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Irish recruiting: Taking a look at the high school All-Star games

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Happy New Year, everybody.

While college football’s grandest day is upon us, two prep showcases are just around the corner. As you’d expect, Notre Dame commitments and recruiting targets will be on display. The rosters of the Under Armour All-America Game and the US Army All-American Bowl are filled with names that should be familiar to Irish fans.

Brian Kelly and his coaching staff are well on their way to putting together another elite recruiting class. It may lack the five-star prospects that last year’s cycle had in Jaylon Smith, Greg Bryant and Max Redfield, but the depth of this group should be its strength.

“As Notre Dame puts the finishing touches on another Top10 class, you have to like the balance with this group,” 247 Sports’ Steve Wiltfong told me. “The Irish are again landing difference makers in the trenches, with Andrew Trumbetti on defense and Alex Bars and Quenton Nelson on offense being three guys in those areas I like a lot.

“Coach Kelly and company are also bringing in more talent at the skill positions with Nic Weishar and Justin Brent two guys that will catch a ton of balls in South Bend and Nick Watkins adding to what is becoming a very talented secondary.”

Lets run through some names to watch in both games.

UNDER ARMOUR ALL-AMERICA GAME
January 2, 2014 — 4pm ET
ESPN

Notre Dame Commitments:

Alex Bars, OT — Will likely start at left tackle. Always a good sign.
Corey Holmes, WR — After an injury plagued season, Holmes opening eyes. Compares to TJ Jones.
Tyler Luatua, TE — A recruitment worth watching. Still listening to Alabama, USC and UCLA.
Isaiah McKenzie, WR — Still needs to clear some academic hoops, but working hard to do so.
Sam Mustipher, OG — Big bodied interior lineman will benefit from tough competition.
Andrew Trumbetti, DE/OLB — Has impressed this week with pass rush skills and relentless energy.
Nick Watkins, CB — Dallas athlete makes his debut on the recruiting circuit. Another good CB addition.

Irish Recruiting Targets:

Thomas Holley, DT — Does Bill O’Brien’s departure to the NFL get the Irish back in the mix?
Adoree Jackson, CB — One of the elite athletes in the country. Still a longshot.
Braden Smith, OL — Lining up next to Alex Bars at left guard this week. Would be a huge addition.
John “JuJu” Smith, S/WR — Might be tough to pry him from USC, but an elite athlete.

US ARMY ALL-AMERICAN BOWL
January 4, 2014 — 1pm ET
NBC

Notre Dame Commitments:

Quenton Nelson, OT — Starting LT that’s been impressive this week. Rivals has him a Top 25 player.
Nic Weishar, TE — Has opened some eyes this week with his elite ball skills.
Richard Yeargin III, OLB — Clemson is chasing, but Yeargin’s saying all the right things about Notre Dame.

Irish Recruiting Targets:

Matt Elam, DT — Just eliminated the Irish and was remarkably candid why.
Damien Mama, OL — Named a top four that didn’t include Notre Dame.
Nyles Morgan, ILB — Chicagoland prospect that Irish staff wouldn’t quit on. Could pledge to ND during game.
Nathan Starks, RB — One time target that might be a back burner option if ND wants a back.

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.