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The Commitments: Front seven

Jan 30, 2012, 8:00 AM EDT

Romeo Okwara

Part five of our series recapping the recruits ready to sign letters-of-intent with Notre Dame next Wednesday. (Or already on campus.) Previous installments include the running backsoffensive linewide receivers and quarterbacks

At his first signing day press conference, Brian Kelly all but announced his intent to rebuild the front seven of the defense via recruiting. Little did people know he planned on doing it in his first full recruiting class.

After watching the Irish swing and miss at defensive line targets for the better part of a decade, Kelly did all but the impossible: target, recruit, and land some of the most impressive front seven talent in the country. After years of missing players like Aaron Lynch, Stephon Tuitt, Ishaq Williams and Troy Niklas, Notre Dame went and landed all of them, bringing in a total of nine players that would immediately plug into the front seven defensive depth chart, transforming a roster in one recruiting cycle.

One year later, with a two deep spilling over along the defensive line and linebackers, the Irish welcome back Manti Te’o to the linebacking corps and Kapron Lewis-Moore to the defensive line. After dying to find defensive tackles comparable to Sean Cwynar, Kelly and his defensive staff were able to say farewell to the double domer poised for business success without worrying about the depth chart behind him.

The Irish didn’t land every target they had in the front seven, missing on two-way athlete Arik Armstead, who committed to Oregon Sunday afternoon after a whirlwind recruitment that saw the blue-chip prospect almost end up at a half dozen different schools. But Notre Dame’s chances to land Armstead dramatically decreased when the Irish couldn’t accept his older brother Armond, a USC transfer immediately eligible to play next season. Multiple sources have told me the elder Armstead wasn’t cleared to participate in football activities for the Irish, the same verdict the USC team doctors reached as well.

We can only wonder what the Irish defense would’ve looked like with those two additions, but the future is still incredibly bright for a unit that’ll likely be the strength of the roster for the next two seasons. Let’s see who the Irish plan on welcoming into the fold this Wednesday:

High School: Warren Central — Indianapolis, Indiana
Measureables: Six-foot-two, 286-pounds
Other major offers: Arkansas, Florida, LSU, Michigan, North Carolina, Penn State, Stanford
Fun Fact: Finished second to fellow Irish early-enrollee Gunner Kiel for Indiana’s Mr. Football.
On choosing Notre Dame: “I’m excited to get here and get started on my classwork and to start the conditioning program with Coach Longo. I really liked meeting the guys during my recruiting process and I’m excited to start workouts with them this winter.”
What he’ll bring to the defense: Any other year, Sheldon Day is the recruit Irish fans are hysterical over. Rarely do the Irish beat out defensive linemen that have options like LSU, Penn State, Florida and Michigan, but Day had a relatively drama-free early enrollment and brings another building block to the defensive line. While he’s projected to be a defensive tackle by most recruiting services, Day might have the versatility to allow him to play along the edge of the defensive line, as a more athletic, but slightly smaller Ethan Johnson. An incredibly productive player at Indianapolis powerhouse Warren Central, Day is an excellent athlete that also happens to play defensive line.

High School: Aquinas Institute — Rochester, New York
Measureables: Six-foot-seven, 307-pounds
Other major offers: Alabama, Auburn, Florida, Florida State, Michigan, Ohio State, Penn State
Fun Fact: Named first-team All-State, Jones’ 5-foot-7 teammate, running back Billy Lombardi, was named state player of the year.
On choosing Notre Dame: “It’s perfect for me,” Jones told Irish Illustrated. “Notre Dame is just like my high school, it’s not even a big transition. The small class sizes, just typical high school to college. It’s not going to be an adjustment in atmosphere and it’s going to be something that I’m already used to.”
What he’ll bring to the defense: Jones is another one of those mold-busting recruits that have been attracted to Brian Kelly’s program, joining guys like Tuitt and Niklas as super-sized recruits. Jones might not be as physically ready to dominate as the two previously mentioned, but he won’t need to be. Ultra athletic, Jones could just as easily be a left tackle of the future, but he’ll get his first shot as a jumbo 3-4 defensive end. Another one of those recruits Notre Dame never seemed to land, Jones was initially committed to Penn State before the Irish staff flipped him in August.

High School: Ardrey Kell — Charlotte, North Carolina
Measureables: Six-foot-five, 235-pounds
Other major offers: Clemson, Michigan, Georgia Tech, Miami, North Carolina, N.C. State, Pitt, Virginia, Virginia Tech
Fun Fact: Won’t turn 17-years-old until June 2012, making those 14 sacks and 27 TFLs look mighty impressive.
On choosing Notre Dame:  “Coach Kelly and I have a good relationship and getting on campus for a full weekend made me surer that Notre Dame is the perfect place for me,” Okwara told Blue & Gold. “The people were very welcoming and the basketball game was really fun. It showed me that Notre Dame takes pride in all of their sports which is really good.”
What he’ll bring to the defense: At the very least, Okwara is bringing a whole lot of bottled promise to South Bend. With the rare blend of size, speed, and power, the fact that Okwara was able to dominate high school football while playing his senior season at the age of 16 is a pretty impressive feat. Graduating from the same school that brought Notre Dame Prince Shembo, Okwara is an intriguing Cat linebacker prospect with his obvious pass rushing skills, though has the athleticism and speed to also play in space during the passing game. For Okwara’s sake, you almost have to hope he’s redshirted, so he gets a chance to play with kids his own age.

  1. nudeman - Jan 30, 2012 at 10:19 AM

    Reading about Sheldon Day makes it easy to understand why they took him over Tommy Schutt

    • dickasman - Jan 30, 2012 at 12:21 PM

      Personally, I would have taken them BOTH.

      • nudeman - Jan 30, 2012 at 12:22 PM

        Yes, but back when they could have done that they probably thought they were getting a bunch of guys that it now looks like they aren’t getting.
        Numbers game.

      • dickasman - Jan 30, 2012 at 4:02 PM

        I think Schutt would commit to ND now if Burger King decided to offer him. I don’t understand the hypocracy nodurrr shame sometimes. Burrrrr, right kinda guy, we’re notre dame, next woman in blah blah blah blah….that’s all garbage.

        Here’s a 5 star defensive line stud who grew up a ND fan and didn’t have to take university of phoenix online spanish class to get in and ND didn’t offer him. Maybe that’s the problem.

      • dickasman - Jan 30, 2012 at 4:07 PM

        I’d try to go after Schutt…if anything to give Urban Meyer the giant FU right back. I guarantee you this won’t be the first time Rural comes poaching. OK, you take Decker I’ll take Schutt, now Schutt da Fock up Rural!!! Take that dirtbag!

  2. 1historian - Jan 30, 2012 at 11:22 AM

    Priority – build (and maintain) depth in your OL and your front seven.

    BK knows what he is doing – next season’s team will be 5/8 his recruits.

    And it’s not over.

    • nudeman - Jan 30, 2012 at 12:23 PM

      Still a game that’s won and lost upfront.

  3. oldestguard - Jan 30, 2012 at 1:50 PM

    These last 2 recruit classes are the shoulders we will rebuild our program on.

    Keith, nice re-focus on our “gets” …. got some tough gentlemen in there.

    Would love to see a one on one interview with BK re: Life on the Recruiting Trail – the Untold Story

  4. alsatiannd - Jan 30, 2012 at 1:54 PM

    The most interesting nugget is that ND medically rejected the eldest Armond. They didn’t break up with us, we broke up with them. Wonder what his condition is. Hope he finds what he’s looking for.

    • nudeman - Jan 30, 2012 at 2:40 PM

      It doesn’t sound to me like the older guy is ever going to play again. No one wants another Hank Gathers on their hands.
      Think I read somewhere it’s a heart condition.

      • bernhtp - Jan 30, 2012 at 2:51 PM

        My understanding is that the other issue with Armond was that he sought admission into Notre Dame’s MBA program and he just wasn’t qualified, not even close. For outsiders, ND has the top-rated business school in the country right now.

    • papadec - Jan 30, 2012 at 11:59 PM

      alsatian – I can’t help but wonder if the condition is genetic – and if Arik is at risk also.

  5. 1historian - Jan 30, 2012 at 1:58 PM

    As of right now it is 1:58 p.m. January 30.

    NSD starts in about 34 hours and goes on thru the day.

    Anyone who thinks that BK & Co. will pull AT LEAST ONE more rabbit out of the hat between now and the next 48 hours please check ‘thumbs up’.

    He who thinks that this is it for the recruiting class please check ‘thumbs down’.

    • dickasman - Jan 30, 2012 at 4:26 PM

      One rabbit took University of Phoenix online. One rabbit chose FSU. One rabbit took to twatter and took to twattin about twats. Do we have any rabbits left other than the vibrating rabbit or the energizer rabbit?

      • dickasman - Jan 30, 2012 at 4:28 PM

        Forgot about the one giant californian rabbit that wouldn’t come because we wear adidas and ND couldn’t give scholarship to his entire roster of family… dad, dads brothers uncles 4th niece and his brothers sisters aunts 3rd cousin.

      • nudeman - Jan 30, 2012 at 5:28 PM

        The one who went to Oregon is a douche, not a rabbit.

      • dickasman - Jan 30, 2012 at 6:58 PM

        He’ll amount to nothing, Im sure.

      • 1historian - Jan 31, 2012 at 5:38 AM

        Richard – most of your posts are quite entertaining but occasionally we like to see some variation.

      • dickasman - Jan 31, 2012 at 11:42 AM

        historian, I am like Tommy Rees. Zero trick pony. That’s all I got man….

  6. gtizzo - Jan 30, 2012 at 2:06 PM

    I was sorry to hear about Armond. There is trouble brewing at USC, two transfers one to ND and one to Northwestern. USC always has a solid stable of running backs but Kyle Prater could have been a third to add to an already impressive receiver duo. Keith as much as I enjoy reading your articles I would ask that you change the picture of Brain Kelly. He looks like he is attempting to get something out from between his teeth. A nice picture of him on sidelines with the shades on maybe…just a thought. Nice article overall. I was reading an article about ND’s current class and Sheldon Day got some high praise from the author. He compared Day to Ndamukong Suh…need I say more.

    • dickasman - Jan 30, 2012 at 4:17 PM


      FYI, I compare myself to god everyday in the mirror.

      • gtizzo - Jan 30, 2012 at 7:18 PM

        Is that mirror in a room with lots of padded walls and people who ask “How do you feel”?

      • dickasman - Jan 31, 2012 at 11:43 AM

        Yes, it is…and sometimes, they feel me up too! Is there something wrong?

    • don74 - Jan 30, 2012 at 4:48 PM

      I don’t think any trouble is brewing at SC. Kiffin is being smart. He is down scholarships for the next couple of classes. Having current scholarship players that are not in the 2 deep or have injuries that may keep them out of spring ball transfer allows him to beef up a recruiting class. SC has no trouble recruiting talent. Regardless of our dislike (hatred) for them, SC has great tradition, solid academics, recent success, national exposure and good coaching. Did I mention the weather? Cleaning out players and stocking up this class of recruits sets the program up for the years when the scholly numbers are down. I think he’s playing it correctly. He is releasing guys to schools they may play down the road. While we may not like SC or Boy Lane, it’s not a bad move.

      • oldestguard - Jan 30, 2012 at 5:20 PM

        Maybe Kiffin is doing whats best for him, but its a shame this crap is affecting kids who probably weren’t even in high school yet when the original violations took place.

      • nudeman - Jan 30, 2012 at 5:22 PM

        Exactly right Don
        That’s all he’s doing. They’re on prob. the next few years so he has no luxury of stockpiling scholarship athletes at multiple positions 2, 3, 4 deep.
        Simple as that.

      • ct111 - Jan 30, 2012 at 5:24 PM

        ND should hire Lane Kriffin

      • papadec - Jan 31, 2012 at 12:20 AM

        don74 – I was thinking about this last night. It’s a win-win-win situation – especially for Kiffin & usc. Carlisle & family both move to Indiana. Kiffin loses a guy that played in about six games with what? Less than 100 yards rushing &1 reception, and is out next season, after playing one. Kyle Prater – moves back to Illinois closer to family – goes to a team that usc probably won’t play against. Also not a very productive season with usc. Armond – played 3 of his 4 years of eligibility – no production last season. Between the three players there are 7 years of eligibility remaining. With the three gone – usc can bring in three replacements with 12 years of eligibility remaining. In the long term – it’s a win for Carlisle & Prater, ND & Northwestern. In the short term it’s huge for usc.

    • idratherbeinsouthbend - Jan 30, 2012 at 6:31 PM

      There is some trouble brewing at USC i think. I just saw a Yahoo story that said Kiffin had 5 different 5-star recruits in his first recruiting class and four of them are no longer with the team. Kyle Prater, wide receiver Markeith Ambles, tailback Dillon Baxter and offensive lineman Seantrel Henderson

      • gtizzo - Jan 30, 2012 at 7:26 PM

        Hire Lane Kiffin…I would sooner see ND build a monument to Bo Schembechler! The only thing Lane Kiffin does well is shoot his mouth off and he also has a very attractive wife. Mark my words Kiffin is on borrowed time at USC. Hayden is old school USC and he won’t let a man who doesn’t have the resume to be coaching at USC stay there. The only reason Lane “lame duck” Kiffin is at USC is because the former AD wanted to throw sand in the face of NCAA. He wasn’t there first, second…third or fourth…he was a rabbit out of a hat. Trust me BCS title or not Kiffin doesn’t last 5 years with USC.

      • nudeman - Jan 30, 2012 at 8:16 PM

        Interesting about the 5 stars leaving. I wonder if there’s a common theme or coincidence or as we said earlier Kiffin is encouraging guys to split.

        Haden and Kiffin is definitely an arranged marriage, but I think if Haden was totally uncomfortable he’d have nuked him already. Maybe Kiffin isn’t as oily as we think. Is that in any way possible?

        I wouldn’t be surprised to see Lane last 5 years, unless 1) he leaves on his own volition; or 2) there’s a recruiting violation, in which case Haden will personally escort his ass out the door. After he shoots him.

      • bernhtp - Jan 30, 2012 at 10:36 PM

        Hayden wants Kiffen gone.

      • papadec - Jan 31, 2012 at 12:31 AM

        idrather – Henderson was never in the class (there was a verbal commit), but he backed out & went to Miami after NSD. That may be a nit-pick on my part. But, Henderson was the espn #1 that year & had to be a tough loss to the usc class.

      • 9irish - Jan 31, 2012 at 3:38 AM

        God….Lane Kiffin is exactly where he belongs (until Haden comes up with a reason to can him). Soooooo Hollywood. Just a semi-pro football team, and I think they are trying to clean it up. How that guy is where he is, that’s beyond me.

  7. dmac4real - Jan 30, 2012 at 4:41 PM

    “It appears Ohio State is now right up there with Notre Dame in the recruiting sweapsteaks”

    Maybe we do have a decent shot at him.

    • oldestguard - Jan 30, 2012 at 5:16 PM

      great article…wonder why espn will be at his house next Weds, as he makes it sound like he will still be taking visits after signing day……?.

      Love our grad. rate !!

      • nudeman - Jan 30, 2012 at 5:25 PM

        Neal has said he’s not making a NSD decision. Planning on 2/10 last I saw.

    • bernhtp - Jan 30, 2012 at 9:10 PM

      Nude, I saw that too. It’s dumb for him to wait after NSD. Lots of schools, (likely) including ND, are going to fill their numbers. ND needs to move on and make its fifth year commitments. I don’t understand the motivation for making a decision past NSD.

      • papadec - Jan 31, 2012 at 12:52 AM

        bernhtp – shades of Seantrel Henderson. Although with Neal I think he didn’t start taking his official visits until later than most kids, and he is taking his last official visit next weekend after NSD. I don’t think ND, or any other serious contender, will have a problem keeping a scholarship available until FEB 10th. Probably toughest on the 5th year guy sitting on the bubble.

      • 1historian - Jan 31, 2012 at 5:41 AM

        1) More attention – you’re the ONLY one, so you get all the ink

        2) You see where your chances of playing asap are better

      • nudeman - Jan 31, 2012 at 9:08 AM

        I don’t know why, but the kid is wanted badly enough by enough top schools that I’m sure he’ll still have his pick. No one who gets a phone call from Davonte Neal saying “I’m in” is gonna’ say “sorry; we just signed a backup center and have no room left”

        He could call ND in April and BK would make room for him. Somehow.
        As well he should.

  8. barneysbullet - Jan 30, 2012 at 8:06 PM

    Go Giants!!!

    (and Justin Tuck, ND grad!)

    • papadec - Jan 31, 2012 at 12:55 AM

      barney – that’s you, me, Joisey Shore, and no doubt more, pulling for Tuck & the Giants!

      • dickasman - Jan 31, 2012 at 11:45 AM

        Yeah, except jersey shore will be “tugging” Tuck along with pulling.

  9. papadec - Jan 31, 2012 at 2:46 AM

    On Northwest news tonight – Zach Banner (OT) committed to usc @ a press conference @ school this afternoon. ALSO, for what it’s worth – Shaq Thompson (S) supposedly Tweeted, this afternoon, that it’s UWASH.

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