The road to 85


It’s a dead sprint for Brian Kelly and his staff. Two years of hard work identifying, evaluating and developing relationships with recruits hits the home stretch, with the Notre Dame staff doing its best to finalize a recruiting class that’s expected to be one of the best in the nation.

Finishing off that class is the first key part of roster management for the 2013 season. With 22 commitments in the ’13 class, including five student-athletes already enrolled, any additional recruits joining the 2013 class will likely determine how many fifth-year players the Irish welcome back for next season.

Some early answers will likely come this weekend, when the Irish host one of their biggest late season recruiting weekends of recent memory. Difference makers like defensive end Kyle Fitts, linebacker Deon Hollins, wide receiver Sebastian LaRue, tight end Durham Smythe, and five-star defensive lineman Eddie Vanderdoes will all be on campus. So will five-star linebacker Jaylon Smith, who reportedly is coming to down to help with the sales pitch. Add in an impending visit from linebacker Torrodney Prevot the weekend before Signing Day, and how the Irish fill their 25 man allotment will be incredibly interesting.

Reading the tea leaves, we can start to get a handle on the fifth-year candidates that might return. Let’s roll through the roster and look at all the options:

Cierre Wood, RB — Declared for NFL Draft.
Tyler Eifert, TE — Declared for NFL Draft.
Jake Golic, TE — Not expected to return.
Chris Watt, LG — Expected to return.
Zack Martin, LT — Announced return for fifth year.
Tyler Stockton, DT — Not expected to return.
Dan Fox, LB — Expected to return.
Carlo Calabrese, LB — Expected to return.
Nick Tausch, K — Not expected to return.
Jamoris Slaughter, S — Appealing NCAA for a sixth year.

It’s worth noting that last year, surprising defections like Ronald Darby and Deontay Greenberry likely effected the decision making on the fifth year candidates, with a guy like Dan McCarthy the recipient of a bonus season of football because of it, and Chris Salvi earning a scholarship as well. The official announcement for fifth years came in late March, when the Irish were set to kickoff spring practice.

While some wonder if the Irish can afford to bring back five players — with Slaughter’s appeal seeming less than likely after news that his original request was denied — any decision will be made after the faxes are in on Signing Day. There are log jams at positions (quarterback, safety) that might create a transfer situation. There are lingering health concerns (Tate Nichols, Matt Hegarty) that contributed to some roster uncertainty as well.

It’s all part of the high wire act elite programs walk as they maximize their 85 scholarships, something Notre Dame is finally in a position to do after replenishing a roster that had holes and deficiencies dating back to the Willingham era. The Irish will never be a program that oversigns, a strategy that’s led to dominance by the SEC over the past few years. But Notre Dame has until fall camp to get down to the number, so it’ll be worth watching as the roster numbers take shape.



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.




Days before facing Notre Dame, USC coach Steve Sarkisian to take leave of absence


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.