Clay Helton taking the reins of the Trojan program during tumultuous times. Helton will be the fourth different USC head coach to face Notre Dame in as many years, illustrative of the chaos that’s shaken up Heritage Hall in the years since Pete Carroll left for the NFL.

All eyes are on the SC program, with heat on athletic director Pat Haden and the ensuing media circus that only Los Angeles can provide. But Brian Kelly doesn’t expect anything but their best when USC boards a plane to take on the Irish in South Bend.

While the majority of Notre Dame’s focus will be inward this week, Kelly did take the time on Sunday and Monday to talk with his team about the changes atop the Trojan program, and how they’ll likely impact the battle for the Jeweled Shillelagh.

“We talked about there would be an interim coach, and what that means,” Kelly said. “Teams come together under those circumstances and they’re going to play their very best. And I just reminded them of that.”

While nobody on this Notre Dame roster has experienced a coaching change, they’ve seen their share of scrutiny. The Irish managed to spring an upset not many saw coming against LSU last year in the Music City Bowl after a humiliating defeat against the Trojans and amidst the chaos of a quarterbacking controversy. And just last week, we saw Charlie Strong’s team spring an upset against arch rival Oklahoma when just about everybody left the Longhorns for dead.

“I think you look at the way Texas responded this past weekend with a lot of media scrutiny,” Kelly said Tuesday. “I expect USC to respond the same way, so we’re going to have to play extremely well.”

Outside of the head coaching departure, it’s difficult to know if there’ll be any significant difference between a team lead by Sarkisian or the one that Helton will lead into battle. The offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach has been at USC for six years, and has already held the title of interim head coach when he led the Trojans to a 2013 Las Vegas Bowl title after Lane Kiffin was fired and Ed Orgeron left the program after he wasn’t given the full time position.

Helton will likely call plays, a role he partially handled even when Sarkisian was on the sideline. The defense will still be run by Justin Wilcox. And more importantly, the game plan will be executed by a group of players that are among the most talented in the country.

“They have some of the finest athletes in the country. I’ve recruited a lot of them, and they have an immense amount of pride for their program and personal pride,” Kelly said. “So they will come out with that here at Notre Dame, there is no question about that.”

Irish add commitment from CB Donte Vaughn

Donte Vaughn

Notre Dame’s recruiting class grew on Monday. And in adding 6-foot-3 Memphis cornerback Donte Vaughn, it grew considerably.

The Irish added another jumbo-sized skill player in Vaughn, beating out a slew of SEC offers for the intriguing cover man. Vaughn picked Notre Dame over offers from Auburn, LSU, Miami, Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Tennessee and Texas A&M among others.

He made the announcement on Monday, his 18th birthday:

It remains to be seen if Vaughn can run like a true cornerback. But his length certainly gives him a skill-set that doesn’t currently exist on the Notre Dame roster.

Interestingly enough, Vaughn’s commitment comes a cycle after Brian VanGorder made news by going after out-of-profile coverman Shaun Crawford, immediately offering the 5-foot-9 cornerback after taking over for Bob Diaco, who passed because of Crawford’s size. An ACL injury cut short Crawford’s freshman season before it got started, but not before Crawford already proved he’ll be a valuable piece of the Irish secondary for years to come.

Vaughn is another freaky athlete in a class that already features British Columbia’s Chase Claypool. With a safety depth chart that’s likely turning over quite a bit in the next two seasons, Vaughn can clearly shift over if that’s needed, though Notre Dame adding length like Vaughn clearly points to some of the shifting trends after Richard Sherman went from an average wide receiver to one of the best cornerbacks in football, and Vaughn will be asked to play on the outside.

Vaughn is the 15th member of Notre Dame’s 2016 signing class. He is the fifth defensive back, joining safeties D.J. Morgan, Jalen Elliott and Spencer Perry along with cornerback Julian Love. The Irish project to take one more.

With Notre Dame expecting another huge recruiting weekend with USC coming to town, it’ll be very interesting to see how the Irish staff close out this recruiting class.