Sheldon Day, John Fadule
AP

Path to the Draft: Sheldon Day

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The final part of a post-draft series. See earlier work on Ronnie StanleyWill FullerJaylon SmithNick MartinKeiVarae Russell and C.J. Prosise.

 

SHELDON DAY
No. 103 overall to the Jacksonville Jaguars

It didn’t take long for Notre Dame’s coaching staff to know they found a good one with Sheldon Day. From the moment Day stepped foot onto campus as an early-enrollee freshman, the staff’s eyes were open wide as they marveled at the complete package they landed in the Indianapolis native.

“The thing we love about him is not only his personality and who he is, but incredible motor, and a great work ethic,” head coach Brian Kelly said in his Signing Day press conference. “He is already here and we have gotten comments back from our strength and conditioning staff and Coach Longo about his work volume and his work ethic and enthusiasm for what he is doing. He’s a dynamic player, one of the best defensive linemen in the country, and he will immediately.”

Kelly sounded exactly like a coach who knew what he had. And it was true—Day found his way to being a key contributor on one of the best defenses in Notre Dame history, playing in all 13 games, making 23 tackles and notching two sacks playing behind Kapron Lewis-Moore.

But the next two seasons weren’t as kind to Day. Not because he wasn’t more productive, but because he couldn’t stay healthy. He started 11 games in each of the next two years, but battled to be on the field in even those games. While his skills and ability to disrupt an offensive line were clearly evident, his ability to stay on the field and work his way through the physical demands of the position weren’t.

Still, Day had put himself in a position to decide if he wanted to stay for his senior year or gamble on the NFL after just three seasons. And while draft analysts saw limited value in an undersized defensive tackle who couldn’t stay on the field, it didn’t take long for Kelly, athletic director Jack Swarbrick and strength coach Paul Longo to understand that Day was one of the key “six-star recruits” that the program needed to have in 2015.

A summit with Day and his mother took place. An analysis of Day’s skill-set and production accompanied a plan for Day to put together not just a monster final season in South Bend, but to make sure NFL teams saw what they saw in the undersized defensive tackle.

It worked.

“After talking with my family, friends and coaches at Notre Dame, I’ve decided to return for my senior year with the Irish,” Day announced in a written statement in January of 2015. “While the process leading up to this decision was difficult, ultimately my decision to return was easy. I love this school, my teammates and this coaching staff. I just felt it was in my best interest to play another year for Notre Dame.

“I believe we’ve got an opportunity to have a special season in 2015 and I wanted to be a part of that success. I was blessed to play in the national championship game as a freshman in 2012, and I want to do everything in my power to reach that stage again with my guys.”

Day’s ultimate goal of playing for a championship died when Stanford kicked a last-second field goal in the regular season finale. But there might not have been a player in the draft who did more for his stock than Day did his senior season.

A dominant force in the trenches, Day’s productivity was nearly unmatched in the country. PFF College charted plays of every game played last season, and Day graded out as the nation’s best defensive tackle. Just as important, he played in every game—gutting out a Fiesta Bowl week foot injury that had many worried he had suffered a major injury. It didn’t matter, Day gutted out 41 snaps on a bum wheel and was as productive as ever.

While he slid into the fourth round—the product of one of the deepest classes of defensive linemen in recent memory—Day’s selection at pick No. 103 couldn’t have happened without mutual buy in from the player and a coaching staff that had Mike Elston build Day’s technique from the start and Keith Gilmore finish it with new 4-3 techniques. Playing both three and four-man fronts was the perfect experience for Day, who’ll now have the chance to display his versatility in a system that’s know for just that.

A two-time captain and the lynchpin for Notre Dame’s reemergence as a recruiting force in Indianapolis, Day’s impact on the field was impressive, but his role off of it was profound. Whether it was mentoring Jerry Tillery (as seen so often on Showtime) or learning to lead from the front, Day’s development and success won’t soon be forgotten in South Bend.

Notre Dame may have had six players drafted ahead of Day. But none were more important to the program.

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.