Arik Armstead

Kelly stays on the West Coast as coaches hit the recruiting trail


When the Irish loaded up and departed the San Francisco airport late Saturday night, head coach Brian Kelly stayed behind, swinging by some key West Coast spots before returning to his team later this week.

While the internet is abuzz with a full fledged quarterback controversy after Andrew Hendrix gave the offense a jolt in the second half against Stanford, the Irish coaching staff is combing the country, trying to lock down commitments for the 2012 recruiting class, while also making head way on the class of 2013 as well.

That’s life for a BCS football coach between now and a bowl game. While the rest of the world replays the disappointments from Saturday, Kelly and the rest of his coaching staff will scatter across the country keeping Irish commitments intact while trying to add other impact recruits into the fold.

Here’s a quick rundown of some of the recruits getting an at-home visit:

Tee Shepard, CB (Commit): Shepard has had to sit out his senior season of high school football thanks to a transfer snafu. But the talented cornerback is still set to enroll a semester early, giving him a jump-start on the open competition at cornerback. According to Pete Sampson at, Kelly and West Coast recruiter Mike Denbrock visited the Shepard family, and everything is on target for Shepard to enroll early.

Arik Armstead, DL (Target): There’s no larger recruit left on the board for the Irish (maybe Zach Banner), with Armstead set to early enroll. Multiple sources are reporting that Kelly will have an in-home visit with Armstead, possibly as early as Monday night, where he’ll give one final sales pitch to the two-sport athlete that was once a USC commitment.

KeiVarae Russell, RB (Target): With Byron Marshall off the board and Keith Marshall down to the wire between Georgia, the Irish and a few other schools, Russell is a really important recruiting target and a guy that profiles perfectly for the Irish. He’ll likely be hearing from Kelly and Denbrock as well, but still has his hometown Huskies and other Pac-10 teams chasing him.

Davonte Neal, ATH (Target): A name that’s probably new to many recruitniks, but certainly not the coaching staff. Neal’s family shutdown the recruiting process during the season, but now that the Arizona native capped off his third straight state title, he’s got the Irish at the front of his list. Assistant coach Kerry Cooks was the first visitor the Neal family welcomed, and according to, Neal will make Notre Dame his first official visit, for the team’s award show and banquet on December 9.

Will Mahone, RB (Commit): According to his Twitter account, Mahone had a visit from offensive line coach and run game coordinator Ed Warinner this evening. Even more interesting, Mahone also said via Twitter that he’s expecting a visit from Brian Kelly on December 8. Kelly’s also set to be joined by running backs coach Tim Hinton, who’s had his name thrown around quite a bit today as a potential member of Urban Meyer’s first Ohio State staff.


That’s hardly the extent of recruiting visits, as the Irish have coaches canvassing the country, with staffers in Florida and working their way around the country while the Irish squad enjoys a brief break from football as they await their bowl destination.

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.