Matt Cashore - USA Today Sports

Weekend Notes: Camp at Culver, Freshman numbers and the Chuck Martin circuit

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We are running out of days without football to talk about. Preseason camp is right around the corner. For student-athletes, they get one last chance to spend time with family and friends before returning to campus and kicking off camp.

Notre Dame announced officially that they’ll begin camp at the Culver Military Academy on Monday, August 4. It’s a great opportunity to get away from campus as they did last year, and Culver’s facilities — not to mention a long tradition with Notre Dame — make for a perfect fit.

“Culver Military Academy will provide a unique and rewarding opportunity for our football program as we embark on the 2014 season,” said fifth-year head coach Brian Kelly. “Culver holds a special place in my heart as my family has participated in camps on the grounds for years. We were able to initiate a successful program last year at Shiloh Park Retreat and Conference Center. Culver will significantly help improve the experience for our team this fall.”

The Irish will spend the first week of camp at Culver, opening on August 4th before returning to campus and the LaBar Football Practice Fields on Saturday, August 9. The official release calls the first week their “acclimatization portion of training camp.”

Culver is about 45 minutes from campus, and the historic military academy has a long history with the Irish football program. That, along with some top-notch football facilities, made for a great opportunity.

“We are happy to welcome Notre Dame back to Culver,” Head of Schools John Buxton said. “Culver and the Irish have enjoyed a great relationship through years dating back to Knute Rockne and Bob Peck. Lou Holtz brought his teams here in 1995 and 1996. Our teams have played at ND on several occasions and Notre Dame teams have used our facilities over the years. This exchange gives our coaches and student-athletes the opportunity to see in action the ideals we aspire to with our programs.”

***

While Andrew Trumbetti and Justin Brent enrolled at Notre Dame early and took part in spring practice, we’ll get our first official look at the rest of the freshman class come training camp. But for those wondering about the jersey numbers that the freshmen will take to the field, Notre Dame’s sports information department confirmed Irish Illustrated’s scoop on who will be wearing what next year.

Florida transfer Cody Riggs is taking over Bennett Jackson’s No. 2 jersey for his lone season in South Bend. The rest of the scholarship newcomers will wear the following:

No. 2: Cody Riggs
No. 5: Nyles Morgan
No. 11: Justin Brent
No. 13: Tyler Luatua
No. 14: DeShone Kizer
No. 15: Corey Holmes
No. 19: Nick Watkins
No. 23: Drue Tranquill
No. 33: Jhonny Williams
No. 43: Kolin Hill
No. 48: Greer Martini
No. 53: Sam Mustipher
No. 55: Jonathan Bonner
No. 56: Quenton Nelson
No. 67: Jimmy Byrne
No. 71: Alex Bars
No. 75: Daniel Cage
No. 82: Nic Weishar
No. 85: Tyler Newsome
No. 92: Grant Blankenship
No. 93: Jay Hayes
No. 96: Pete Mokwuah
No. 98: Andrew Trumbetti

Some additional info to add to my profiles as I keep rolling through the Irish A-to-Z.

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It was a big week for new Miami (Ohio) head coach Chuck Martin. The former Irish offensive coordinator made a few headlines this week, as he was profiled by the always excellent Dan Wetzel of Yahoo Sports and appeared on the Jim Rome Show on Friday afternoon.

As you’d expect, Martin came off great in both profiles, with this section of Wetzel’s article particularly interesting:

[Martin] was the perfect combination of experience and acumen; a proven tactician and motivator. He could both develop talent and recruit it, both at the elite level of Notre Dame and finding diamonds in the rough in D-II.

He was on the radar of any number of higher paying programs where even if they were struggling he’d take over teams with players who scored more than two touchdowns in an entire season. Basically he wouldn’t risk the trajectory of his career on a winless bunch in the MAC.

“When he took the job, six ADs from other schools called and said, ‘how’d you get him?'” Miami athletic director David Sayler said.

Yeah, how?

“I’m just a little bit off,” Martin noted.

Then he laughed again.

Wetzel also talked about Martin’s skills on the recruiting trail, highlighting a recruiting battle Martin had late in the cycle against Rutgers for the services of receiver Sam Martin. When Martin talked about wanting to go to the Big Ten, Martin didn’t struggle to set him straight.

“He said, ‘Coach, I want to play at the highest level,'” Martin told Wetzel. “I said, ‘The highest level is the NFL. If you think they can get you to the NFL more than me, then go play there.’

“He signed with me.”

On Jim Rome’s program today, Martin talked a little bit about the decision to take a roughly $200,000 pay cut and take over a program that wasn’t even competitive last season, losing all 12 games.

“Most people that know MAC football think I’ve got the best job in the league,” Martin told Rome. “I know it says 0-12 and I know they struggled the last few years, but the combination of football and academics, and then the campus life and even the town of Oxford, it’s a pretty powerful combination to beat. And then to take over a program that has a history of being successful but is down is a pretty powerful combination as a coach.”

Martin also talked about the perfect fit he found at Miami, able to sell the marriage of academics and athletics that worked for him at Notre Dame. As you’d expect, he didn’t mince words.

“The national graduation rate is hard for me to stomach. The amount of money we make in Division I athletics in football and basketball, graduation rates should be in the 80s to 90s. We have all these resources with all these schools with tutors, and all these specialists that help Division I athletes, but we’re making hundreds of millions of dollars and coaches are making millions of dollars off these kids, and we’re graduating kids at a much lower percentage than we should.

The sad thing is that they go on and when they’re 30, they’re having a hard time functioning in the world, and we’re still making millions of dollars. To me, I’m an old Division III, non-scholarship athlete that went to school to get a degree and I played football because I wanted to do something with my free time, nobody paid me to play college football. To me, we’re committed and I’m committed to finding the schools that graduate kids and are committed to graduating kids, just like they are committed to making their hundreds of millions of dollars.”

Martin talked openly with Wetzel about recruiting players to Oxford by telling them up front that he planned on kicking their a**. He didn’t soften his sentiment at all, continuing to be the blunt and up front guy Notre Dame fans never really got a chance to know.

“If you want it easy, don’t come and play football for us,” Martin said of his recruiting pitch. “If you want it easy every day for the rest of your four-year career, I’ll do that, but that’s not going to help you get to where you want to go. I want, on the field for you to help us win championships, and I want to develop you into an NFL player.”

 

Kelly and Swarbrick turn attention to science of injury prevention

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Amidst the chaos of their live Signing Day show, UND.com ran had a far-reaching interview with head coach Brian Kelly. It was conducted by his boss, athletic director Jack Swarbrick, and his former team captain, Joe Schmidt.

So while there was a little bit of talk about the 23 recruits who signed their national letters-of-intent, there was also a very illuminating exchange on an issue that’s really plagued the Irish the past few seasons: Injuries.

Football is a dangerous game. And for as long as people play it, there’ll be impactful injuries that take players off the field. But as Notre Dame settles into what looks like their longest run of stability since the Holtz era, the focus of Kelly and Swarbrick has moved past modernizing the team’s medical services, strength program and nutrition and onto the science of injury prevention.

Here’s what Kelly said about the efforts currently taking shape:

“I think the science piece is very important, because no longer is it just about strength and conditioning,  it’s about durability. It’s the ability to continue to play at an optimal level but also with the rigors of a college schedule, and particularly here at Notre Dame, how do we maximize the time but maximizing getting the most out of our student-athletes and not lose them?

“As you know, we’ve had a couple years here in a rough stretch of injuries. And how do we have an injury prevention protocol that brings in the very best science? You’ve done a great job of reaching out in getting us those kind of resources. so I think tapping into that is probably the next piece. As well as providing the resources for our student-athletes. Continuing to look at facilities. Continuing to give our student-athletes maybe that little edge. Because everybody’s got 85 scholarships.”

It’s clear that the issue is one that’s on the radar for not just Kelly, but the athletic administration. So it’ll be interesting to see some of the steps taken as the program begins investing time and additional resources to an issue that’s really hit the Irish hard the past few seasons.

There’s plenty of other good stuff in the 13-minute interview, so give it a watch.

Five things we learned: Signing Day 2016

FILE - In this Jan. 1, 2016, file photo, Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly makes a call during the first half of the Fiesta Bowl NCAA College football game against Ohio State in Glendale, Ariz. Kelly has agreed to a six-year contract to stay on as coach at Notre Dame through 2021, the school announced Friday, Jan. 29,2 016.  (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, File)
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There were no last minute defections. No roller coaster recruits or down-to-the-wire decisions. Heck, there were no fax machines—with Notre Dame ditching the office dinosaur for a wireless, smart phone option.

Brian Kelly inked another Top 10 recruiting class on Wednesday. And he did so in decidedly uneventful fashion.

“It’s awesome. I think that everybody should try it once in their career,” Kelly said.

So while Kelly and the Irish staff hold out hope that 5-star talents Caleb Kelly and Demetris Robertson still decide to spend their college careers in South Bend, the 23-man class announced Wednesday was another Top 10 effort and a step in the right direction for a program on very stable ground.

Let’s find out what we learned.

 

Notre Dame’s staff continued to focus on rebuilding the secondary and rushing the passer. 

Yes, Brian Kelly saw what you saw—a group that struggled getting to the passer or to field a nickel or dime personnel grouping. So they countered that in the best way they knew how: By continuing to stockpile talent.

Notre Dame added seven defensive backs and four edge defenders in the cycle. They include safeties Jalen Elliott, D.J. Morgan, Spencer Perry and Devin Studstill and cornerbacks Julian Love, Troy Pride and Donte Vaughn. Perhaps just as important is the impression some of these defenders made in their time on campus, with Kelly pointing to Elliott and Studstill’s work during summer camp really making them must-have recruits.

“Jalen Elliott competed like no player that I have seen since I’ve been coaching in a camp setting,” Kelly said. “Same thing with Devin Studstill. His skill level was of corner-like ability but had the size of the safety, and so our guys went right to them early on, and that was a focal point because we got a chance to see them up close and personal.”

At defensive end, the Irish welcome 5-star recruit Daelin Hayes, getting him on campus as he recovers from shoulder surgery. He’s joined by former Alabama commit Khalid Kareem, the strongside counterpart that is an early candidate to see the field, especially as the staff looks for someone to spell Isaac Rochell for a few snaps. Longer-term prospects include a few speed rushers—Julian Okwara (younger brother of Romeo) and Ade Ogundeji, a long-limbed, below-the-radar edge rusher.

“We’re pretty excited about the potential for some guys in this class that can answer some four-man pass rush needs that we do have,” Kelly said.

 

It may not be the biggest group, but Brian Kelly is excited about his offensive line—especially the guys he pulled from Ohio State’s backyard. 

Three recruits in the offensive line class point to a big 2017 at the position. But the three the Irish did sign—guard Parker Boudreaux and tackles Liam Eichenberg and Tommy Kraemer—have Kelly very happy.

“Parker Boudreaux has that physical presence inside like, and I’m not comparing him, but he’s a Quinton Nelson in terms of size and physicality,” Kelly said. “And then two edge guys with Liam and Tommy on the outside. Those two kids are as good as you’re going to find in the country, and couldn’t be more excited to have two kids from the state of Ohio, from two great Catholic schools in St. Ignatius and Cincinnati Elder from the state of Ohio.”

Both Eichenberg and Kraemer were priority targets for Urban Meyer and company, with neither wavering after committing to Notre Dame. Kraemer was Ohio’s Gatorade Player of the Year and an Army All-American. He’ll be able to step into the two-deep immediately, capable of playing up front if the Irish need him. Eichenberg more than held his own at the Under Armour All-American game and has a high ceiling, especially as he learns the game under Hiestand.

It doesn’t take away the sting of the Fiesta Bowl. But it’s a nice consolation prize.

 

Irish legacies Jamir Jones and Julian Okwara may have big brothers who played for Brian Kelly, but they earned scholarships on their own. 

Classmates Jarron Jones and Romeo Okwara will turn over the reins to their younger brothers, linebacker Jamir Jones and defensive end Julian Okwara. The younger duo’s commitments felt all but inevitable throughout this recruiting cycle—even if that wasn’t always the case.

Jones had to come to camp to earn a scholarship. Having played quarterback and tight end as a high school standout in Rochester, the defensive staff had to see how he moved before they could find a position for him to play.

Similarly, Okwara’s journey to Notre Dame shouldn’t be taken for granted. While his older brother leaves Notre Dame the team’s leading quarterback sacker, Julian has a better natural pass rush skill-set than the 2015 team-leader.

“Julian can separate himself in a way because he has an elite initial movement and speed that Romeo has had to try and develop,” Mike Elston said in Okwara’s Signing Day video. “Romeo has the size and the power and the aggressiveness, but Julian can really add value for us right away.”

Kelly talked about how important it was to not just land this duo, but to have them already understand what the journey is that lies ahead.

“We didn’t recruit them because their brothers were here. We recruited them because we thought they were players that fit here at Notre Dame that would be very successful,” Kelly said. “Obviously it helps when their brothers have a great experience here and really enjoy their Notre Dame experience as a student and as an athlete, so that helps you in the recruiting… those kids really fit and can stand on their own two feet.”

 

Even without Demetris Robertson in the fold, Notre Dame’s receiving class is a group to watch. 

You want productivity? Throw on a highlight tape of Javon McKinley. You want an intriguing set of physical tools? Look no further than Chase Claypool. You want a sleeper prospect who out-performed every elite prospect who came to the Irish Invasion camp? Then your man is Kevin Stepherson.

Most of the attention on Signing Day was the fate of 5-star receiver Demetris Robertson. But the trio of athletes that’ll reload the receiving corps is a group that deserves recognition even without an additional infusion.

McKinley provided the day’s only scare when his smart phone struggled to send his signature via electronic fax. Claypool sent his national letter of intent in the day after scoring 51 points on the basketball court. And Stepherson is already taking part in team workouts in Paul Longo’s strength facilities, getting a jump start with the spring semester and 15 practices as the Irish try to figure out what life looks like after Will Fuller, Chris Brown and Amir Carlisle.

After Fuller left campus early on the back of two record-setting two seasons, Kelly said his staff has become more and more comfortable with the fact that his skill players need to develop quickly—especially with the allure of the NFL just ahead.

“If you’re really that good, you may not be here very long, and we hope that you’re here for four years and you stay, but you’ve got to be ready to compete,” Kelly said. “So our expectation in the recruiting process is for the wide receiver group to come in and compete to get on the field and be a player for us immediately.”

That’ll happen whether or not Robertson is a part of this group.

 

Amidst significant transition on both the coaching staff and recruiting office, Notre Dame managed a Top 10 class. Expect things to only get better from here. 

Let’s go back to Signing Day 2015. Within 24 hours of Brian Kelly’s press conference, he was dealing with two major changes—recruiting coordinator Tony Alford was out the door to Ohio State and Kerry Cooks was headed to Oklahoma. Two aces on the staff were gone, forcing the Irish to not just replace long-time staffers, but to find new area recruiters for the state of Texas and Alford’s stronghold in Florida.

Kelly brought in first-year college assistant Todd Lyght to work with defensive backs. He tapped the school’s rushing leader Autry Denson to handle the backs and duke it out in Florida. Mike Sanford shook up the offense as Bob Elliott moved into an off-field position. But perhaps just as important as those moves, Kelly turned over the administrative reins to Mike Elston, who moved into a recruiting coordinator position he had filled for his boss back at Cincinnati.

Elston had to reorganize a staff that saw relationships walk out the door and reboot a recruiting effort that saw significant changes behind the scenes. And in short order things got back on track and have progressed to the point that the Irish are ahead of the game, setting junior days and summer camp dates earlier than ever.

For those paying attention, they’ve noticed the improvements. Notre Dame has paid more attention to messaging—staffers more active on Twitter. There have been improvements on Instagram, Facebook and Vine—platforms that might sound like gobbledygook to grownups, but are critical pieces to a year-long recruiting effort. That should help this staff press ahead in 2017, a recruiting class that already has five members.

“With that team that we’ve put together, we’re not going to look back. It’s only going to get better,” Kelly said.

It was Elston that engineered the equipment truck visit to Savannah, a late-game recruiting move that drew a lot of attention to Notre Dame. It was recruiters like Denson who went to Alabama and got a visit out of Ben Davis, a Crimson Tide legacy who gave the Irish a much longer look than anybody could have expected. And it’s no surprise that a former Pro Bowler and first-round draft pick like Lyght was able to reel in a large group of defensive backs eager to learn from a guy who was a clear success story.

“I think each and every year, you hope that this group is the best group you’ve ever recruited,” Kelly said. “I’m hoping for that again.”

 

Faxes in: Liam Eichenberg

Liam Eichenberg
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LIAM EICHENBERG
Cleveland, Ohio

Measurables: 6’6″, 280 lbs.

Accolades: 4-Star, Under Armour All-American, 2015 MaxPreps first-team All-American, 2015 American Family Insurance All-USA Ohio, AP All-Ohio Division I first-team.

Impressive Offers: Florida State, Miami, Michigan, Ohio State, Penn State, Tennessee

Projected Position: Offensive tackle.

Quick Take: Another offensive tackle with sky-high potential, Notre Dame snatched Eichenberg out from under Urban Meyer’s nose, bringing in yet another blue-chipper for Harry Hiestand to mold. More of a developmental project than Kraemer, Eichenberg’s upside could be just as lofty, especially after some time in a weight room and on the practice field.

What he means to the Irish: With numbers at tackle on the light side, Eichenberg won’t be asked to get on the field, but he might start his career in the two deep behind Mike McGlinchey. That could take away a redshirt if things go wrong, but the view from behind McGlinchey is a good spot for him, learning behind another talented athlete who came to campus as a developmental prospect but will enter his senior season (McGlinchey has two years of eligibility remaining) as a legit NFL prospect.

Eichenberg has the same kind of ceiling. He’ll just need to keep improving—something that he’s shown after a strong Under Armour All-American week in Orlando.

Obligatory YouTube clip: