Jarrett Grace

Mailbag: Sunday delivery


A special Sunday delivery of the Mailbag. Let’s get to some questions.

idratherbeinsouthbend: The schedule at the end of the year always looks different than it does before the season, but looking at next year’s schedule, who’s got your attention other than USC and Georgia Tech?

Some of the worries (at least from a CFB Playoff resume perspective) that the Irish schedule wouldn’t be tough enough seem to be alleviated. This slate looks plenty challenging, with big, nationally interesting games seemingly every few weeks, from the season opener against Texas to the finale at Stanford.

Seeing Georgia Tech make such an impressive late-season run and win the Orange Bowl turns a mid-September test into a potential national showdown. Going to Death Valley two weeks later and battling a Clemson team that absolutely throttled Oklahoma in the Russell Athletic Bowl turns that into probably the toughest road game on the schedule.

Follow Clemson up with Navy and USC without a week off and that’s likely when we’ll know just how good this team can be. For the first Notre Dame schedule without a Big Ten game in nearly 100 years, it’ll be an interesting year.


fightinmad35: How do you think ND would handle iconic rapper Snoop Dogg being around the program if his son were to commit or would the school shy away from his complicated image? His son Cordell, who has an offer from ND, is best friends with safety commit Nicco Fertitta and new commit Alize Jones, all from the famed Bishop Gorman program in Vegas. I can’t imagine the traditionalist welcoming Snoop as easily as say David Robinson.

Snoop has been on campus before and was well received. So while he’s hardly on the David Robinson side of the celebrity spectrum, there’s little chance he’d receive anything less than a warm welcome.

(Remember, Notre Dame opened its arms to Alex Rodriguez this football season.)

While Snoop’s son isn’t coming to South Bend so this is kind of a moot point, for all the worries and bluster of the “traditionalists” (usually coming behind the anonymity of an internet handle), I’m still looking for a famous person who hasn’t been warmly received at Notre Dame.


grammarnazi69: With the return of Jarrett Grace, is he a lock for the first reserve MLB in? Could he challenge Schmidt for starting reps? Will he switch positions? Also, will Ben Council see the field much this year?

I’m not so sure that Grace is ready to be on the field yet. While we received a promising update on his health during bowl season, going through practice and being ready to take snaps and go live are two very different things.

What happens with the linebacking spots next season remains to be seen. After a strong finish to a freshman All-American campaign, Nyles Morgan certainly seems like a lock to get more playing time. Whether that’s beside Joe Schmidt or playing behind him remains to be seen.

Where Jaylon Smith plays will factor into that. So will Brian VanGorder’s plan with the Sam linebacker — a spot that seemed to be more spare part than mandatory piece of the puzzle.

Ben Councell is an interesting player to watch. If you listen to some, you’d think a fifth-year isn’t necessarily assured. But if you look at his size and length, he’s a linebacker that is unlike any other in the depth chart, capable of banging in the box — if he’s healthy.

I guess I really don’t have an answer to your questions without seeing what happens this spring. So let’s revisit this after practice begins in early March.


runners00: When a recruit announces his intention to enroll at Notre Dame, has the recruit already been advised by Admissions that he is eligible to enroll at Notre Dame? Separately, when a verbal commit announces that he is no longer committed to Notre Dame, is it possible that Admissions denied his application?

The verbal commitment game is a tricky subject. It isn’t always as well orchestrated as you might suspect, and what a recruit says publicly (and what we run with) is likely viewed much differently by the coaching staff actually recruiting these players.

That said, Notre Dame has opened up their “offer” list to include players that still need to do work in the classroom. This is a function of existing in the modern ecosystem of recruiting, as it just isn’t possible to wait until the fall of a recruit’s senior season to make official offers like Notre Dame did during the Davie and Willingham era.

A recruit “de-committing” is often times code for admissions issues. Multiple reports from places like Irish 247 and Irish Sports Daily point to that being the culprit with Prentice McKinney.

But that’s life at Notre Dame. And Brian Kelly has done a very good job thriving even with those limitations.


onward2victory: Keith if you were a 5* recruit right now that had offers everywhere, what school would you choose (other than ND)? And how would you announce your decision?

I love this question. And I can certainly tell you that my answer today is much different than the one I’d have given you when I was a senior in high school.

But I’d take my official visits* (excluding Notre Dame) to the following schools:

Stanford — I’m a sucker for all things Palo Alto, and it’s a great place for life after football.
Michigan — As a kid growing up in the Midwest, it was the premier program of my youth.
UCLA — Playing college football in the Rose Bowl and going to school in Westwood. Not bad.
Miami — This goes back to former Cretin quarterback(s) Steve (and Chris) Walsh.
Washington — I’d want to go somewhere in the Pacific Northwest. Seattle sounds great.

I’d make my announcement on Twitter. Definitely not at the College Football Hall of Fame.

*Reserve the right to change any one of these if the bagman came with a compelling offer.





Kizer named MVP at annual ECHOES awards

@NDFootball Twitter
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DeShone Kizer was named the Monogram Club’s Most Valuable Player for the 2016 season at the 96th annual Notre Dame football awards banquet. Kizer was voted team MVP by his teammates, after throwing for 2,925 yards and 26 touchdowns and rushing for 472 yards and eight scores.

He was one of 15 players honored with an award at the “ECHOES,” with the following accolades being given:

Equanimeous St. Brown, Offensive Player of the Year.
James Onwualu, Defensive Player of the Year
Greer Martini, Next Man In award
Drue Tranquill, Rockne Student-Athlete Award
Cole Luke, Nick Pietrosante Award
Isaac Rochell, Lineman of the Year
Quenton Nelson, Offensive Lineman of the Year
Scott Daly, Special Teams Player of the Year
Alex Bars, Newcomer of the Year, Offense
Nyles Morgan, Newcomer of the Year, Defense
Ben Stuttman, Scout Team Player of the Year, Offense
Jonathan Jones, Scout Team Player of the Year, Defense
Mark Harrell, Father Lange Iron Cross
Tyler Newsome, Irish Around the Bend



Notre Dame names 7 captains for 2017 team

SOUTH BEND, IN - OCTOBER 17: Quenton Nelson #56 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish celebrates after a 10-yard touchdown reception by Corey Robinson against the USC Trojans in the fourth quarter of the game at Notre Dame Stadium on October 17, 2015 in South Bend, Indiana. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
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Notre Dame named seven captains for the 2017 season, the most to wear the ‘C’ in school history. Quarterback DeShone Kizer, linebackers Greer Martini and Nyles Morgan, offensive linemen Mike McGlinchey and Quenton Nelson, safety Drue Tranquill and walk-on receiver Austin Webster were all given the honor.

McGlinchey returns in the role, the 22nd different two-time captain in the program’s history. New to the job are the rest, including Kizer, who has yet to make a decision on if he’ll return for 2017 yet.

After worries about the team’s leadership heading into the 2016, the naming of captains in the immediate aftermath of the season is a change—Brian Kelly not naming his team’s official leaders into August training camp last year. It’s not an unprecedented move for Kelly (he named Harrison Smith and Michael Floyd team captains at the banquet following the 2010 season), though it points to some changes—some subtle, others not—that’ll likely take hold after a four-loss season.

Webster, a rising senior reserve wide receiver from California who has yet to register a stat in a Notre Dame uniform, made his debut as a sophomore in 2015 against UMass, is the first active walk-on to receive the honor.


Irish land blue-chip OL Aaron Banks

Tom Loy, Irish 247

Notre Dame received the commitment of 4-star offensive tackle Aaron Banks on Friday afternoon. Picking the Irish over a national offer list that included Michigan, Tennessee, and local programs USC and UCLA, the 6-foot-7, 335-pound Banks reminded all that even if the Irish only won four games this season, Harry Hiestand is still one of the premier offensive line coaches in the country.

Banks made the commitment from a ceremony at his high school in El Cerrito, California. And when he picked the Irish, he added to Notre Dame’s impressive offensive line haul, joining Dillan Gibbons, Joshua Lugg and Robert Hainsey — a key piece of the puzzle moving forward.

Banks is a consensus 4-star recruit and a Top 200 prospect. He took an official visit to Michigan in November, but has been a long-time target of Hiestand’s, visiting South Bend in September and welcoming Brian Kelly and Hiestand into his home after the USC game.

As a big recruiting weekend gets started at Notre Dame, the annual Echoes Awards will serve as the beginning of an important home stretch for a program without a bowl game. As Kelly still looks to lock in a defensive coordinator, not to mention other staff changes still in the air, Banks takes back some of the lost momentum, a key commitment heading into a holiday dead period before a furious finish leading into the first Wednesday in February.

Banks is No. 18 in the Irish recruiting class. He’s an early-enrollee, ready to hit campus within weeks and compete on the interior of the offensive line during spring ball.

Zaire says thank you to Notre Dame

CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA - SEPTEMBER 12: Quarterback Malik Zaire #8 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish rushes past defensive end Mike Moore #32 of the Virginia Cavaliers in the third quarter at Scott Stadium on September 12, 2015 in Charlottesville, Virginia. The Notre Dame Fighting Irish won, 34-27. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

Big week for The Observer. Not just for its advertising revenues, but for the classy gesture that outgoing senior quarterback Malik Zaire made this week.

Thursday’s edition included a letter to the editor from Zaire, who took to the student newspaper not to make headlines around the internet, but rather to thank the university for his experience in South Bend.

While Zaire’s time at Notre Dame is drawing to a close, he will leave as a proud alum. So while he’ll play football next season at another university, Zaire wrote the following in Thursday’s issue:

Dear Notre Dame students and staff,

My life changed for the better the moment I stepped onto the University of Notre Dame’s beautiful campus. The one goal I had set in my mind to achieve was to become a better man, a Notre Dame man. After growing through many trials and triumphs, the thing I’ve learned most from my experience was that if you don’t believe in yourself first, then no one else will. I believed in becoming a better man and succeeding through any circumstance, and I can say that I’ve truly accomplished that. I often refer to the famous quote from the movie “Catch Me If You Can” that was well put by Frank Abagnale:

“Two little mice fell in a bucket of cream. The first mouse quickly gave up and drowned. The second mouse wouldn’t quit. He struggled so hard that eventually he churned that cream into butter and crawled out.”

I’ve put my heart, soul and passion into the University, the football program, the South Bend community and the Irish community worldwide. I have the unbelievable honor to represent this University to the fullest as a student and soon-to-be alumni. Thank you to the amazing students and staff that I’ve met through the years for helping me grow into the person I’ve always wanted to be. I love the Irish and will always be an Irish alum no matter where I go! I look forward to keeping in touch. Let’s change the world!

Go Irish!

Malik Zaire

Dec. 7

Zaire is expected to compete for a starting quarterback job next year as a graduate transfer. He’s reportedly taken a visit to Wisconsin and plans to visit North Carolina as well, just two of several programs on the radar as Zaire looks to step in and win a starting Power 5 job.