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Irish brace for biggest recruiting weekend ever

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There are recruiting weekends, and then there are big recruiting weekends. But to get a feel for just how big this recruiting weekend will be for Notre Dame, take the biggest Irish recruiting weekend in recent memory and add about 30 more prospects.

As the weekend approaches, Notre Dame’s coaching staff gears up for some serious double-duty: A grudge match with its most vaunted rival and the logistical reality of organizing over 50 recruiting prospects heading to campus this weekend.

Not that defensive backs coach and recruiting coordinator Chuck Martin‘s tipping his hand.

“We got some guys coming in this weekend?” Martin said with a cheshire smile.

Guys is an understatement. The Irish are embarking on their largest recruiting weekend of all time, entertaining approximately 55 recruits in the class of 2012 and 2013 on official and unofficial visits.

When Notre Dame takes on USC in primetime Saturday night, they’ll be doing it in front of recruits from a staggering 18 different states. Seventeen official visitors. Right around 30 junior prospects. Nine recruits from the state of California alone. While it may not have been Brian Kelly and the coaching staff’s decision to turn this game into what amounts to an all-in bet, the reality is that an impressive Irish performance this Saturday night will be the type of double down performance the Irish need to super-charge their recruiting efforts for the next two years. If you’re looking for star power, this group has it. Fifteen visitors find themselves ranked among the top 100 recruits in the country.

With 16 commitments in the 2012 recruiting class already, let’s take a look at the visitors that’ll be in South Bend this weekend.

OFFICIAL VISITORS

Ishmael Adams, CB: The Oaks Christian CB is getting his first look at Notre Dame.
Arik Armstead, DL/OT: No longer a Trojan commit, Armstead will visit Notre Dame. A huge priority recruit.
Zach Banner, OT: Another national target, the jumbo-sized left tackle prospect has his pick of schools.
Justin Ferguson, WR: Already committed to the Irish, Ferguson will be taking his official visit to Notre Dame.
Deontay Greenberry, WR: The Irish commit is working as another recruiter for the prospects visiting.
Donaldven Manning, CB: The V-Tech commit is being recruited by Tony Alford. (Enough said.)
Keith Marshall, RB: Fresh off a visit from Brian Kelly, he’s one of the highest priority’s on the Irish wish-list.
Byron Marshall, RB: Another explosive back, Byron might be closer to picking ND than Keith.
Ifeadi Odenigbo, OLB: An Ohio product with a Buckeyes offer, Odenigbo is one of Ohio’s top players.
Jordan Payton, WR: The former Trojan commit would add athleticism to WR depth chart.
Brian Poole, CB: The Florida commit will bring mom and dad to South Bend. Elite offer list.
KeiVarae Russell, RB: A dual-threat RB, Russell has his pick of the Pac-12 to go along with an Irish offer.
Tee Shepard, CB: Committed to the Irish, Shepard announced he’ll enroll early at Notre Dame this January.
John Theus, OT: The Georgia commit is among the nation’s top players. Huge chance for the Irish.
Shaq Thompson, WR/DB: Wherever he lines up, Thompson will make an immediate impact.
Bryce Treggs, WR: Committed to Cal, Treggs has the Irish No. 2 on his impressive list of suitors.
Will Redmond, DB: A Mississippi State commitment, Tim Hinton is working hard to get this visit.

It’d be hard to find a better collection of talent on any campus in the country this weekend. The Irish will get closer looks from some of the top players in the nation, and even the visitors that are committed to other schools are seriously considering the Irish. This group could almost double as a wish list, as even reeling in three or four of the guys not currently committed to the Irish would be a serious haul for Notre Dame. Huge credit should go to West Coast recruiter Mike Denbrock, who has been responsible for getting such a large contingent of California players in to visit.

If you’re looking for positions the Irish need to strengthen, they’re still looking at adding another cornerback, running back, wide receiver and depth along both lines. The Irish would gladly accept a commitment from any of these recruits, as they try to firm up the final spots in their ever-evolving 2012 recruiting class.

UNOFFICIAL VISITORS (2012)

Chris Brown, WR: After making waves with a potential visit to South Carolina, Brown will be on campus.
Scott Daly, LS: With Jordan Cowart still battling a broken hand, Daly will be watching from the sidelines.
Sheldon Day, DT: Irish commit will make the drive from Indianapolis for the big game.
Mark Harrell, OT: Irish commit will be making an unofficial from North Carolina.
Jarron Jones, DT: The massive defensive end will be visiting from upstate New York.
Will Mahone, RB: The Irish’s most recent commit will be back in South Bend.
Romeo Okwara, OLB: Irish commitment can spend time with fellow Tar Heel Keith Marshall.
David Perkins, OLB: The South Bend native will bond with some recruits he met on the summer circuit.
John Turner, S: The third of the Irish’s Indiana commitments will be in town.
Jordan Diamond, OT: Chicago native giving the Irish a look for the big game.
Jon Moore, WR: Another North Carolina prospect coming to South Bend for a look at the Irish.

UNOFFICIAL VISITORS (2013)

Matt Alviti, QB — Maine Township South, IL
Nadir Barnwell, QB — Piscataway HS, NJ
Kyle Kempt, QB — Massillon Washington, OH
Brayden Scott, QB — Sequoyah High, OK
JJ Green, RB — Camden HS, GA
Ty Isaac, RB — Joliet Catholic, IL
Kentrell Taylor, RB — Massillon HS, OH
Ryan Switzer, RB — George Washington HS, WV
Jalin Marshall, WR — Middletown HS, OH
Laquon Treadwell, WR — Crete Monee HS, IL
James Quick, WR — Trinity, KY
Alvin Scott, WR — Oneonta HS, AL
Adam Brenneman, TE — Cedar Cliff HS, PA
Christian Morgan, TE — Prestwood Academy, TX
Demetrius Cooper, ATH — Morgan Park HS, IL
Darian Horn, ATH — Peachtree Ridge, GA
Hunter Bivin, OT — Apollo HS, KY
Steve Elmer, OT — Midland HS, MI (Notre Dame commitment)
John Lopez, OT — Lutheran HS, CA
Billy Price, OL/DE — Austintown Fitch, OH
Jacob Matuska, DE — Bishop Hartley, OH
Elijah Daniel, OLB — Avon HS, IN
Ethan Posic, OLB — Lemont HS, IL
Chans Cox, ILB — Blue Ridge HS, AZ
Jon Reschke, ILB — Brother Rice, MI
Courtney Love, ILB — Cardinal Mooney, OH
Eli Woodard, CB — Eastern HS, NJ
Shaquille Wiggins, CB — Sandy Creek HS, GA
Caleb Day, S — Darby HS, OH

Path to the draft: Ronnie Stanley

CHICAGO, IL - APRIL 28:  Ronnie Stanley of Notre Dame holds up a jersey with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell after being picked #6 overall by the Baltimore Ravens during the first round of the 2016 NFL Draft at the Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University on April 28, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Jon Durr/Getty Images)
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Your name didn’t have to be Mel Kiper or Mike Mayock to understand that from the moment Jaylon Smith stepped foot on campus at Notre Dame he was destined to be an early-round NFL draft pick. But as the dust settles on the Irish’s impressive 2016 draft haul, a look back at the developmental process of the team’s seven draft picks serves as a wonderful testament to Brian Kelly and the program he has built.

Notre Dame’s draftees come in all shapes and sizes. Fifth-year seniors like Nick Martin. Three-and-out stars like Jaylon Smith and Will Fuller. Consistent four-year performers like Sheldon Day and one-year wonders like C.J. Prosise.

But each followed a unique path to the NFL, one that was fostered by a coaching staff that allowed each athlete to develop at their own pace and ascend into a role where an NFL team thought highly enough to select each player in the first 103 picks of the draft.

Let’s take a trip down (recent) memory lane, as we connect the dots from recruitment, development and playing career as we look at Notre Dame’s seven success stories.

 

Ronnie Stanley
No. 6 overall to Baltimore Ravens

The first offensive lineman selected in the 2016 draft, Stanley’s recruitment saw the Irish find their first bit of success at Bishop Gorman High School, leading the way to Nicco Fertitta and Alizé Jones. A four-star prospect who hovered between a Top 100 and Top 250 player depending on the evaluation, Stanley was invited to the Semper Fidelis All-Star game, a second-tier game that all but signified his status outside of the elite, at least on the recruiting circuit.

That’s not how Notre Dame’s coaching staff felt about him, though.

“He’s probably as gifted of an offensive linemen that we have seen in many years,” Kelly said on Signing Day in 2012.

Stanley proved early that Kelly wasn’t blowing smoke. He saw the field in 2012’s first two games, earning reps against Navy and Michigan before he suffered an elbow injury that allowed him to save a year of eligibility.

But even offseason surgery didn’t prevent Stanley from stepping into the starting lineup, flipping to right tackle and playing 13 games in a very successful sophomore campaign across from first rounder Zack Martin.

Even though Stanley was blossoming into one of college football’s best players, we still openly wondered who would slide to fill Martin’s left tackle spot. (That’s how it goes with offensive linemen, their work only truly appreciated by those with either inside information or a coach’s eye of evaluation.)

In his opening comments before spring practice in 2014, Kelly named Steve Elmer, Christian Lombard and Mike McGlinchey as candidates along with Stanley, so it wasn’t necessarily a lock for the staff yet either. But it took just a few practices for the Las Vegas native to solidify his spot on the left side.

Stanley’s first season at left tackle was so solid that some wondered if there’d be two. While some of the online analysts saw Stanley as a potentially elite draft pick, the NFL Advisory Board came back with a second-round grade, perhaps all Stanley needed as he made his decision to stick around for his senior season. Still, Notre Dame took no chance. Kelly, Harry Hiestand and Jack Swarbrick traveled to Las Vegas to sell Stanley on the virtues of a final season in South Bend.

It worked. With a healthy offseason and weight-room gains needed, Stanley stuck to the script and played a mostly anonymous 2015 season. That was a very good thing—only along the offensive line can All-American honors and being named Offensive Player of the Year be considered ho-hum.

Add in the vanilla off-the-field life, and an elite academic profile that’s a comfort to teams investing millions in a potential cornerstone, Stanley’s placement as a Top 10 pick should have never been in doubt. While he lacked the dominance at Notre Dame that we saw from Zack Martin, he possesses athleticism and a body that Martin wasn’t given—a big reason the Cowboys shifted him inside to guard from day one.

Picked instead of Laremy Tunsil amidst a bizarre scenario that’ll go down as one of the draft’s cautionary tales, John Harbaugh talked openly about his relationship with Harry Hiestand and the comfort that came from Notre Dame’s offensive line coach as they pulled the trigger on Stanley. And Stanley, almost epitomizing that faith that the Ravens showed, all but embodied that when he told Joe Flacco in his first visit to Baltimore that he celebrated his selection by heading back to his hotel room and going to sleep.

Counted on by Baltimore to be a key piece of the puzzle as the Ravens look to rebuild an offensive line tasked with protecting a franchise quarterback in his prime, now it’s up to Notre Dame’s highest draft pick since Rick Mirer to continue his ascent.

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.