Brian Kelly 2013 signing day

Irish succeed with 2014 class, even against the odds

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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.

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.

 

 

Jaylon Smith goes to Dallas with 34th pick

PITTSBURGH, PA - NOVEMBER 07:  Jaylon Smith #9 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish celebrates by wearing the hat of team mascot, Lucky The Leprechaun, following their 42-30 win against the Pittsburgh Panthers at Heinz Field on November 7, 2015 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
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Jaylon Smith’s nightmare is over.

After watching his football life thrown into chaos with a career-altering knee injury, Smith came off the board after just two picks in the second round, selected by the Dallas Cowboys with the 34th pick. His selection ended the most challenging months of Smith’s young life, and come after cashing in a significant tax-free, loss-of-value insurance policy that’ll end up being just shy of a million dollars.

No, it’s not top-five money like Smith could’ve expected if he didn’t get hurt. But Smith isn’t expected to play in 2016.

And while there was a pre-draft fascination that focused on the doom and gloom more than the time-consuming recovery, it’s worth pointing out that Dallas’ medical evaluation comes from the source—literally. After all, it was the Cowboys team doctor, Dr. Dan Cooper, who performed the surgery to repair Smith’s knee.

Smith joins Ezekiel Elliott with the Cowboys, arguably the two best position players in the draft. While he might not be available in 2016, Smith will be under the supervision of the Cowboys’ medical staff, paid a seven-figure salary to get healthy with the hopes that he’ll be back to his All-American self sooner than later, especially as the nerve in his knee returns to full functionality.