He never specifically said who he was thinking of, but it was plenty clear Notre Dame recruiting director Brian Polian was referring to one player in particular when he pumped the brakes on the expectations around the Irish class of 2018 and the 20 commits who signed Wednesday.
“Let’s be careful about who are anointing the next stars,” said Polian, also the Notre Dame special teams coordinator. “That puts pressure on 17-, 18-year-old kids. That’s not fair. …
“Obviously we feel these young men can come in and compete at a high level but sometimes it takes time, and we need to allow for that learning curve and that process before we start anointing guys as saviors.”
In other words, consensus four-star quarterback Phil Jurkovec may be very good, but it seems unwise, quick-triggered and misguided to heap undue expectations upon a high school senior.
Then again, Irish head coach Brian Kelly was far from conservative in his effusive praise of Jurkovec in the first public comments Kelly was allowed to offer on the Pennsylvania product.
Consensus four-star quarterback Phil Jurkovec (Pine-Richland High School; Gibsonia, Pa.)
Measurements: 6’5”, 200 lbs.
U.S. Army All-American
Brian Kelly’s take: “I think he’s the best quarterback in the country. He’s somebody that I could put up against any quarterback that I’ve ever seen. …
“The reviews about him leading as a sophomore, at his age. He wasn’t a sophomore that was held back. He was a young sophomore that was out there leading his football team against really good competition. That was something that we needed to go see — presence, leadership ability, you have to see that in person. How he interacts with his teammates when he comes back on the sideline. To see that as a sophomore, it was important for us in this recruiting process of making decisions on quarterbacks that I needed to know about his makeup and that gave us the first glimpse of who he was and what his makeup was. …
“When I got a chance to go watch him play basketball, just his drive, his competiveness, his interaction with his teammates, those things you can’t get in the gym. You can get a little stronger, certainly you can continue to throw and build relationships in one-on-one, but you can’t get those traits that separate the good from the great.”
“This year they spread the field with massive splits and the ball was going all the way out to the numbers with great accuracy and speed. So what we saw in this past year was just a really quick release. Then we saw the ability to run the offense at the line of scrimmage, get into the right plays, run the football, just a complete control of what was going on out there. A clinic, at times.”
Consensus four-star receiver Kevin Austin (North Broward Prep; Pompano Beach, Fla.)
Measurements: 6’3”, 185 lbs.
Kelly’s take: “Kevin Austin is a unique player in that he can play all three positions for us. We wanted somebody that has versatility at that position. He can play X, Z and W. Smooth player, catches the ball extremely well, has great speed. We wanted somebody that wasn’t going to be penciled into a position.”
Rivals.com four-star receiver Micah Jones (Warren Township; Gurnee, Ill.)
Measurements: 6’5”, 205 lbs.
Kelly’s take: “Micah is more of a boundary player, big, physical, can win one-on-one matchups. We love that about him and his size.”
Kelly on further receiver recruiting: “Obviously we need to continue to recruit at that position. We’re hoping to add to that position in this cycle to balance off the receiving crew. …
“The receivers, to be frank with you, they all get to come in and compete for starting positions, and that’s how I’ve articulated it to them.”
Rivals.com four-star tight end George Takacs (Gulf Coast H.S.; Naples, Fla.)
Measurements: 6’6”; 235 lbs.
U.S. Army All-American
Consensus three-star tight end Tommy Tremble (Wesleyan School; Norcross, Ga.)
Measurements: 6’4”, 225 lbs.
Kelly’s take on both Takacs and Tremble: “We needed to replace [Durham Smythe] and then add into this cycle. George and Tommy are terrific athletes that can be in line or they can spread out. They keep fitting the exact profile that we’ve been recruiting over the last few years at that position.”
Consensus three-star running back Jahmir Smith (Lee County; Sanford, N.C.)
Measurements: 6’0”; 199 lbs.
Kelly’s take: “Jahmir Smith is going to come in and if he’s got it, you play freshmen running backs. I don’t know if he’s going to beat out all those guys, but I would never tell a guy, hey, you’re going to redshirt. You let those guys go. If they’re good enough, they’re going to play.”
Polian’s take: “I am a big Jahmir Smith fan, and I’m not sure that he got the type of recognition that he deserved. He’s a big, physical back, 5-10, 5-11, nearly 200 pounds as a high school senior, north and south runner, exceptional student, terrific kid.”
Consensus three-star offensive lineman John Dirksen (Marion Local; Maria Stein, Ohio)
Measurements: 6’5”, 300 lbs.
Consensus three-star Cole Mabry (Brentwood; Tenn.)
Measurements: 6’6”, 275 lbs.
Polian’s take on both Dirksen and Mabry: “I think Mabry and Dirksen [are underrated] in terms of their length and their size. These are going to be really big men that can move their feet. We often, on the offensive line, he weighs 270 pounds now — is he going to get big enough? We have a great strength staff. The world is filled with big guys.
“[Dirksen and Mabry are] big and can move their feet and bend and athleticism. You recruit that and hand them over to [Notre Dame strength and conditioning coach Matt] Balis and his staff, and let nature take its course.”
Kelly on the viability of starting freshmen offensive linemen: “It’s a little bit harder at the offensive line, although we saw it this year with [Robert] Hainsey, which was an anomaly, if you will.”