Louis Nix, Steve Elmer

Freshman Focus: Steve Elmer


Steve Elmer was the first commitment to the heralded ’13 recruiting class. He might also be one of the most important. A bookend tackle prospect that closed down his recruitment early and still ended up being viewed among the elite of his class, Elmer anchors an offensive line class that many believe is one of the top units in the country.

In Elmer, it looks as though the Irish have the heir apparent to Zack Martin. Already looking the part of an upperclassmen, the Michigan native and early enrollee wowed the coaching staff in his 15 spring workouts, and his 6-foot-5.5, 317-pound frame looks ready for competition already. Added to Ronnie Stanley, Notre Dame has two young tackles that will likely play a key role in the Irish offensive line for years to come.

Let’s take a closer look at Elmer and what he’ll bring to the Fighting Irish this season.


If you’re underwhelmed by the offer list Elmer had, it’s a product of a very early commitment to Notre Dame, with Elmer shutting down his recruitment in September 2011, a full two years before he’ll suit up for the Irish.

Still, Elmer was seen as a Top 100 player by just about every service, with 247 having him in their Top 50 and Rivals in their top 60. In the middle of the recruiting cycle, it seemed some websites soured on Elmer, with reports coming out from combines that he looked less athletic than many expected during drill work. Those fears were allayed with an impressive US Army All-American week, and Elmer catapulted back up the rankings to the lofty status where he finished.


It’s never a good sign when freshman offensive linemen have an early opportunity to see the field. That said, during spring practice Kelly and the coaching staff felt like Elmer was physically ready to help the team if needed next season.

If needed is the key component here. A quick look at the tackle depth chart shouldn’t exactly give Notre Dame fans the warm and fuzzies. With Tate Nichols ending his career with a medical redshirt, the depth chart is now starters Martin and Lombard, with Stanley the only non-true freshman backing him up.

This is likely the last season where the Irish will truly struggle with depth issues, but the loss of guys like Jordan Prestwood and Nichols really hurt the depth chart. It’s no wonder that Kelly called Zack Martin a six-star recruit.


It looks like Elmer is the starting left tackle of the future. And it also looks like Notre Dame’s fortunes at the position are only on the rise. Adding Elmer and Mike McGlinchey to the current class is a start. Blue-chippers Quenton Nelson and Alex Bars, both seemingly elite prospects, shore up this deficiency quickly (’15 recruit Jerry Tillery seems like icing on a far-too-in-the-distance cake).

Still, pushing the development timetable of any lineman is a dangerous game. As Irish fans saw in 07-09, forcing players into the starting lineup early builds experience, but doesn’t necessarily make things better for the future. The list of blue-chip recruits at Notre Dame who saw the field early and plateaued is long.

That’s not to say that Elmer will suffer the same fate even if he does see the field this season. Many think that Elmer won’t have the opportunity to redshirt even if Martin and Christian Lombard stay healthy, as he’ll be too good to keep off the field. That’s a good problem to have for Kelly and Harry Hiestand, and hopefully one that doesn’t resurface in the near future.

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.