Deontay Greenberry Head

It’s panic season in recruiting

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For a small, but fanatical subset of college football fans, this is the most stressful time of year. Forget autumn Saturdays — where sixty minutes determine who wins and who loses. This is way more serious. Two years of work — evaluating, wooing, relationship-building — all coming down the stretch, as coaches try and convince 17- and 18-year old kids that their college is the best one for them. Yep, it’s panic season for hard core college football fans. And with the Irish involved in some of the most heavily recruited players in the country, it’s time to buckle up and hold on tight.

Over the weekend, Deontay Greenberry led his Washington Union team to a state championship, adding to his California-record setting receiving numbers while making an interception on defensive and recovering an onside kick to will his Fresno high school to victory. That alone should garner headlines, as the likely California state player of the year all but put on a cape and rescued Lois Lane this weekend. But the internet wasn’t abuzz with his performance, but his decision, along with his cousin blue-chip cornerback Tee Shepard, to visit USC while they were down in Carson for the game.

That Greenberry and Shepard would step foot onto USC’s campus alone isn’t surprising — both have said they planned on visiting all along. That it would happen this late in the game, and just before a recruiting dead period, has Irish fans shaking in their boots. Greenberry told Rivals.com this weekend that no matter what, he and his cousin were going to college together. And with Shepard early enrolling at the college of his choice, we’ll likely know in a matter of days where the talented duo ends up.

Keeping Notre Dame fans (and coaches) sane are the quotes that accompany Greenberry’s acknowledgement of the package deal:

“Tee said he is really interested in them so my boy wants me to go out there and check them out so that’s what I’m going to do,” Greenberry said.

“They want me. I’m going to keep it open. Right now I’m solid to Notre Dame so that’s where I’m at right now. Right now I’m 100 percent solid to Notre Dame.”

Greenberry, who had a touchdown catch, a fumble recovery and an interception in Washington Union’s victory, has said throughout his recruitment that he wanted to leave California for college but the Trojans – and many other teams – have continued to recruit him.

He said he’ll definitely listen to what USC offers on the visit.

“Like I said at the beginning of my recruitment, I wanted to leave the state so that’s where my mind is still,” Greenberry said.

“It’s not just Notre Dame. I just want to get away from home and experience some new things.”

Since the visit, news has been scarce, but that hasn’t stopped fans from worrying. For those with a doomsday attitude, the timing is horrendous for the Irish. Entering a quiet period, Lane Kiffin and the USC staff essentially had the last word with Shepard, who would have the chance to enroll at Southern Cal on Wednesday for the early signing period. For skeptics, they’ll point to Shepard using the official visit for a free flight to watch his cousin (and what should have been his teammates if not for a transfer hiccup) play and get a visit that’s long been on their list of places out of the way.

Greenberry might be the most important recruit on the Irish board, especially with Michael Floyd departing. On paper, there’s no question that the fit at Notre Dame is better for him, with a depth chart wide open compared to Robert Woods and Marquise Lee. The same can be said for Shepard, who will watch Gary Gray and Robert Blanton play their last games at cornerback next week and the depth chart behind them unsettled.

Irish coaches had a chance to speak with Shepard and Greenberry last night and feel in good shape with both. Of course, they’re used to this kind of thing, working in an industry where your performance is directly tied to trusting the word of 18-year-olds. But the rest of us, we’re just along for the ride. If that means having your hair turn grey because Ronald Darby plans on visiting Clemson or Urban Meyer is taking a run at Taylor Decker, get used to it, because this coaching staff has.

Unlike previous regimes, there is no protocol with verbal commitments or looking at other schools. This staff will continue to recruit who they want, whether it’s Nebraska commitment Jordan Westerkamp or all-everything recruits like Nelson Agholor. They’ll win some and they’ll lose some, but it’s been a practice that’s been more than kind to Brian Kelly and his staff. Last year, it landed guys like Everett Golson, who was committed to North Carolina, Aaron Lynch, who was set to enroll at Florida State, and Stephon Tuitt, who had switched his commitment to Georgia Tech just days before Signing Day. A guy like Troy Niklas wasn’t a sure thing until his fax arrived in South Bend that snowy Wednesday morning.

It’s that time of year — panic season for a college football fan. Two years of following recruits, high schoolers many of us have only seen in YouTube highlight reels or with stars attached to their name, all coming to a boil in that first week in February. For the Irish coaching staff, they’ve decided to roll the dice with a ton of high profile players. It’s a strategy that paid off last year, and one that’ll likely determine the fate of this year’s recruiting class.

That’s the price of admission when you’re trying to build a BCS program, and it’s a strategy recruiting coordinator Chuck Martin, and the entire coaching staff, have embraced. But for those fans watching nervously in sideline, take note. As they say in the movies, if you’re scared — buy a dog. With high stakes recruiting, if you’re scared — follow Northwestern.

Zaire says thank you to Notre Dame

CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA - SEPTEMBER 12: Quarterback Malik Zaire #8 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish rushes past defensive end Mike Moore #32 of the Virginia Cavaliers in the third quarter at Scott Stadium on September 12, 2015 in Charlottesville, Virginia. The Notre Dame Fighting Irish won, 34-27. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
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Big week for The Observer. Not just for its advertising revenues, but for the classy gesture that outgoing senior quarterback Malik Zaire made this week.

Thursday’s edition included a letter to the editor from Zaire, who took to the student newspaper not to make headlines around the internet, but rather to thank the university for his experience in South Bend.

While Zaire’s time at Notre Dame is drawing to a close, he will leave as a proud alum. So while he’ll play football next season at another university, Zaire wrote the following in Thursday’s issue:

Dear Notre Dame students and staff,

My life changed for the better the moment I stepped onto the University of Notre Dame’s beautiful campus. The one goal I had set in my mind to achieve was to become a better man, a Notre Dame man. After growing through many trials and triumphs, the thing I’ve learned most from my experience was that if you don’t believe in yourself first, then no one else will. I believed in becoming a better man and succeeding through any circumstance, and I can say that I’ve truly accomplished that. I often refer to the famous quote from the movie “Catch Me If You Can” that was well put by Frank Abagnale:

“Two little mice fell in a bucket of cream. The first mouse quickly gave up and drowned. The second mouse wouldn’t quit. He struggled so hard that eventually he churned that cream into butter and crawled out.”

I’ve put my heart, soul and passion into the University, the football program, the South Bend community and the Irish community worldwide. I have the unbelievable honor to represent this University to the fullest as a student and soon-to-be alumni. Thank you to the amazing students and staff that I’ve met through the years for helping me grow into the person I’ve always wanted to be. I love the Irish and will always be an Irish alum no matter where I go! I look forward to keeping in touch. Let’s change the world!

Go Irish!

Malik Zaire

Senior
Dec. 7

Zaire is expected to compete for a starting quarterback job next year as a graduate transfer. He’s reportedly taken a visit to Wisconsin and plans to visit North Carolina as well, just two of several programs on the radar as Zaire looks to step in and win a starting Power 5 job.

 

 

 

ESPN’s Kiper & McShay: Kizer should return to Notre Dame

SOUTH BEND, IN - OCTOBER 29: DeShone Kizer #14 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish drops back to pass during the game against the Miami Hurricanes at Notre Dame Stadium on October 29, 2016 in South Bend, Indiana.  (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)
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It’s evaluation season. With college football’s regular season over, the focus now turns to the stay-or-go decision that faces many of college football’s best players. Return for another season? Or head to the NFL?

That’s the big question facing DeShone Kizer. Viewed as a can’t-miss prospect by some earlier in the season, Kizer now awaits feedback from the NFL’s advisory board, who’ll give him either a first-round grade, a second-round grade, or none — essentially serving as a message to return to school.

That feedback is something Kizer’s requested, with Brian Kelly revealing that Kizer is one of four underclassmen requesting a review, joined by Mike McGlinchey, Nyles Morgan and Quenton Nelson. 

And while most still think it’s merely a formality before Kizer heads to the NFL, two of the media’s most well-established pundits, ESPN’s Mel Kiper and Todd McShay, are among those who actually think Kizer should stay in school.

In ESPN’s 25 questions about the 2017 NFL Draft, Kiper and McShay focus their attention on potential first-round quarterbacks:

There’s really only one guy right now, and he might not even enter the draft. That’s North Carolina’s Mitch Trubisky, a fourth-year junior who is in his first season as the starter. Trubisky has thrown 28 touchdown passes to only four interceptions, but he’s still green — with another year of seasoning, he could be the No. 1 pick in the 2018 draft. He’s not ready to play right away in the NFL.

I don’t see any other first-rounders in the group. Notre Dame’s DeShone Kizer, a third-year sophomore, has to go back to school. Clemson’s Deshaun Watson has taken a step back this season. Underclassmen Luke Falkand Patrick Mahomes could use another year in school, and they don’t project as first-rounders.

McShay echoed Kiper’s evaluation of Kizer, stating: “Kizer needs another year.” And if the Irish get that, it means they’ll have a 1-2 depth chart of a third-year starter in Kizer and junior Brandon Wimbush, who saved a year of eligibility in 2016 and has three remaining.

Kizer’s been clear that he hasn’t made up his mind, planning on talking with his family about the decision in the weeks following the season. And with the year-end banquet this weekend with Notre Dame hosting the “Echoes,” that decision might come sooner than later.

Last year, the NFL draft wasn’t kind to the Irish roster. Four key players gave up eligibility to head to the NFL, with Ronnie Stanley going in the Top 10 to the Baltimore Ravens and Will Fuller joining him as a first-round selection after going to the Houston Texans. Even injured, Jaylon Smith was taken near the top of the second round by Dallas and C.J. Prosise was a third-round selection of the Seattle Seahawks.

Underclassmen have until January 16th to declare.

 

Swarbrick discusses the state of Irish football program

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Jack Swarbrick spoke extensively about the state of the Notre Dame football program. Released last Friday and a part of Swarbrick’s weekly podcast, the Irish athletic director covered the laundry list of hot-button issues, including Brian Kelly’s status, the NCAA order to vacate wins that Notre Dame is appealing, and the challenge of winning football games in today’s environment.

The entire 25 minutes are worth a listen, as Swarbrick and Nolan cover just about every question and complaint that’s out there. And in case you don’t have that time, here’s a quick breakdown:

 

Swarbrick on the 2016 season. 

“It was an extremely disappointing year. Every player, every coach, myself, other administrators involved in the program, we all share the same view. There’s no way around that conclusion. It’s not bad breaks, it’s not a play here, a play there. We didn’t do what we need to do. So we do start from that perspective.

“I think there’s a danger in overreacting to any one piece of information that you get in the course of the evaluation of football programs. That begins with, it looks one way from a this-season perspective, but it feels a little different to me from a two-season perspective.”

 

Swarbrick on the evaluation process: 

“I’m looking at the program. Wins and losses are a huge indicia of where the program is, but it’s not the only one. More important to me, frankly, is the experience of our students. My interaction with them and what their interactions with the coaches, and the environment and are we meeting their expectations. Now, we clearly didn’t meet their expectations competitively this year, because they want to win, too. But on many of the other things, the program elements are in good shape.”

 

On the off-field issues, and the challenges that faced the football team this fall. 

“I don’t want to do anything to minimize the disappointments, whether they’re competitive or unacceptable behavior in the last game at USC by one of our players, obviously, which just isn’t acceptable, it isn’t okay. The disciplinary issues we had to deal with at the front of the year, none of those are acceptable, all of those go into the evaluation, but those are the only ones that sort of get the public scrutiny. I’m dealing with the other 120 young men who are for the most part like my co-host James (Onwualu), doing everything right, making every right decision, having a real positive experience. You’ve got to look at it all, not just isolated elements of it.

 

Discussing the disappointment of the NCAA’s ruling to vacate wins and why the university is appealing: 

“If you’d merely expelled the students, you wouldn’t get this penalty. But because you went though an educative process and kept them in school and adjusted credits and made those things, you subjected yourself to this penalty. That seems like a bad message to send, but that’s one that we’re continuing to advocate for down the road.”

 

On the challenges of winning in today’s college football, as opposed to 30 years ago. 

“I think undoubtedly it is harder. Now, people from that era may have a different view. But there are things that make it harder. But it doesn’t make any difference. It’s harder to win basketball games than it was back then. It’s harder to do a number of things.

“We don’t treat any of that as an excuse or a reason to have different goals. I sort of embrace that. Some of those things that you might view as obstacles are ultimately the things that we have to offer young people. It is the eliteness of the institution and the quality of the education. You can’t say it’s an obstacle and then talk about how great it is because it helps you. That’s the way it is. I wouldn’t trade anything for the circumstance we now compete in. I think it is exactly what it should be. We have to do a better job with it, that’s all.”

Report: Corey Holmes set to transfer

Irish Illustrated / Matt Cashore
Matt Cashore / Irish Illustrated
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Receiver Corey Holmes is transferring from Notre Dame. The junior, who has two seasons of eligibility remaining, will look for a new program after earning his degree this summer, Tom Loy of Irish247 reports.

Holmes told Irish247:

“It’s just the best decision for me. I’m graduating this summer and I’m just going to find the best fit for me to finish things up.”

Even after a strong spring, Holmes saw little action this season, though he played extensively against USC in the season finale. He had four catches against the Trojans, a large part of his 11 on the year, also his career total.

That Holmes wasn’t able to find a consistent spot in the rotation is likely a big reason why he’s looking for a new opportunity. After opening eyes after posting a 4.42 40-yard dash during spring drills, the Irish coaching staff looked for a way to get Holmes onto the field. But after losing reps at the X receiver on the outside, Holmes bounced inside and out, never finding a regular spot in the rotation, playing behind Torii Hunter Jr. and Kevin Stepherson on the outside and CJ Sanders and Chris Finke in the slot.

Holmes has two seasons of eligibility remaining, redshirting his sophomore season. Because he’ll earn his degree this summer, he’ll be able to play immediately next year. Irish 247 reports that Holmes is looking at Miami, UCLA, Arizona State, Arizona and North Carolina, though he’ll have a semester to find other fits.