Christian Lombard

Collinsworth, Lombard, Moore and Utupo on track for fifth year


It looks like the 2014 roster is coming into focus. While Brian Kelly and his coaching staff are on the road trying to add some final pieces to the recruiting class, four seniors are likely to return for a fifth season. Multiple outlets are reporting that Austin Collinsworth, Christian Lombard, Kendall Moore and Justin Utupo will return for a fifth season. Credit Pete Sampson at Irish Illustrated for breaking the news on Utupo, seemingly the last decision made by Kelly and his defensive staff.

That these four return isn’t much of a surprise. Collinsworth spent a considerable amount of time in the starting lineup at safety, playing his best football down the stretch. Lombard is a multi-year starter whose season was cut short after surgery.

Depth chart issues are likely the impetus for bringing back Moore and Utupo. With questions marks at inside linebacker, Moore will be given a shot to compete for playing time. A productive special teams contributor, Moore has been stuck behind Manti Te’o, Carlo Calabrese and Dan Fox for his time in South Bend. Always considered a heavy hitter and good in run support, Moore’s getting a fresh start with new defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder. It’s not inconceivable that the change could turn on a lightbulb on for Moore, and he becomes a player late in his career like Corey Mays did in his fifth year nearly a decade ago.

Utupo could also benefit from VanGorder’s arrival and a change of scheme. While Kelly still wants to play multiple fronts, Utupo just isn’t big enough to be a traditional two-gap nose guard in the Irish’s three-down fronts. But at just a shade over six-foot and weighing 290 pounds, Utupo could be the type of gap-shooting defensive tackle that is productive, showing hints of that when he got his chances after injuries ravaged the defensive front.

The road to an 85-man scholarship roster remains a fascination for Irish fans watching the management of a roster with sharp eyes. That means it’s likely the end of the road for a handful of seniors that have eligibility remaining. Veteran receiver Luke Massa has never been the same after a major knee injury. Bruce Heggie, long a fascination for Irish fans after his out-of-the-blue recruitment and commitment, provided depth on both sides of the line. Meanwhile, Alex Welch and Lo Wood will play for Chuck Martin in Miami, where they’ll join Andrew Hendrix.

There is no official decision date for fifth year announcements. Student-athletes need to gain admission into a graduate program and need to have earned their degree or be on pace to earn it in May. Who comes back is also likely a product of the final number of recruits incoming, as well.

In the past, Kelly has talked about sitting down with seniors and discussing what he sees their role to be in the program going forward. From there, the decision is made together. Not all returning players need to play key roles on the field. Veterans like Tyler Stockton made their impact in the locker room, providing leadership and a work ethic for younger players.


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.




Days before facing Notre Dame, USC coach Steve Sarkisian to take leave of absence


When Notre Dame takes on rival USC on Saturday, they’ll be facing a Trojans team without a head coach. USC athletic director Pat Haden announced today that effective immediately, head coach Steve Sarkisian will be taking an indefinite leave of absence. Offensive coordinator Clay Helton will be interim head coach.

While the details are still coming into focus, multiple reports point to another incident with alcohol. Haden himself said that he made the decision after speaking with Sarkisian.

“I called Steve and talked to him. It was very clear to me that he is not healthy. I asked him to take an indefinite leave of absence,” Haden said, according to multiple Los Angeles media reports.

Sarkisian’s decision-making and alcohol use came into the spotlight this August when the head coach made inappropriate statements at a large booster event. Sarkisian addressed the media after the incident, acknowledged mixing medication with alcohol, and vowed to seek help and not to make the same mistake again.

Today’s incident appears to be a relapse, and one that requires immediate attention. Helton ran the team’s practice today and steps back into an interim head coaching role, a job he handled after the Trojans fired Lane Kiffin and Ed Orgeron left after not being awarded the permanent job.

“Fortunately or unfortunately, I have been in this situation before,” Helton said. “Once again, I’m very fortunate to have a group of first-class kids that are extremely talented and want to do something special here.”

This is the second major sports persona to leave his season to seek treatment in recent weeks. New York Yankees pitcher CC Sabathia left the team to seek treatment for alcohol issues. The Trojans are coming off an upset loss to Washington on Thursday night, losing 17-12 as a 17-point favorite.