Irish coaching staff goes the distance for recruits


It’s no secret that Notre Dame recruits nationally. That’s one of the benefits that comes along with one of the longest-standing brand names in college football. But a footprint that large also has its challenges. And for the Irish coaching staff, that’s the work that comes from reaching far and wide to find football players.

While Brian Kelly‘s staff has done a nice job of signing the top player in the state of Indiana the past few three seasons, to compete with the best teams in the country, the Irish coaching staff covers a lot of miles to find the very best players that fit the unique mold necessary to thrive at Notre Dame.

With a recruiting class that finished ranked No. 3 in the country, it’s clear Kelly and his coaches and support staff, led by recruiting coordinator Tony Alford, have done a great job with that. So much so that the team at named both Alford and Mike Denbrock two of the top 25 recruiters in the country this year.

Here’s what they had to say on Alford:

Alford came to South Bend with strong recruiting credentials, and he delivered on that promise in the 2013 class by going into Florida and plucking two of the state’s top ball carriers. The big prize was five-star Greg Bryant, who was not even listing Notre Dame at the beginning of the fall but committed immediately following his official visit to South Bend. Alford was also responsible for complementing the Bryant pickup with four-star Cocoa, Fla., running back Tarean Folston.

And here’s the write-up on Denbrock, who year after year continues to shut-up the skeptics that wondered whether or not the former Willingham assistant could hang on the West Coast.

The last big story on National Signing Day was Notre Dame landing five-star defensive tackle Eddie Vanderdoes over UCLA and Alabama. It was Denbrock who was responsible for bringing Vanderdoes into the fold, and this was not his first five-star West Coast pickup in the class. Earlier, he landed former USC five-star safety commit Max Redfield out of Mission Viejo, Calif., in what was more than a mild upset. The Irish’s passing game coordinator complemented his five-star recruiting efforts by being the lead in landing four-star wide receiver William Fuller out of Philadelphia.

It’s hardly a two man show for the Irish on the recruiting trail. Chuck Martin has gotten off to a quick start as a recruiter on the highest level of college football and was instrumental in pulling Gunner Kiel away from LSU. Kerry Cooks has done a nice job. So has Mike Elston. It’s hard to think about Bob Diaco and recruiting without thinking about the work he did to land Ishaq Williams. And while Scott Booker, Bobby Elliott and Harry Hiestand just started their time as assistants on the Irish staff, all three had a nice recruiting season.

Yahoo Sports’ put together a tremendous study that puts into context the distance Notre Dame coaches go to land their recruits. They charted the distance from campus each recruit will travel to enroll at their school of choice. Of the top five recruiting classes in the country, only Alabama came within 8,000 miles of Notre Dame.

The Irish headed into states like California, Arizona, Texas, Florida, and Georgia to pull elite players, adding that to their strongholds in the Midwest and East Coast. That kind of work widens Notre Dame’s already significant net, and shows you all the effort that it takes to compete with the elite programs in the country.

Irish prepared to take on the best Navy team in years

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Brian Kelly opens every Tuesday press conference with compliments for an opponent. But this week, it was easy to see that his kind words for Navy were hardly lip service.

Ken Niumatalolo will bring his most veteran—and probably his most talented—group of Midshipmen into Notre Dame Stadium, looking to hand the Irish their first loss in the series since Kelly’s debut season in South Bend.

“Ken Niumatalolo has done an incredible job in developing his program and currently carrying an eight-game winning streak,” Kelly said. “I voted for them in USA Today Top 25 as a top-25 team. I think they’ve earned that. But their defense as well has developed. It’s played the kind of defense that I think a top 25 team plays.”

With nine months of option preparation, Notre Dame needs to feel confident about their efforts against Georgia Tech. Then again, the Midshipmen saw that game plan and likely have a few tricks in store.

As much as the Irish have focused their efforts on stopping Keenan Reynolds and the triple-option, Navy’s much-improved defense is still looking for a way to slow down a team that’s averaged a shade over 48 points a game against them the last four seasons.

Niumatalolo talked about that when asked about slowing down Will Fuller and Notre Dame’s skill players, an offense that’s averaged over 48 points a game during this four-game win streak.

“We’ve got to try our best to keep [Fuller] in front of us, that’s easier said than done,” Niumatalolo said. “We’ve got to play as close as we can without their guys running past us. I’ve been here a long time and we’re still trying to figure out how to do that.”


Navy heads to South Bend unbeaten, defeating former Irish defensive coordinator Bob Diaco‘s team just two Saturdays ago. And while Diaco raised a few eyebrows when he said Navy would be the team’s toughest test of the year (they already played a ranked Missouri team), the head of the UConn program couldn’t have been more effusive in his praise.

“I have been competing against Navy for some time and this is the best Navy team I have seen for, let’s say the last half-dozen years,” UConn coach Bob Diaco told the New Haven Register. “I could click on footage from three years ago and see a lion’s share of players who are playing right now in the game as freshmen and sophomores. They have a veteran group, a strong group, a talented group and they look like the stiffest competition among our first four opponents.”

As usual, there will be those who look at this game as the breather between Clemson and USC. That won’t be anybody inside The Gug. So as the Irish try to get back to their winning ways in front of a home crowd, a complete team effort is needed.

“I’ll take a win by one,” Kelly said Tuesday. “That would be fine with me.”


Kelly confident Robinson will rebound

Notre Dame v Florida State

Corey Robinson‘s season was already off to a slow start. And that was before a difficult night at Clemson. The junior receiver came into last weekend with only four catches, held out against UMass after a pregame tweak of his knee put a scare into the Irish.

Robinson’s knee checked out fine. But mentally, it appears that the sure-handed junior is struggling.

Just before halftime against the Tigers, Robinson failed to reel in a long catch that would’ve given the Irish a much-needed touchdown heading into half. Early in the fourth quarter, a high throw from DeShone Kizer on the Irish’s first failed two-point conversion play slid through Robinson’s hands. Made worse was a mental mistake by Robinson, the Irish needing to use one of their second half timeouts when the junior wasn’t on the field.

Coached hard on the sideline by Brian Kelly and coached up by his position coach Mike Denbrock (as we saw on both Showtime and Fighting Irish Media’s ICON), the staff is doing it’s best to get Robinson’s confidence back.

With some wondering if Robinson’s struggles should open the door for talented freshman Equanimeous St. Brown, Kelly talked about their belief that the junior will return to form.

“Corey Robinson is going to get the job done. I had a very lengthy conversation with him yesterday,” Kelly said Tuesday. “I believe in Corey. Corey’s got to believe in himself, and he will. He’s got to go attack the football. He’s letting the football come to him. He’s letting it eat him up a little bit, but I believe in Corey.”

There’s no better place to showcase that belief than against Navy. The Midshipmen don’t have a defender physically capable of matching up with the 6-foot-5 Robinson, who will likely face his share of single coverage with Will Fuller likely demanding safety help.

Then it’s just a matter of Robinson showing the hands and confidence that made him one of last year’s most consistent performers.

“Once he starts attacking the football, I think we’re going to see somebody that can make the plays that we expect him to make,” Kelly said. “So I’m optimistic that we’re going to see the guy that we need to see on Saturday.”