NCHSAA Playoffs

Irish receive commitment from blue-chip RB Elijah Hood


After a slow start to recruiting this spring,  the 2014 group received a huge jolt when blue-chip running back Elijah Hood pledged his commitment to the Irish on Sunday evening. The 5-foot-11, 220-pounder is Rivals’ top-ranked athlete, No. 12 prospect overall, and has offers from North Carolina, Michigan, Ohio State, Florida State, USC and more. Hood spent the weekend with his parents in South Bend, and upon returning home Sunday night made his commitment official via Twitter.

Hood’s commitment isn’t a complete surprise, but the timing certainly is considering Brian Kelly wasn’t even on campus this weekend. With the Irish head coach in New York at the NFL Draft (where he was part of the telecast on the NFL Network), Hood spent time with running backs coach Tony Alford and player development director Ernest Jones, along with North Carolina natives Matthias Farley, Romeo Okwara, and Mark Harrell. From all reports (and the obvious — an immediate commitment) the visit was a smashing success.

While there’s an eternity to go before recruiting rankings are finalized, Hood currently rates as the highest rated running back in the Rivals recruiting era to pledge to Notre Dame, jumping in front of recent commit Greg Bryant for the time being. Already at 220-pounds, Hood seems like the perfect package of power and speed. He put together a ridiculous junior season, running for 3,309 yards and 48 touchdowns last season. (He’s ran for over 5,200 yards and 83 touchdowns in his career at Charlotte Catholic.) While listed as a athlete, and projected by some as a linebacker, Hood is clearly a running back in Notre Dame’s plans, something he’s fine with, especially after seeing the size of the Irish linebackers in person.

For the Irish coaching staff, adding Hood into the fold should be galvanizing for a recruiting class that’s picking up steam. With eight commitments and a class that might not even get to 20, adding Hood now could have the same star effect that Jaylon Smith’s commitment did last year.

Hood doesn’t plan on taking any additional visits and will graduate in June ’14 and head to South Bend. He and his family plan to return to campus soon to spend some time with Brian Kelly, but his commitment sounds as firm as it can be at this point.

“There are plenty of good schools close by,” Hood told the Charlotte Observer Sunday night, “but there’s something about Notre Dame. It’s a great place with so much history and tradition. They have stuff I couldn’t have dreamed of. They wowed me. They took my breath away at times. I knew it was the place.”



Even amidst chaos, Kelly expecting USC’s best

JuJu Smith-Schuster, Rocky Hayes, Blaise Taylor

USC head coach Steve Sarkisian was fired on Monday, with interim head coach Clay Helton taking the reins of the Trojan program during tumultuous times. Helton will be the fourth different USC head coach to face Notre Dame in as many years, illustrative of the chaos that’s shaken up Heritage Hall in the years since Pete Carroll left for the NFL.

All eyes are on the SC program, with heat on athletic director Pat Haden and the ensuing media circus that only Los Angeles can provide. But Brian Kelly doesn’t expect anything but their best when USC boards a plane to take on the Irish in South Bend.

While the majority of Notre Dame’s focus will be inward this week, Kelly did take the time on Sunday and Monday to talk with his team about the changes atop the Trojan program, and how they’ll likely impact the battle for the Jeweled Shillelagh.

“We talked about there would be an interim coach, and what that means,” Kelly said. “Teams come together under those circumstances and they’re going to play their very best. And I just reminded them of that.”

While nobody on this Notre Dame roster has experienced a coaching change, they’ve seen their share of scrutiny. The Irish managed to spring an upset not many saw coming against LSU last year in the Music City Bowl after a humiliating defeat against the Trojans and amidst the chaos of a quarterbacking controversy. And just last week, we saw Charlie Strong’s team spring an upset against arch rival Oklahoma when just about everybody left the Longhorns for dead.

“I think you look at the way Texas responded this past weekend with a lot of media scrutiny,” Kelly said Tuesday. “I expect USC to respond the same way, so we’re going to have to play extremely well.”

Outside of the head coaching departure, it’s difficult to know if there’ll be any significant difference between a team lead by Sarkisian or the one that Helton will lead into battle. The offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach has been at USC for six years, and has already held the title of interim head coach when he led the Trojans to a 2013 Las Vegas Bowl title after Lane Kiffin was fired and Ed Orgeron left the program after he wasn’t given the full time position.

Helton will likely call plays, a role he partially handled even when Sarkisian was on the sideline. The defense will still be run by Justin Wilcox. And more importantly, the game plan will be executed by a group of players that are among the most talented in the country.

“They have some of the finest athletes in the country. I’ve recruited a lot of them, and they have an immense amount of pride for their program and personal pride,” Kelly said. “So they will come out with that here at Notre Dame, there is no question about that.”

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.