Recruiting carousel restarts with 2013 Rivals100 list

16 Comments

Notre Dame hasn’t stopped chasing 2012 prospects. But that doesn’t stop the recruiting carousel for spinning, as the lifeblood of college football — not to mention a multi-million dollar internet industry — continues to churn as college programs turn the page to a new year’s worth of recruits.

Nothing signals that more than the new release of the Rivals100 list for the class of 2013. Sure, we’re 363 days from Signing Day, but that hasn’t stopped Rivals, still the gold standard for talent evaluation, from releasing their top 100 juniors in the country. And as you’d expect, Notre Dame has identified quite a few players on the list.

(Disclaimer: After spending about 16 hours a week ago following every twist and turn in a pretty interesting Signing Day, forgive me if I’m not 100 percent passionate about this group of players just yet.)

Let’s take a run through the top 100 players in the country and highlight some of the players we’ll likely be talking about for the next 12 months…

RIVALS100 FOR 2013

COMMITTED: No. 49 — Steve Elmer, OT: Midland, Michigan — Elmer is the Irish’s lone 2013 recruiting commitment and one of the nation’s top offensive tackles. He’s planning on enrolling early next year and will ideally anchor a recruiting class filled with multiple offensive linemen.

No. 4 — Kendall Fuller, CB: Olney, Maryland — After being unable to hold on to the commitment of Maryland’s best cornerback in the 2012 class, the Irish are right back after Fuller. Kendall has two brothers playing for Frank Beamer at Virginia Tech, but lists the Irish in his top schools.

No. 5 — Su’a Cravens, DB: Murrieta, California — Mike Denbrock has already built a relationship with one of the nation’s most sought after defensive backs, who has plenty of options already. After pulling Tee Shepard out of Fresno, let’s see if Denbrock can pull another blue-chipper out of Southern California.

No. 10 — Vernon Hargreaves III, CB: Tampa, Florida — Hargreaves picked up an offer from the Irish in the fall, after watching the team his father coaches, the USF Bulls, beat the Irish. Tony Alford is likely the recruiter on Hargreaves case, and even with offers from all the major Florida programs and Ohio State, Hargreaves has ND among his favorites.

No. 11 — Tyrone Swoopes, QB: Whitewright, Texas — At six-foot-five, 220-pounds, and with recruiting tape that shows dazzling running ability, it’d be fun to see what the Irish could do with an athlete like Swoopes.

No. 15 — E.J. Levenberry Jr., OLB: Woodbridge, Virginia — The Irish are one of many top programs chasing one of the nation’s top linebackers. He’s a big linebacker that looks comfortable in both space and rushing the passer.

No. 17 — Michael Hutchings, LB: Concord, California — Another blue-chip player out of California powerhouse De La Salle, most of the Pac-12 is after Hutchings. The Irish offered recently and are in Hutchings’ top five.

No. 18 — Ty Isaac, RB: Joliet, Illinois — If you’re looking for a skill player that’s in the Irish’s crosshairs, look no further than Isaac. One of the top prospects in the Chicagoland area, Isaac has already been on campus multiple times and has long held an Irish offer. Chuck Martin is on the case, and absolutely needs to reel Isaac in. A nationally offered player that’s as close to a must-get recruit as there is.

No. 22 — Adam Breneman, TE: Camp Hill, Pennsylvania — Breneman was identified as the Irish’s No. 1 tight end prospect in the class of 2013. They weren’t alone. The potential five-star player will likely have the Nittany Lions in this battle to the end. A good test case for Scott Booker, who Rivals lists as Breneman’s primary recruiter.

No. 23 — Greg Bryant, RB: Delray Beach, Florida — Bryant has offers from Alabama, Ohio State, and just about every other major program in the country. Add Notre Dame to that list. Another Tony Alford project.

No. 26 — Robert Foster, WR: Monaca, Pennsylvania — Raised plenty of eyebrows at the Army All-American combine with an impressive performance. Notre Dame listed among his top programs, but plenty of big fish are also chasing him.

No. 27 — Ethan Pocic, OT: Lemont, Illinois — Another big offensive line prospect from a state that the Irish consider their backyard. Pocic earned an offer from the Irish at camp last summer and plans on being on campus again soon.

No. 28 — Eli Woodard, CB: Voorhees, New Jersey — Woodard got his first scholarship offer from Notre Dame last summer at camp, and has since done nothing but impress. Bob Diaco is his primary recruiter, and he’ll need to be at his best if they’re going to out-duel Ohio State.

No. 30 — Max Redfield, DB: Mission Viejo, California — Playing out of one of Orange County’s premiere high schools, Redfield already has offers from both UCLA and USC, with the Irish also in play. He’s already said he plans on taking an official visit to South Bend, but the Irish would love to get him to campus even sooner.

No. 31 — Laquon Treadwell, WR: Crete, Illinois — Another Illinois product, Treadwell and Brian Kelly spoke last week, reconfirming the Irish’s interest in the lanky wide receiver. He’s a guy that could likely walk in and play quickly.

No. 32 — Leon McQuay, DB: Seffner, Florida — Another premiere athlete, McQuay also sports a better than 4.0 grade-point-average, making him an attractive target. Holding an Irish offer from the spring, McQuay has the Irish in his top five.

No. 34 — Jaylon Smith, LB: Fort Wayne, Indiana — Another guy that should be atop Notre Dame’s recruiting lists. Has a brother that’s a running back at Ohio State, so the Irish will likely be fighting another battle with Urban Meyer.

No. 36 — Trey Johnson, LB: Lawrenceville, Georgia — Already committed to Auburn, the Irish likely will continue to fight for a visit from this elite inside linebacking prospect.

No. 38 — Antonio Conner, DB: Batesville, Mississippi — Notre Dame doesn’t pull too many players out of Mississippi, but there’s mutual interest here. He’s got prototype size at safety and has the offers to prove his ability.

No. 39 — Marcell Harris, DB: Groveland, Florida — Another defensive back that has an Irish offer. Has the big three Florida schools chasing him as well.

No. 43 — Henry Poggi, DL: Baltimore, Maryland — A front-seven player that’s got elite offers, Poggi caught the Irish’s victory over Maryland at FedEx Field last year.

No. 50 — Garrett Sickels, LB: Little Silver, New Jersey — A great list of offers for this New Jersey native with a really good profile for an outside linebacker in the Irish system. Looks like an impressive athlete.

No. 59 — Ahmad Fulwood, WR: Jacksonville, Florida — Fulwood has had an Irish offer since before his junior season and has the elite of college football chasing the 6-4 speedster. He expressed interest in visiting South Bend, but hasn’t gotten to campus yet.

No. 60 — Kyle Bosch, OT: Wheaton, Illinois — The Irish were slow to offer Bosch, but that changed when Harry Hiestand connected with the Illinois native after coming aboard. Notre Dame should be in this until the end.

No. 85 — Jaynard Bostwick, DL: Port Saint Lucie, Florida — Bostwick is likely a defensive end in Notre Dame’s system with the chance to slide inside depending on the front. He’s talked about setting up a visit at Notre Dame after being offered by the Irish in December.

No. 90 — Ryan Green, RB: St. Petersburg, Florida — Green was in South Bend for the Irish’s dominating win over Air Force. He’ll likely have Notre Dame in the running for his services until the end, but will also weigh offers from the power Florida schools and other powers as well.

***

For those keeping track, that’s 26 players from Rivals’ debut list — 14 of the top 30 players in the country  — that have scholarship offers from the Irish. Notre Dame has also offered a dozen more players that they’ve evaluated as better fits for their program.

It might be tough sledding for the Irish to close the deal on a majority of these recruits, but at the very least, you get to dispel the notion that the Irish don’t have access to the best talent in the country. With an early start on most of these players, Notre Dame will push to get as many to campus as soon as possible, building up a familiarity with the school that will be better than simply getting one-shot on an official visit weekend.

 

Brian Kelly & Jack Swarbrick on Notre Dame’s changes moving forward

16 Comments

Whether 2016’s disappointing 4-8 finish was the impetus to program-wide alterations at Notre Dame this offseason, it certainly underscored the need. For the last few months, Irish coach Brian Kelly has focused those changes on himself and self-assessment, and he reiterated that approach when talking with PFT Live’s Mike Florio early Monday morning.

“This is my 27th year of being a head coach, and prior to last year I had one losing season,” Kelly said. “You have a way of doing things, you have a system in place, you follow that year after year. Certainly you make tweaks along the way, but this is the first time where I’ve really taken a step back and made substantial changes in terms of how I’m doing things on a day-to-day basis…

“From my perspective, after being at it as long as I have, you have to take it on yourself that you’re the one that needs to make the corrections. It’s not the players.”

None of this is new. Kelly has been consistent in his springtime messaging, but others have looked past the effects of the 4-8 record and insist the changes were coming regardless of the win-loss totals. Senior captain Drue Tranquill, for example, acknowledged the severity of the losing record Friday but argued adjustments were needed no matter what the final scores were.

“If you have an average season like 8-4, some things might carry over to the next season,” Tranquill said the day before the spring practice finale. “Whereas when you go 4-8, something has to change.

“But I think even at Notre Dame, 8-4 is never really acceptable or tolerated. Those things that were taking place, just within our culture, would have been noticed whether we were 10-3, 4-8. The criticism gave it a lot more hype and juice. We could kind of feel as guys in the program throughout the past three years that certain things needed to change.

“Those things were finally brought to light and it happened to be during a 4-8 season. I don’t necessarily know that 4-8 was the reason all this change happened.”

New Irish defensive coordinator Mike Elko expressed a similar sentiment Friday morning, discussing the pressure moving forward.

“If we were coming off a 12-0 season in which we were competing for the national championship, there would be pressure on us at Notre Dame to be successful this year,” Elko said. “That’s Notre Dame.”

Elko has been a quick study, as his comments were echoed the next day by Irish director of athletics Jack Swarbrick during NBC Sports Network’s broadcast of the Blue-Gold Game.

“We expect to compete for national championships and 4-8 is not acceptable,” Swarbrick said. “On the other hand, when you’re in that situation, you have to decide how you’re going to move forward. We decided to move forward by making a major investment in retooling our program with Brian as the leader of it. That’s not a one-year investment for us. We brought in some talented assistant coaches. We rebuilt elements of the program

“We view it as a multi-year investment going forward.”

KELLY ON RECRUITING PITCH
Using this week’s NFL Draft as a peg, Florio also asked Kelly about balancing players’ NFL aspirations with team success both in the recruiting process and during the actual season.

“We have to talk more in terms of process over production,” Kelly responded. “We talk in terms of you’re coming to Notre Dame for a reason. You’re going to get a degree, which will set you up for the rest of your life, and you’re going to play on the grandest stage at Notre Dame, so everybody will see you.

“As long as there’s the balance there—and there has to be that balance in terms of getting your education and playing for championships—then we’re okay. It’s when that balance is out of whack, we’ll have an issue. We vet that out in the recruiting process and make sure we don’t take any kids that are coming to Notre Dame just because they’re waiting for that [junior] year to complete so they can go to the draft.”

A reminder: The NFL Draft begins with its first round Thursday night. Kelly will be joining former Irish quarterback DeShone Kizer at the draft in Philadelphia to await Kizer’s destination and future employer.

MISSED THE BLUE-GOLD GAME?
It is available for streaming: here.

Following spring practice, will Notre Dame continue habitual progress?

Getty Images
16 Comments

By no means is Irish coach Brian Kelly going to measure Alizé Mack’s progress by if the junior tight end makes his bed every morning. Mack’s mother might—mine would certainly factor it in—but when Kelly cited the need to start the day with hospital corners, he was simply trying to make a point.

“He’s taking care of business off the field, which invariably it always comes back to this,” Kelly said Wednesday. “If you’re taking care of work in the classroom and you’re starting the day right, making your bed—I’m just using that analogy—if you start the day right, it’s going to trend the right way and it’s trending the right way on the field for him.”

Mack is the most obvious example of a needed change in habits. When you miss a season due to academic issues, reconfiguring your priorities becomes a topic of conversation. His instance, though, serves as a readily-cited example of a more widespread concern. Of all the optimistic conversation and concerted change following last season’s 4-8 disappointment, Kelly’s preaching of good habits simultaneously appears as the most abstract aspect and the easiest understood.

“It starts with guys being aware of it first,” Kelly said following Notre Dame’s Blue-Gold Game on Saturday. “Then once they are aware that they need to have these good habits to be good football players, then you start to see it show itself in good run support angles. You see it offensively, guys always lined up properly. We had very few penalties today, and that’s a product of some of the habits that are being built on a day-to-day basis.”

It makes sense. If a receiver doesn’t realize he lined up a few feet closer to the sideline than desired, for example, then he will make that same mistake the next time, especially if he still makes a catch on the play. Next time, the defensive back may be more able to capitalize on the gift of less route uncertainty.

It is unrealistic to expect anyone, let alone a 19- or 20-year-old, to display this exacting discipline on the football field without practicing it throughout the rest of the day. Successfully cutting corners in one area of life convinces the psyche it can be done anywhere. Thus, Kelly has needed to harp on his charges about their off-field activities, including—but perhaps not seriously—making their beds.

“I think we ask our guys to do a number of different things on a day-to-day basis,” Kelly said. “First of all, understanding how habits carry over to what they do in the classroom and what they do on the football field.”

Kelly and his coaching staff have had four months to make this impression. The issue is, bad habits are hard to break. They’re usually more fun, anyway. As Kelly pointed out, the rewards of good habits are slow in coming. Delayed gratification, if you will.

“I think our guys understand that it takes time to build those habits, because some of them have bad habits, and to get rid of those bad habits, you really have to be creating good habits over a long period of time,” Kelly said. “That’s the process that is hard for these guys, because it takes time, and they want it to happen right away.

“Sometimes they forget and they just want to go out and play. If you go out and play, but you don’t do it the right way, it’s going to get you beat.”

This all sounds well and good, and some of the effects were evident Saturday. There were few penalties (none, in fact, according to the official statistics), the quarterbacks took advantage of the receiving corps’ size and missed their targets high. But soon comes the toughest time to continue this trend.

Kelly and his staff have worked on the Irish to internalize these lessons. Now, Kelly and his staff will cover the country in recruiting. In a few weeks, the players will scatter home for a break before returning for a summer session spent in the weight room and classroom. If they slip back into old habits, the last four months were spent fruitlessly.

Mack played well Saturday. The question has never been does he have physical talent. He undeniably does.

The question has been, is and will be: Did you make your bed today, Alizé?

What we learned: Hayes, Book star in Notre Dame’s spring finale

Getty Images
30 Comments

Time spent on a traditional game wrap of a spring intrasquad exhibition seems misspent. Gold won Notre Dame’s annual Blue-Gold Game 27-14 led by rising sophomore quarterback Ian Book. The first-string defense (Gold) held the first-string offense to an average of 5.4 yards per play. For context’s sake: Last season Notre Dame gained an average of 6.1 yards per play and held opponents to 5.4.

With that abbreviated recap out of the way, what did Saturday’s pseudo-game environment show about the Irish? If the 20,147 in attendance paid attention, they had the chance to learn a few things:

Daelin Hayes will be ready to hit a quarterback in September
Notre Dame’s quarterbacks were off limits all spring. Bulls might charge when they see red, but the Irish defensive line has had to remember to ease up when they come across a quarterback’s red jersey. If sophomore defensive end Daelin Hayes had forgotten that Saturday, Notre Dame might not have any quarterbacks left to play in the fall.

“At the end of the day, we’re on the same team,” Hayes said, dismissing any bitterness about the quarterbacks’ protections. “We have to keep our guys healthy. I wasn’t frustrated, but come September 2, you know.”

Officially, Hayes was credited with three sacks and another tackle for loss among his seven tackles. Admittedly, gauging sacks is tricky when the quarterback does not actually go to the ground. How many of Hayes’ three sacks and the defense’s 11 total would have been evaded if the defender needed to do more than touch the passer? That answer is highly subjective, but discounting Hayes’ numbers would miss the bigger picture.

“We showed [pressure] in as far as the quarterback wasn’t getting really comfortable, not having all day to throw back there,” Hayes said. “I think it’s been huge, buying into that process. Seeing it come to fruition today was huge.”

Senior end Jay Hayes (no relation) notched two sacks and sophomore end Ade Ogundeji came the closest to tackling a red jersey when he stripped junior quarterback Brandon Wimbush from behind. The defensive line has been expected to be a weak point for the Irish moving forward, but the spring performance indicates it has a chance at holding its own. These accomplishments bear further merit considering Notre Dame’s offensive line is widely-considered one of its few spots of expected quality.

RELATED READING: Now is the time for Daelin Hayes to turn athleticism into pass rush threat

“I think it’s pretty clear Daelin Hayes is going to be around the football and be a disruptive player for us,” Irish coach Brian Kelly said. “I’d have to watch the film, but it seemed like [sophomore end] Julian Okwara was a hard guy to block coming off the edge, as well.”

Ian Book provides some peace of mind
Book was not spectacular, but he was also far from incompetent or intimidated. In his first action on the field at Notre Dame Stadium, Book completed 18-of-25 passes for 271 yards and a touchdown, highlighted by a 58-yard connection with sophomore receiver Kevin Stepherson. Meanwhile, junior Brandon Wimbush completed 22-of-32 passes for 303 yards.

Bluntly, one has not needed to follow Notre Dame for very long to fit that “long enough” qualification. Last season’s backup, Malik Zaire, saw competitive action against both Texas and Stanford. In 2015, DeShone Kizer came off the bench to start 11 games after Zaire suffered a season-ending ankle injury. (more…)

What Notre Dame players should you actually watch? Plus, catch up on reading

Getty Images
7 Comments

If technology does its part, this will post as its typist meanders toward finding his credential for the Blue-Gold Game to conclude Notre Dame’s spring practice. If technology doesn’t do its part, well, then this will be lost to the cobwebs of the internet. Such as it goes.

This space has spent much of the past week discussing what to look for in the 12:30 p.m. ET exhibition. Worry about the big picture, not the individuals. Fret about the macro, not the micro.

RELATED READING: Focus on Notre Dame’s dueling new schemes, not the indivdual players
Blue-Gold Game primer with help from Notre Dame’s coordinators
Four defensive positions to watch on Notre Dame’s spring game
Four offensive positions to watch on Notre Dame’s spring game

But, if insistent on focusing on singular players, look to the inexperienced, the names you are unfamiliar with. The 15th and final practice of spring may be no more than a practice in reality, but it is in front of nearly 30,000 fans in Notre Dame Stadium. Some players do not have so much as that minimal experience.

“The Blue-Gold Game, specifically, is a time for us to emulate a game-like situation,” senior safety/linebacker/rover Drue Tranquill said. “Especially for guys like freshmen, second-semester guys coming in, it’s a great opportunity for them to get that game feeling, but also continue to take steps in the process to get better.”

The question on the tip of your tongue is a fair one. If you are unfamiliar with the names, how are you supposed to focus on those players? How are you to know who fits the appropriate tunnel vision version of perspective?

Let’s turn to Irish coach Brian Kelly’s mentions from Wednesday–primarily, sophomore defensive end Julian Okwara, sophomore long snapper John Shannon, senior kicker Sam Kohler, sophomore defensive end Khalid Kareem and sophomore safety Jalen Elliott.

Obviously, that is just a sampling. Less obviously, this post’s purpose may or may not be to link to previous reading material and remind you of the vague but pertinent purposes to today’s endeavor. It is neither be-all nor end-all. It is simply another opportunity to gauge what may come down the line.

But hey, how about a prediction? Per Kelly, the first-team offense and second-team defense will be in blue, against the first-team defense and second-team offense in white.

PREDICTION: Blue 37, White 21

HOW TO WATCH
As a recurring reminder, the Blue-Gold Game kicks off at 12:30 p.m. ET on Saturday and will be broadcast on NBC Sports Network, as well as streamed online at ndstream.nbcsports.com and on the NBC Sports app.