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Pot of Gold pushes Notre Dame recruiting to the forefront

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Take the U.S. Postal Service, add to it Notre Dame football and the holiday season, and you expect a punchline.

But this week, the Irish football program has received a lot of attention on the internet for its “Pot of Gold,” a recruiting tactic that has seen the Notre Dame football office presumably blow through their postage budget in a few short weeks.

The Irish’s first Pot of Gold was sent to blue-chip defensive tackle Matt Elam, one of the targets to fill Louis Nix’s shoes on the interior of the Irish defensive line. It’s rumored that as many as 11 others have gone out, with now Irish commit Kolin Hill receiving one, as well as linebacker target Nyles Morgan and tight end Dalton Schultz, who chronicled it on his YouTube channel.

For those still not sure what exactly a Pot of Gold is, the Irish recruiting office essentially mail-bombs a recruit, sending hundreds of letters timed to arrive on the same day. While it might sound ridiculous to those of us not picking between dozens of college scholarships, here’s Elam’s reaction:

And here’s Schultz’s YouTube response, which has gotten over 28,000 viewings in less than 48 hours:

Po

The new recruiting initiative is the collective work of the Irish support and coaching staff, with J.R. Sandlin, the first-year recruiting analyst hired by Brian Kelly and Dave Peloquin, Notre Dame’s director of player personnel, spearheading the process. Sandlin cut his teeth in college football in the SEC, leaving a job as Tennessee’s recruiting coordinator to join the Irish staff. Before that he spent three seasons running the day-to-day operations of the Alabama recruiting office, seeing behind the curtain of Nick Saban’s juggernaut.

The Irish coaching staff has bought all in on the #PotofGold, using a hashtag on Twitter to push the idea viral. Kelly has mentioned it on his Twitter feed. So has co-defensive coordinator Kerry Cooks and recruiting coordinator Tony Alford.

While it feels a little over-the-top to some ND football traditionalists, this is the era of football that we live in. Kevin Sumlin created a stir taking a helicopter to high school football games, creating a buzz with a showtime arrival. Other schools have showed up in limos, announcing their presence that way. That Notre Dame was able to create a national buzz during a recruiting quiet period, keeping momentum up as the home stretch approaches, was impressive.

As the Irish try to finish out their recruiting class with an elite group of national targets, drawing buzz for the amount of attention you throw at a recruit isn’t the worst idea in the world. And the early returns from the recruiting targets — the only measurement that counts — are impressive.

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

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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.