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Irish succeed with 2014 class, even against the odds

Feb 5, 2014, 3:20 PM EDT

Brian Kelly 2013 signing day

Brian Kelly introduced his 2014 recruiting class today, a 23-man group that brings back-to-back top 10 classes to South Bend. We’ve talked a little bit about the construction of the group before, but here’s Kelly’s initial reaction to the group.

“I really like the fact that this has come together and the fact that it really represents for us going into our fifth year the one thing that I believe that you’re looking for, and that is depth across the board,” Kelly said. “I think some of the things that stand out, 18 of these recruits that are in this class were in the top 15 in their position group, and so that’s what we were trying to achieve in this class.”

Let’s take a look at the group as a whole:

2014 Notre Dame National Letter-of-Intent Signees

Alex Bars, OL
Grant Blankenship, DE
Jonathan Bonner, DE/OLB
Justin Brent, WR
Jimmy Byrne, OL
Daniel Cage, DT
Jay Hayes, DT
Kolin Hill, LB
Corey Holmes, WR
Deshone Kizer, QB
Tyler Luatua, TE
Greer Martini, LB
Pete Mokwuah, DT
Nyles Morgan, LB
Sam Mustipher, OL
Quenton Nelson, OL
Tyler Newsome, P/K
Nile Sykes, LB
Drue Tranquill, S
Andrew Trumbetti, DE
Nick Watkins, CB
Nic Weishar, TE
Jhonny Williams, DE

As expected, there were some signing days surprises and disappointments. The morning started off with a big victory for the Irish, with Daniel Cage joining the Irish’s recruiting class, bringing in a much needed defensive tackle, solidfying the front seven haul.

There were some tough misses as well, with the Irish finishing second for Terrence Alexander, who chose Stanford, and Michiah Quick, who picked Oklahoma. The Irish also lost out on Courtney Garnett, who had pledged to Bob Stoops last week, but seriously considered Notre Dame until today. (At the time of posting, John “JuJu” Smith has not made his decision, though he’d be a surprise addition to the class.)

Setting aside the events of today, that we’re able to discuss this class as a top 10 group is an achievement. Notre Dame lost both coordinators during the home stretch of this recruiting cycle, with Chuck Martin a key part of the Irish’s efforts in Chicago and Bob Diaco calling the shots on defense. The recruiting staff was shorthanded in the final month with JR Sandlin leaving to take a position coach job at Jacksonville State.

Still, the Irish staff was able to adapt and achieve, evaluating, targeting, recruiting and landed the meat of this class during the final few months. That they went outside their profile at positions like linebacker and defensive end show a flexibility that didn’t exist in previous cycles, and is a big reason why Notre Dame was able to sign 23 in this class, not sputtering down the stretch like they did after the 2011 season.

The Irish didn’t achieve their goals on the field in 2013, but this recruiting class is proof that the foundation of the program is still sound. That can’t be said in Ann Arbor, where Brady Hoke is stuck in a toxic place many coaches can’t recover from, with Pete Sampson pointing out a damning statistics that is just as painful as the team’s won-loss record (or handling of the Brendan Gibbons expulsion).

Just as important, Kelly seemed to double down on his belief in the unique opportunity for student-athletes at Notre Dame. While the Irish lost Stephon Tuitt, Troy Niklas and George Atkinson to the NFL after three years, Kelly made it clear that he wants players who understand the value of getting their degree first.

“When we were having this opportunity to recruit a young man, they had to have a passion for wanting to get a degree from Notre Dame and winning a National Championship,” Kelly said. “If they want to come here just to hang their hat to play football and go to the NFL, we passed on some pretty good players, because I don’t want guys to come here and not finish their degree.  I want guys to come to Notre Dame, get their degree, help us win a National Championship, and be the No.1 pick in the NFL Draft.  That’s what I want, if that’s what they want.”

In the end, Notre Dame didn’t land everyone they wanted. But no school does. Yet even after losing four games and two coordinators, Kelly and his staff landing a deep group that filled roster holes and added talent at every position.

That’s progress.

121 Comments (Feed for Comments)
  1. idratherbeinsouthbend - Feb 6, 2014 at 1:47 AM

    This kid is so good that he signed with TWO D1 programs…Ole Miss and Utah

    http://sports.yahoo.com/blogs/ncaaf-dr-saturday/florida-athlete-d-j-law-signs-three-schools-021440664–ncaaf.html

    • idratherbeinsouthbend - Feb 6, 2014 at 1:49 AM

      We always miss out on the smart ones

  2. irishpuma - Feb 6, 2014 at 1:56 AM

    BK and crew Mcdowell 5 star DL is still available. Get on it.

  3. yaketyyacc - Feb 6, 2014 at 7:50 AM

    talk about recruitment. the seahawks took hand me downs, rejected draftees, and some young guys and wow, super bowl champs. why? two words: Pete Carroll.
    Notre Dame has won National Championships, why? Rockne, Leahy, Ara, Devine, Holtz. sorry guys, with all the top recruiting, Kelly’s name will not join theirs. Still, I will be there to cheer our Irish!

    • jerseyshorendfan1 - Feb 6, 2014 at 6:05 PM

      I thought the two words were STER and OIDS.

  4. paulhargis53 - Feb 6, 2014 at 9:35 AM

    Ross: Keep your posts aimed at me coming buddy! I am loving that i am under your skin!
    Premium sites?! You actually pay to talj about college boys?—–creepy.

    Irishpuma: I did say I was going to leave – I changed my mind thanks to the mediocre one. Thank him.

    I only troll ND. I troll ND, because by and large, you are an ignorant and arrogant fanbase. Youre also a fanbase that is easily trollable.
    You get a few reasonable ND fans that dont think 12-0 every year or dont praise the team 100% and you run those fans off the site. Its pathetic.

    Dudeacow. Great, you have a HANDFUL of speed guys, whoop de doo. Most SEC rosters are FILLED with guys like that.

    The 12-0 team WAS an abberation to the norm, that was a perfect storm of a season. A season thst ended in an embarrassingly crushing defeat.

    Just be happy with the Poinsettia bowls, thats all this team is going to see.

    P.S. Whst are you going to do when BK. bails for the NFL because he cant meet this fanbases unrealistic expectations?

    The last title ND has haf was over 25 years ago and that was tainted by scandal. The “under the tarnished dome” years.

    • danirish - Feb 6, 2014 at 1:57 PM

      So, you don’t like Notre Dame?

    • irishpuma - Feb 7, 2014 at 1:50 AM

      I am cool with you staying Hargis!! makes me seem more tolerable, lol. I am one of the full time fans/ alumni you talk about that they try to run out of town when I point out various issues with the program, scheme ,BK, etc. thanks for the cover so I can continue my important work.

  5. mediocrebob - Feb 6, 2014 at 9:44 AM

    You’re welcome everyone.

    But I don’t think the expectations are unrealistic as a whole. Sure there are people who think 12-0 every year. But the overall mentality I get from the fanbase is to win consistently. 10 games is very realistic, and even with the circumstances this past season, 10 wins could’ve easily happened.

    I understand what you’re saying though Paul. There are a lot of unrealistic fans, but much the same with most fanbase.(South CarolinA, for example, has never won anything. Yet because they play in the SEC their fans feel like they’re elite and contenders every year)

    You also have to remember the amount of “subway alums” and size of this fanbase. You should come to Columbus. Even when they were winning with Tress, it wasn’t good enough because they expect to hang 50 on everyone they play and pitch shutouts. Those, my friend, are unrealistic expectations.

    • danirish - Feb 6, 2014 at 2:01 PM

      I don’t see a problem with wanting or believing in going 12-0. Fan comes from fanatic!

      And you are right on the money with South Carolina and MOST of the SEC. I graduated from UGA and cheer for them often (but never more so or over the Irish! NEVER!)

      UGA fans are perpetual “fans” of the SEC – they started the cheer for the conference because we can’t win on our own. UGA fans still yell Herschel at each other!

      The SEC comes down to which outlaw program has the better year and that comes down to Alabama, LSU, or perhaps Florida which has now been replaced with Auburn.

      Sure Alabama had the “best” class, but a lot of those athletes ND and other programs wouldn’t even approach!

      • dillonbigred - Feb 6, 2014 at 6:49 PM

        The Georgia fans were fun in New Orleans for the Sugar Bowl in 1980. My two year old niece’s favorite saying for a year or more was “How ’bout them dawgs?” I hope the atmosphere would be as friendly today, but I am not so sure.

        Also, I accidentally reported you

      • tucsonfan - Feb 6, 2014 at 9:23 PM

        Yet you still think 12-0 is believable, Dan? Fanatic also means highly unrealistic.

        ND used to get the cream of the crop back in the day, but no longer–it decided to be more discriminating for one, other schools didn’t, so the SEC etc have a much broader pool to choose from (which by the way doesn’t mean they recruit all dummies or thugs), there is a lot of parity in D1 that never was there before ( K-State, Baylor, Oregon, Missouri, Fresno State etc are examples of programs that were never competitive when I was at ND in the 60’s).

        The SEC programs are not “outlaws” they live within the rules of NCAA (admittedly sometimes barely). There’s nothing that says they have to superimpose ND’s standards on themselves. Why wear the ND hair shirt?

        I was thrilled that Kelly got ND to 12-0 in 2012, but then reality happened in the Bama BCS game.I don’t expect to see 12-0 any time soon, which doesn’t mean I wont be rooting for ND, although when the “standards” cause them to shoot themselves in the foot, its highly irritating.

      • mediocrebob - Feb 6, 2014 at 11:11 PM

        I agree 100% Tucson.

  6. 1historian - Feb 6, 2014 at 9:49 AM

    Kelly has made it clear time after time that he wants young men at Notre Dame who are determined to get a degree.

    Given that laudable principle it follows that we are never going to get a class such as Alabama gets every year – 6 5 star players in this year’s class for them. It’s a question of recruiting RKGs (with lots of talent) and coaching them up.

    This is Kelly’s 5th recruiting class. All the players on the team are his recruits. He has the QB he wants, a stableful of running backs, he has a good D with depth, he has a staff in place with all the key people being familiar with him. All the bad breaks last season balanced out all the lucky breaks from the previous season.

    No excuses.

    • tucsonfan - Feb 6, 2014 at 9:24 PM

      Tuitt, Niklas, Atkinson decided it was more important to play NFL football. Should we have passed them over? I think not.

      • 1historian - Feb 7, 2014 at 7:56 AM

        To address your question I think we have to ask ourselves the question – were they planning on doing this when they first enrolled?

        Tuitt – I would say 50-50.

        Atkinson – I have no idea why he did what he did. Was he planning on doing what he did when he first enrolled? I don’t think so. I think he made a huge mistake and from what I’ve read I think his father might bear some responsibility for the decision.

        Niklas – Primarily an economic decision. Was he planning on doing this when he first enrolled? I don’t think so.

        Let’s wait a few years and see if they come back and get their ND degrees.

  7. fnc111 - Feb 6, 2014 at 11:57 AM

    Any chance Cody Riggs could transfer to ND?

    • dudeacow - Feb 6, 2014 at 12:14 PM

      Alright, humor me. I don’t know if this is a joke or serious, because I have no idea who Cody Riggs is. Care to enlighten me?

      • heartofgoldandblue - Feb 6, 2014 at 1:03 PM

        He’s a kid who started at safety last year for Florida. He’s got one more year of eligibility, started out at corner, feels that’s his natural position and due to the emergence of talent at corner at Florida wants to go somewhere he can play corner for his last year. That’s a first to my knowledge….and he can play this coming season if he graduates in May.

  8. fitz79 - Feb 6, 2014 at 1:34 PM

    It’s all about the depth. Gone are the days of Weis/Davie/Willingham when we’d get one 5 star quarterback and no one else who stands out. In a violent sport like football this last season shows how important it is to play with the “next guy in” mentality (not that I hope we get that unlucky with the injury bug again!). Depth at every position, especially on defense, wins championships.

  9. irishdog80 - Feb 6, 2014 at 2:29 PM

    Sad day. It appears the Bruce Heggie Era is officially over at ND. He has signed to play his 5th year at Ball State. ND’s loss is Ball State’s gain.

  10. gtizzo - Feb 6, 2014 at 9:41 PM

    While I really like ND’s class..wouldn’t one more QB been nice? I really like the offensive line haul.

    • mediocrebob - Feb 6, 2014 at 11:14 PM

      They have another QB coming in next year along with Van Gorder’s son walking on. Another QB would’ve been pointless in this class. Just another freshman getting a “RS” and taking up another scholarship.

      • idratherbeinsouthbend - Feb 6, 2014 at 11:16 PM

        whoa…creepy….you and I were typing the same response at the same time. We must share a brain….but you usually have it.

    • idratherbeinsouthbend - Feb 6, 2014 at 11:15 PM

      Didn’t you hear? We got one more QB…Montgomery Van Gorder (yep, that Van Gorder) is going to be a preferred walk on.

      He’s a 2 star QB from Georgia. Turned down offers from a couple of little schools to walk on at ND.

      • wisner74 - Feb 7, 2014 at 4:58 PM

        Well that sure explains part of the reason for Van Gorder to join BK’s staff. I believe that as a full-time member of the staff his son will get to attend ND tuition-free. That’s a nice bump to VG’s salary package.

    • irishpuma - Feb 7, 2014 at 1:43 AM

      no we have the stud of 15 class coming here!!

  11. jem5b - Feb 6, 2014 at 10:52 PM

    If one can take a few moments to read this short essay, it honestly distinguishes Notre Dame (Our Lady’s University) from the rest of the pack.
    http://notredame.rivals.com/content.asp?CID=1607161

    • 1historian - Feb 7, 2014 at 8:46 AM

      Good piece. Thanks

  12. 1historian - Feb 7, 2014 at 8:56 AM

    IMO with this class the program under Kelly has reached the point where they are stockpiling the front lines, and games are won up front.
    We now have 15 O linemen, 4 of them rookies, (ideally) that leaves a rotation of 11 guys while the youngsters redshirt.

    7 new D linemen, one of them being a last minute mind change from MSU, which is always nice.

    It’s not unreasonable to expect 10 win seasons, with the occasional lightning strikes season in which we go for the gold.

    Who won the ‘recruiting title’ 5 years ago? Where are they now?

  13. paulhargis53 - Feb 7, 2014 at 10:30 AM

    1historian: A simple google search would let you know that the 2009 recruiting #1 class was Alabama.

    Id say they are consistently at or around #1 in the rankings at seasons end every year.

  14. paulhargis53 - Feb 7, 2014 at 10:39 AM

    It is unreasonable. This program is not built to be a powerhouse.

    You dont get the same type of recruits the football factories get. Your skill players win you games in college, not the lines.

    You may get a few skill pistion players, but when they get injured,(or cheat on exams) the drop off is tremendous. That doesnt happen at Alabama or the other great football schools, the next man up is just as equally talented, or close to it.

    Youd think, not having won a title since 1988(a tainted one at that) you guys would get that. 26 years of irrelevancy and youre still egotistical about the program….sickening.

    • mediocrebob - Feb 7, 2014 at 11:05 AM

      I agree and disagree. Nd doesn’t get the skilled position players like the bama’s , lsu’s or u$c’s. But up front will always be where games are won. Irish went 12-0 last season due to dominating the LOS. Bama was better upfront and demolished them. Wisconsin doesn’t win every year because of their skilled positions. Notre Dame fell off this year bc of lack of production from the front 7 on defense.

      Notre dame won’t ever get to what bama or fsu has like they used to be. But no reason they can’t be respectable every year like a Wisconsin.

    • mediocrebob - Feb 7, 2014 at 12:13 PM

      Of course with the new playoff system, you don’t necessarily have to go undefeated and SOS becomes a factor which helps teams like Notre Dame and hurts teams like Ohio St and Wisconsin.

    • idratherbeinsouthbend - Feb 7, 2014 at 3:10 PM

      Hargis,

      You make some valid points, but by your argument (the idea that 26 years without a championship makes them irrelevant) means that these are the only schools who MAY be relevant…

      Alabama
      Auburn
      Florida
      Florida State
      Georgia Tech (UPI)
      LSU
      Miami, Fla.
      Michigan (AP)
      Nebraska (Coaches)
      Ohio State
      Oklahoma
      Tennessee
      Texas
      USC (#1 in AP Poll)
      Washington (Coaches)

      You’re leaving out TONS of good FB…including Oregon, Stanford, A&M, Ok State, Georgia, Clemson, etc. etc. and look at the list, do you think Georgia Tech, Miami, Michigan, Nebraska, Tennessee, Washington are relevant?

      Furthermore, if you put aside your cynical ideals, isn’t anybody consistently in the Top 25 relevant? It only takes one slip up to be out of the NC game and let somebody else in. Just ask the 2013 Crimson Tide.

  15. idratherbeinsouthbend - Feb 7, 2014 at 3:13 PM

    To be honest, being relevant to the NC discussion can be summed up as top 8 now, with the new playoff format. Why? Because when you look at the top 15 years of data, an average of 8 teams finish the year with one loss or less. And anyone with 1 loss or less will be considered for the 4 team playoff.

    It also shows WHY the playoff should be a 8-team format instead of 4.

  16. mikes1160 - Feb 7, 2014 at 11:05 PM

    Gutless Paul Hargis,

    First, give your affiliation. Fair enough.

    And what on earth is the scandal for ’88?? Surely not the Cleveland Gary whiny fumble? Nor quoting the Looney book?

  17. paulhargis53 - Feb 8, 2014 at 7:12 AM

    Now what fun would it be for me if you knew what team i root for?

    Also, name me one place Lou Holtz coached that he didnt cheat at….

    Yeah right. the book was a bunch of lies…
    let me guess, your year of birth is 1984 or later…..right? Typical ND douche response.

  18. newyorkfootballgiants24 - Feb 8, 2014 at 12:55 PM

    The only douche is you paulhargis. No one cares about your opinion on notre dame. Your just another sour hater.

  19. paulhargis53 - Feb 8, 2014 at 5:51 PM

    On the contrary new york, you cared enough to make a post directed at me, you 3 coiled turd.

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