Rivals

2016 recruiting begins with weekend Junior Day

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Notre Dame’s coaching staff begins their 2016 recruiting efforts this weekend with its first on-campus Junior Day. While the reshuffled staff had an opportunity to hit the road in February, the Irish coaches will host their first major recruiting event of the spring this weekend.

At last count, nearly two dozen prospects are invited to campus to see what Notre Dame has to offer. With the weather looking like it’ll cooperate, expect a close look at the Irish practice, as the duo of Mike Elston and Dave Peloquin coordinate the efforts to back up the Irish’s surprising 2015 class with another excellent group.

Notre Dame’s lone commitment, Cincinnati offensive lineman Tommy Kraemer, will be on campus. Here’s a list of some others, with early recruiting rankings supplied by Rivals and Blue & Gold Illustrated.

 

 

Junior Day Visitor List
March 21, 2015

 

Cameron Brown, OLB
Potomac, Maryland

Noah Burks, ILB
Carmel, Indiana

Donnie Corley, WR*
Detroit, Michigan

Damar Hamlin, CB**
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Dwayne Haskins Jr., QB*
Potomac, Maryland

Elijah Holyfield, RB**
Atlanta, Georgia

Naquan Jones, DT
Evanston, Illinois

Tony Jones Jr., RB
Brandenton, Florida

Michael Jordan, OT**
Canton, Michigan

Khalid Kareem, DE**
Farmington Hills, Michigan

Tommy Kraemer, OT*
Cincinnati, Ohio

Julian Love, CB
Westchester, Illinois

Kenny Lyke, S
Hoffman Estates, Illinois

Austin Mack, WR**
Fort Wayne, Indiana

Tylin Oden, QB**
Columbia, Tennessee

Brandon Peters, QB**
Avon, Indiana

Martell Pettaway, RB
Detroit, Michigan

Auston Robertson, DE**
Fort Wayne, Indiana

John Shannon, LS
Wilmette, Illinois

AJ Epenesa, DE (2017)
Edwardsville, Illinois

Brock Wright, TE (2017)
Cypress, Texas

Corey Malone Hatcher, DE (2017
St. Joseph, Michigan

*Signifies Rivals100 ranking. 
**Signifies Rivals250 ranking. 

 

At this point, take any grading evaluation from the recruiting websites with a very large grain of salt. With the summer circuit of camps and combines still around the corner, all sorts of moving and shaking is still to come on the virtual big boards.

That said, it’s worth looking at the guys who already hold offers that’ll be on campus. Per Irish 247, that includes Haskins, reportedly ND’s top QB on their board and Corley, another prospect the Irish staff covets.

Cornerback Damar Haskins looks like another battle with Penn State, though Notre Dame’s staff has to feel good about their ability to out-duel James Franklin’s group after last recruiting cycle’s poaching of Brandon Wimbush and Josh Barajas.

Fort Wayne prospects Austin Mack and Auston Robertson both have offers from the Irish as well, with Notre Dame looking to make up ground. So does defensive end Khalid Kareem. You’ve got to expect an edge rusher to remain a priority for the Irish staff, especially after adding just Bo Wallace to that group in the last recruiting cycle.

There’s also a ton of interest in adding a running back this cycle even after adding two in the 2015 class. Both Holyfield and Jones are guys with Notre Dame offers as they step foot on campus. Adding the former heavyweight champion of the world to the parents section would be a nice replacement for David Robinson as his days watching Corey run down.

***

Expect more offers to go out and the recruiting class to grow sooner than later. The past few recruiting cycles, the Irish staff did some damage in March, April and May, building its base as the team went into summer.

The 2013 recruiting class had huge spring months, hitting a dozen commitments before May. Last year’s class had nine commitments by June, though sat at four more than a year before signing day.

While it’s still early to project the size of the 2016 class, any worries about a late start shouldn’t be considered until the summer months. Kelly acknowledged that rebuilding his staff and pushing back the start of spring practice was a necessity, and with the work he did one that he found well worth it.

More news to come this weekend after the first reports from visitors come through.

Report: Tarean Folston won’t return for fifth year

Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl
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Tarean Folston will declare for the NFL Draft. The senior running back, who has a fifth-year of eligibility available after a medical redshirt in 2014, will instead turn his focus to preparing for the professional ranks. Irish Sports Daily’s Matt Freeman broke the news, confirming the decision with Folston.

The departure wasn’t totally unexpected, though Folston was also a candidate for a graduate transfer. But after running for 1,712 yards over four years, the 214-pound back will hope an NFL team takes a shot on him, likely looking at tape of Folston the underclassmen to make their evaluation.

The Cocoa, Florida native burst onto the scene as a freshman against Navy when he ran for 140 yards on 18 carries in the Irish’s 38-34 win. He was Notre Dame’s leading rusher in 2014, running for 889 yards and 5.1 yards per carry  and six scores in 2014.

Expected to do big things in 2015, Folston’s season lasted just three carries, a torn ACL suffered against Texas in the season opener. After Josh Adams emerged that season, Folston fell behind him in the depth chart, getting just 77 carries in 2016.

The move clarifies a depth chart that looked to be unchanged heading into next season. But with Folston’s exit, rising sophomore Tony Jones will join Adams and Dexter Williams in the rotation. Fellow sophomore Deon Macintosh and incoming freshman C.J. Holmes will also compete for playing time.

Quenton Nelson will return for his senior season

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)
Getty
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Brian Kelly’s talked about the rare 6-star recruit: Harrison Smith, Manti Te’o, Michael Floyd, Zack Martin. Well, add Quenton Nelson to the list. Notre Dame’s starting left guard has made it official that he’ll return for his senior season.

The New Jersey native adds another key building block to the Irish offensive line, returning with Mike McGlinchey to anchor Harry Hiestand’s unit. Like McGlinchey, Nelson had an option to be selected high in next year’s NFL Draft, staying in school even after receiving a second-round grade from the NFL’s Advisory Board, per Irish Illustrated.

Nelson took to social media to make the news public, with the NFL’s declaration deadline set for January 16.

“Excited for this team to grow every day this offseason by putting in nothing but hard work and grinding together. When we reach our full potential, look out. I’m right behind you Coach.”

Nelson was named a team captain for 2017 at the year-end Echoes Awards Show. He earned second-team All-American honors from Sports Illustrated and was rated by ESPN’s Mel Kiper as the No. 1 offensive guard in the 2017 draft class, a grade he’ll likely carry into next season.

Clark Lea formally named Linebackers Coach

clark-lea
UND.com
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Notre Dame formally introduced new linebackers coach Clark Lea on Thursday. The press release for the 35-year-old  included the following quote from the new assistant who has worked at Bowling Green, UCLA and Wake Forest, and rejoins Mike Elko in South Bend.

“I’m humbled to be a part of the Notre Dame football program,” Lea said in a statement. “It’s an honor to represent such a prestigious academic institution, and to be a part of this program’s rich tradition of athletic excellence. I’d like to thank Jack Swarbrick and coach Kelly for this tremendous opportunity. I’m excited to get to work building relationships with our players, and do my part in helping coach Kelly execute his vision for the program.”

That work has already begun, with Lea on the prowl as the recruiting dead period ended and the rebuilt Irish staff hit the road. Yesterday, Lea was with defensive coordinator Mike Elko visiting commit David Adams, a key piece of the Irish puzzle on the defensive side of the ball. That starts a mad rush that’ll keep Lea’s belongs in boxes until after the first Wednesday in February, as Elko and his reshuffled defensive staff open their recruiting board, finding replacements for a handful of de-commitments and pieces that’ll fit Elko’s scheme.

If there’s any reason for optimism after a tough few weeks in recruiting, it’s the young staff that Kelly has assembled. The youth movement includes not just Lea, but the 39-year-old Elko. New offensive coordinator Chip Long is just 33, moving to Notre Dame after one season at Memphis. Running backs coach Autry Denson just turned 40 while special teams coordinator Brian Polian is practically long in the tooth at 42. (All that comes before the expected announcement of 25-year-old Tommy Rees.)

Lea’s pedigree is rock solid, earning kudos in 2012 for his work as Linebackers coach at Bowling Green, Football Scoop’s Linebackers Coach of the Year.

“Clark is a wonderful addition to our staff,” Kelly said in the release. “Obviously, he brings a substantial amount of knowledge about coach Elko’s defensive system — having worked with Mike at both Bowling Green and Wake Forest. Clark has demonstrated throughout his career an ability to not only identify unique talent in the recruiting process, but also develop that talent into high-production linebackers. As a former student-athlete, he will relate exceptionally well with our kids and provide tremendous mentorship throughout their careers at Notre Dame.”

 

 

 

Reports: Lea, Alexander added to Irish coaching staff

delvaughn
ASU Sports Information
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Brian Kelly is adding to his rebuilt coaching staff, reportedly finalizing deals with Wake Forest linebackers coach Clark Lea and Arizona State assistant DelVaughn Alexander. Lea will reunite with Mike Elko and coach linebackers and Alexander will coach wide receivers. While both hires are still going through formal university vetting, the Lea hire has long been rumored before being reported by SI’s Pete Thamel. FootballScoop.com broke the news on Alexander, before multiple outlets confirmed the report.

In Lea, Elko brings a piece of his coaching staff with him to South Bend. The 35-year-old spent last season working in Winston-Salem and spent three seasons at Syracuse before that. He worked with Elko and Demon Deacons head coach Dave Clawson at Bowling Green and has spent time as an assistant at UCLA as well. He earned three letters at Vanderbilt, a 2004 graduate.

Alexander is a veteran presence to help replace Mike Denbrock and fill his void coaching receivers. He’s also a coach with first-hand knowledge of new coordinator Chip Long, having worked alongside him in Tempe under Mike Norvell. The move also comes in time for the reopen of the recruiting season’s home stretch, bringing a capable West Coast recruiter to the staff at a time when Notre Dame’s 2017 class is leaking a bit of oil.

Alexander played wide receiver at USC, playing for Larry Smith and John Robinson, before breaking into the coaching ranks there as a graduate assistant. He’s also had stops at UNLV, coached for Jim Harbaugh at San Diego, and spent significant time at Wisconsin and Arizona State where he coached multiple positions, taking over tight ends after Long left for Memphis.