Brian Kelly, Everett Golson

With the dust settled, Irish already moving on

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In the span of one holiday weekend, the trajectory of Notre Dame’s football program has been irrevocably changed.

That’s not hyperbole. Coming off a twelve-win season and finally solving a quarterback conundrum that took three seasons to sort, Brian Kelly turned down an opportunity to jump to the NFL, presumably because he saw the bright future ahead of him in South Bend.

That all looks much different thanks to Everett Golson’s “poor academic judgment.”

Fans and media can spend the next few months discussing what Golson’s exile means. They can kick dirt on Golson for a variety of reasons — namely wasting the best academic support system in college sports while letting down the teammates and coaches that supported him through last year’s miracle season. But before anyone gets too high and mighty, it bears mentioning that Golson isn’t the only college kid to get wandering eyes during a final exam. And for those that have enjoyed kicking dirt on Notre Dame the past few years, not too many football programs put their starting quarterback on ice for a season because of an honor code violation.

All of this is fodder for the water cooler for the next 100 days, giving this offseason another talking point after a regular season that was just too tidy to believe. But don’t expect to hear much from Kelly. Privacy rules or not, the Irish head coach and his staff have already moved on.

Any tears shed by the staff dried up long before the public revelation of Golson’s fate. No doubt this one hurt. No doubt it’ll limit an offense that was finally coming into the image of its creator. But if you expected this setback to stop Kelly and his coaching staff, you haven’t been paying attention the past few years.

While some Irish fans will revert to the doomsday proclamations and star-crossed concerns of years past, there is no intergalactic conspiracy. This isn’t the first time a Notre Dame student-athlete has been tripped up by the academic challenges the school presents. And it certainly won’t be the last.

A twelve-win regular season didn’t save Irish fans from reawakening their ghosts. But in his three seasons in South Bend, Kelly has proved that there’s no rearview mirror for this program. That’s why Gunner Kiel was never an option to return. That’s why this team didn’t flinch when Aaron Lynch quit or Davonte Neal went home. All spring Kelly talked about this football team finding its identity. After last year’s team was fueled by self-belief, the doubt now being cast on a team that still has plenty of potential could be galvanizing.

Make no mistake, this one stings. But players go down. And while it’ll be hard to look at the 2013 season and not wonder about what could have been, “Next Man In” doesn’t just cover shoulder injuries and graduation.

Five Irish players sign UFA contracts

Matthias Farley
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Notre Dame had seven players selected in the 2016 NFL Draft, trailing only Ohio State, Clemson and UCLA on the weekend tally. But after the draft finished, the Irish had five more players get their shot at playing on Sundays.

Chris Brown signed with the Dallas Cowboys. Romeo Okwara will begin his career with the New York Giants. Matthias Farley and Amir Carlisle signed contracts with the Arizona Cardinal. Elijah Shumate agreed to a contract with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

After missing two seasons, Ishaq Williams will be at Giants rookie camp next weekend as well, working as a tryout player. Expect Jarrett Grace to receive similar opportunities.

Count me among those that thought both Brown and Okwara would hear their names called. Brown’s senior season, not to mention his intriguing measureables, had some projecting him as early as the fifth round.

Okwara, still 20 years old and fresh off leading Notre Dame in sacks in back-to-back seasons, intrigued a lot of teams with his ability to play both defensive end and outside linebacker. He’ll get a chance to make the Giants—the team didn’t draft a defensive end after selecting just one last year, and they’re in desperate need of pass rushers.

Both Shumate and Farley feel like contenders to earn a spot on rosters, both because of their versatility and special teams skills. Shumate played nickel back as a freshman and improved greatly at safety during 2015. Farley bounced around everywhere and was Notre Dame’s special teams captain.

Carlisle might fit a similar mold. He played running back, receiver and returned kicks and punts throughout his college career. With a 4.4 during Notre Dame’s Pro Day, he likely showed the Cardinals enough to take a shot, and now he’ll join an offense with Michael Floyd and Troy Niklas.

 

Robertson picks Cal over Notre Dame, UGA

Demetris Robertson
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Demetris Robertson‘s decision wasn’t trending in Notre Dame’s direction. But those that expected the Savannah star athlete to pick the in-state Bulldogs were in for a surprise when Robertson chose Cal on Sunday afternoon.

Notre Dame’s pursuit of the five-star athlete, recruited to play outside receiver and hopefully replace Will Fuller, likely ended Sunday afternoon with Robertson making the surprise decision to take his substantial talents to Berkeley. And give credit to Robertson for doing what he said all along—picking a school that’ll give him the chance to earn an exceptional education and likely contribute from Day One.

“I am excited to take my talents to the University of California, Berkeley. The first reason is that the education was a big part of my decision. I wanted to keep that foundation,” Robertson said, per CFT. “When I went there, it felt like home. Me and the coaching staff have a great relationship. That’s where I felt were the best of all things for me.”

Adding one final twist in all of this is that Robertson has no letter-of-intent to sign. Because he’s blown three months through Signing Day, Robertson merely enrolls at a college when the time comes. That means until then, Kirby Smart and the Georgia staff will continue to sell Robertson on staying home and helping the Dawgs rebuild. Smart visited with Robertson Saturday night and had multiple assistant coaches at his track meet this weekend.

Summer school begins in June for Notre Dame. Their freshman receiving class looks complete with early enrollee Kevin Stepherson and soon-to-arrive pass-catchers Javon McKinley and Chase Claypool.

Sheldon Day drafted in 4th round by Jaguars

North Carolina v Notre Dame
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Former Notre Dame captain Sheldon Day didn’t have to wait long on Saturday to hear his name called. The Indianapolis native, All-American, and the Irish’s two-time defensive lineman of the year was pick number 103, the fourth pick of the fourth round on Saturday afternoon.

Day was the seventh Irish player drafted, following first rounders Ronnie Stanley and Will Fuller, second round selections Jaylon Smith and Nick Martin, and third rounders KeiVarae Russell and C.J. Prosise.

Day has a chance to contribute as he joins the 24th-ranked defense in the league. Joining a draft class heavy on defensive players—Jalen Ramsey, Myles Jack and Yannick Ngakoue already picked ahead of him—the front seven will also include last year’s No. 3 overall pick Dante Fowler, who missed the entire season with a knee injury.

Scouted by the Jaguars at the Senior Bowl, Day doesn’t necessarily have the size to be a traditional defensive tackle. But under Gus Bradley’s attacking system (Bradley coordinated the Seahawks defense for four seasons), Day will find a niche and a role in a young defense that’s seen a heavy investment the past two years.

Smith, Martin, Russell and Prosise all drafted Friday night

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - SEPTEMBER 13: William Fuller #7 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and Nick Martin #72 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish celebrate a touchdown during the game against the Purdue Boilermakers at Lucas Oil Stadium on September 13, 2014 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)
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Jaylon Smith, Nick Martin, KeiVarae Russell and C.J. Prosise were all selected on Friday, with four Irish teammates taken on the second night of the NFL Draft. As mentioned, Smith came off the board at pick 34, with the Cowboys gambling on the injured knee of the Butkus Award winner. Nick Martin was selected at pick 50, joining former teammate Will Fuller in Houston.

The third round saw Russell and Prosise come off the board, with Kansas City jumping on the confident cornerback and the Seahawks taking Notre Dame’s breakout running back. It capped off a huge night for the Irish with Sheldon Day, one of the more productive football players in college football, still on the board for teams to pick.

Here’s a smattering of instant reactions from the immediate aftermath.