Michiah Quick

Irish Recruiting: Closing stretch could be big for Notre Dame

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In 48 hours, Brian Kelly will be assembling his thoughts on the 2014 recruiting class, ready to approach the media to talk about the fruits of his staff’s labor over the past 18 months. Recapping the class should be an enjoyable exercise, with this group a truly diverse class that puts back-to-back elite groups onto the roster.

The assembly of this class is unlike any other Kelly and his staff built. The bulk of the group is early targets and commitments. Kelly accepted commitments from 14 players before the Irish played their first game in 2013. Those came from early targets like Greer Martini and Justin Brent, two players the staff honed in on early. They include the entire offensive line class, and quarterback DeShone Kizer.

But unlike years past, the staff clearly remained flexible as their big board changed. Adding players like Drue Tranquill and Jhonathon Williams showed the staff finding and targeting players that weren’t in their original target list. Nile Sykes and Kolin Hill are similar targets, two out-of-profile linebacker targets that infuse athleticism at positions where the Irish usually looked for size and length.

Then there are the long victories. Tyler Luatua and Nyles Morgan were targets that Notre Dame invested a ton of time and energy, much needed victories at positions of need.

Even if the Irish stand pat a 22 commitments, Notre Dame has added eight recruits since November, the highest number of late additions to the class since Kelly’s had a full recruiting cycle. (Even the year Kelly took over for Charlie Weis, the Irish only added 10 names in the final three months of recruiting.)

But that doesn’t mean the work is over.

The Irish are still trying to close this week chasing some top prospects. Already they solved a problem at defensive tackle with the addition of Pete Mokwuah. The former Rutgers commitment immediately gives the Irish a big body that can develop at nose guard.

Notre Dame’s also taking a big swing at John “JuJu” Smith. Landing the Irish’s first Long Beach Poly player since Freddie Parish,  the Irish staff is okay with letting Smith develop on both sides of the football, as long as it brings the talented Southern California native to South Bend. Notre Dame knows its fighting an uphill battle here against USC, but that didn’t stop Mike Denbrock and Brian Kelly from stopping by last week.

The Irish are also chasing talent in Fresno, a city that’s only given the Irish staff heart ache. But Michiah Quick is the type of athlete that Kelly and Denbrock desperately want to add to the roster, and his speed and quickness will immediately upgrade whatever position Quick ends up playing. Most believe that Quick is Bob Stoops’ to lose, with the Sooners coach building a pretty impressive pipeline into Northern California. But there’s word that Notre Dame is building momentum here, even if Fresno locals Hatari Byrd and L.J. Moore, and elite recruit Joe Mixon are set for Oklahoma.

At defensive tackle, the Irish are still in the hunt for Daniel Cage and Courtney Garnett. Bob Stoops and Kelly and battling for Garnett, with the New Orleans product committing to the Sooners before visiting Notre Dame, only to have his eyes opened with an impressive visit to South Bend.

Cage left his official visit in South Bend and headed to Missouri. Notre Dame was late on the scene and Cage could be headed to Michigan State, but the Cincinnati native will make a Signing Day decision as well. It’s not clear whether Notre Dame would accept commitments from both Cage and Garnett, though it’s a problem I’m sure they’d be willing to entertain.

Lastly, the Irish are hoping to add one more cornerback to the recruiting class in Terrence Alexander. The New Orleans native from John Curtis Christian School didn’t begin his recruiting process until after his team’s second-straight state championship, and the Irish look in good position for Alexander.

While he’s a smaller than the cornerback’s Bob Diaco targeted, Alexander is a smooth athlete that projects to play on the field side for the Irish. Notre Dame is battling Ole Miss and Stanford, who just recently accepted him for admission, clearing a big hurdle for his recruitment.

At 22 commitments, the Irish have a class that should be a building block for the future. But closing strong could turn this into one of the elite groups in the country.

 

Drue Tranquill named first-team Academic All-American

Drue Tranquill
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Drue Tranquill was named a first-team Academic All-American. The junior safety, who returned from his second major knee injury during his three-year career, earned the honors after posting a 3.74 GPA in mechanical engineering.

Tranquill is Notre Dame’s first academic All-American since Corey Robinson earned the honor after the 2014 season. He finished second on the team in tackles with 79 and lead the team in solo stops with 52. He also had two TFLs and an interception.

Tranquill is Notre Dame’s 60th Academic All-American, the third-most of any school behind Nebraska and Penn State. He’s active in the university community, serving as a mentor for the Core Leadership Team for Lifeworks Ministry, and is a member of Notre Dame Christian Athletes. He is a also member of the Student-Athlete Advisory Council (SAAC) and Rosenthal Leadership Academy.

 

Postseason Mailbag: Now Open

SAN ANTONIO, TX - NOVEMBER 12: Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly leads his team onto the field before the start of their game against Army in a NCAA college football game at the Alamodome on November 12, 2016 in San Antonio, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Cortes/Getty Images)
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It’s been too long. Let’s talk about the season, the decisions ahead and where Notre Dame stands after its nightmare of a 2016 season.

Drop your questions on Twitter @KeithArnold or in the comments below.

 

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If you’re interested in hearing my recap on the USC game and where Notre Dame’s goes now that the season is over, give a listen to the latest episode of Blown Coverage, with Newsweek’s John Walters. 

 

Report: Zaire set to depart with graduate transfer

Malik Zaire
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The wheels are in motion for Malik Zaire‘s exit from Notre Dame. What felt like an inevitability after Zaire lost out to DeShone Kizer after the Texas game is now a reality, as the Ohio native is expected to receive his release tomorrow, according to a report from Pete Sampson at Irish Illustrated.

Sampson identified four programs as potential landing spots for Zaire: Florida, Pitt, Michigan State and Wisconsin, Power Five programs that all had better seasons (minus the Spartans) than Notre Dame. All have uncertainty atop their quarterback depth chart, though none look like guaranteed jobs.

With Notre Dame out of a bowl, Zaire can get a jump start on looking around, capable of taking visits and finding a home after the semester. That would let him join a program in time for spring drills, where he’d compete and be able to play out his final year of eligibility.

When Zaire leaves he’ll join a line of recent quarterbacks to finish their eligibility elsewhere. Dayne Crist, Andrew Hendrix, Gunner Kiel and Everett Golson all either played or were recruited by Brian Kelly and finished their careers elsewhere. That could leave a scenario—one many predict—where the top-two on Notre Dame’s depth chart depart, Kizer to the NFL and Zaire elsewhere, turning the keys over to Brandon Wimbush who redshirted this season.

Tillery apologizes for actions during USC game

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Sophomore Jerry Tillery issued an apology for two controversial incidents against USC. Notre Dame’s defensive tackle was flagged for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty after a referee caught him stepping on Zach Banner‘s ankle. Cameras also spotted him intentionally hitting Aca’Cedric Ware‘s head after the Trojan running back was injured after a collision with Nicco Fertitta.

Tillery wrote on Twitter:

“I want to take full responsibility for my actions on Saturday. I am truly sorry. I acted in a way that was out of character for me. What I displayed in those two instances were completely unbecoming and not indicative of the kind of player or person I am. My actions in those two instances do not represent what my family or Notre Dame has molded me to be. I want to especially apologize to Aca’Cedric, Zach, their families and anyone else affected by what I did. I assure you I will learn and grow from this moment and become a better man because of it.”

While the backlash on social media has been harsh, USC head coach Clay Helton downplayed it.

“It was a poor decision by a young person. I know it’s not Notre Dame football and I know that’s not Brian Kelly,” Helton said. “He’s been a class act the whole way and I know he’ll address it with his player and handle it in a way that he sees fit. I have always found Brian to be a man of class and integrity.”

Ware himself responded via Twitter, doing his best to put the incident to rest.

Kelly stated after the game that he’d review the incidents, both plays Kelly didn’t see happen live. With the season over, Tillery’s discipline will be handled internally.