Today is Notre Dame’s media day for the BCS Championship, so expect news to flow from the various interviews as Brian Kelly, his assistant coaches, and select players will be available for questions and answers. But Kelly supplied some of the biggest news today when he announced that left tackle Zack Martin and nose guard Louis Nix III will return for the 2013 season.
After keeping Manti Te’o and Tyler Eifert for their senior seasons, and Michael Floyd the year prior, Kelly extends his run to three seasons in a row landing “six star recruits,” All-American caliber players that’ll be key building blocks for the 2013 team, a squad that’ll likely start the season ranked in the top five.
For Martin, who garnered some All-American kudos for another fine season at left tackle, the decision wasn’t all that surprising. Kelly announced that Martin didn’t submit for the NFL’s evaluation, but Martin did receive unofficial feedback that he’d likely be selected around the third round. Yet the draw of playing another season with his younger brother Nick, who will be one of the leading candidates to fill Mike Golic’s spot at right guard, and the chance to serve another season as captain of his teammates was strong enough to make the NFL wait another year.
For Nix, the idea that the NFL was a potential reality came with his breakout junior season. After sitting out his freshman year as he worked his way into shape, Nix spent much of the 2011 season platooning with senior Sean Cwynar. After struggling emotionally and physically throughout spring drills, Nix entered fall camp running head-to-head with Kona Schwenke for the starting spot. Yet Nix’s junior season was a transcendent one. As the key cog up front, Nix played dominant football at the point of attack, anchoring one of the nation’s best run defenses while racking up 43 tackles, 5.5 tackles-for-loss, and two sacks on the season. Nix was awarded with a third-team All-American mention, and submitted his paperwork for an NFL draft evaluation, though graduating from Notre Dame took precedence.
The last remaining question mark will be the status of Cierre Wood, who is likely going to make a decision after the BCS Championship game. Wood will weigh his NFL Draft grade, but will graduate this year and has a young daughter to consider. Wood’s return would solidify a running back position that’ll rely on Amir Carlisle and George Atkinson, with Cam McDaniel and unproven runners like Will Mahone and Greg Bryant being wildcards.
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.
When Notre Dame takes on rival USC on Saturday, they’ll be facing a Trojans team without a head coach. USC athletic director Pat Haden announced today that effective immediately, head coach Steve Sarkisian will be taking an indefinite leave of absence. Offensive coordinator Clay Helton will be interim head coach.
While the details are still coming into focus, multiple reports point to another incident with alcohol. Haden himself said that he made the decision after speaking with Sarkisian.
“I called Steve and talked to him. It was very clear to me that he is not healthy. I asked him to take an indefinite leave of absence,” Haden said, according to multiple Los Angeles media reports.
Sarkisian’s decision-making and alcohol use came into the spotlight this August when the head coach made inappropriate statements at a large booster event. Sarkisian addressed the media after the incident, acknowledged mixing medication with alcohol, and vowed to seek help and not to make the same mistake again.
Today’s incident appears to be a relapse, and one that requires immediate attention. Helton ran the team’s practice today and steps back into an interim head coaching role, a job he handled after the Trojans fired Lane Kiffin and Ed Orgeron left after not being awarded the permanent job.
“Fortunately or unfortunately, I have been in this situation before,” Helton said. “Once again, I’m very fortunate to have a group of first-class kids that are extremely talented and want to do something special here.”
This is the second major sports persona to leave his season to seek treatment in recent weeks. New York Yankees pitcher CC Sabathia left the team to seek treatment for alcohol issues. The Trojans are coming off an upset loss to Washington on Thursday night, losing 17-12 as a 17-point favorite.