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Friday at 4: Context shows Notre Dame succeeded in the early signing period

Notre Dame should claim the early signing period as a resounding success. It’s that simple.

Dismiss the rankings, though they point to a top-10 status. Realize stars are meaningless once players reach the field, even if half the 20 signed commits as of publishing have been deemed four-star prospects. Ignore headlines of heroes, partly because they’ll mostly focus on consensus four-star quarterback Phil Jurkovec (Pine-Richland High School; Gibsonia, Pa.)

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The Irish handed the inaugural December signing period well, largely because they were ready for it. In signing the 20 — and again, that figure is accurate as of 4 p.m. ET on Friday — the Notre Dame coaching staff did exactly what it needed to.

It needed to find defensive playmakers, specifically defensive backs. It needed to throw in a few more playmakers among the receiver corps to (hopefully) spark someone to rise to the top, even more so the case given other events this week. Irish head coach Brian Kelly needed to land a top-tier quarterback after securing only good ones the last two cycles.

Context matters more than rankings or stars. Fit determines the roster more than hype. Talent is found, not touted.

For that matter, there is a phrase about a bird in the hand and its relative value compared to multiple birds chirping in a bush. Notre Dame has 20 commits signed. It could be argued no program in the country had a better week recruiting.

“What do I like about this [early] signing day? It’s put the commitment back in commitment and really what that means,” Kelly said Wednesday. “No more soft commitments.

“… Let’s take the hype out of it. Let’s let these young men decide based upon what’s in their best interest for their future. Let’s take the circus atmosphere away from signing and let’s get back to making a decision that’s going to be in your best interest for the next 40 years of your life.”

This was always going to be the most difficult recruiting cycle to succeed in from a logistics standpoint, no matter how much a 9-3 Irish resurgence may have helped the cause. In order for a high school senior to sign his National Letter of Intent with Notre Dame, he first needed to gain early admittance to the University.

Getting that admittance is not an easy task with any version of timing. Requiring every commit to manage it six weeks earlier only furthers the difficulty. Perhaps it would not have been an issue for 18 or 19 of the 20, but simply based on the numbers, to go 20-for-20 stands out.

“[The early signing period] puts the onus on the young men in terms of academics,” Irish recruiting director Brian Polian said. “We’re not a place that can sign a guy and not have a test score. There are places in the country where guys are waiting on their first SAT to come back and they can deal with that. Ours is not a place that can do that.”

Further complicating the expedited timeline was the abbreviated nature on the front-end. The early signing period was not officially approved until June. This class did not have the luxury of the earlier official visits also approved then. Moving forward, schools can pay for visits of high school juniors in April, May and June, rather than having to wait until the fall of their senior years. Without that altered timeline leading this recruiting cycle but still with a December deadline awaiting, a time crunch was created. Polian referred to it as “a condensed calendar.”

“We’re not a school that 80 percent of our class can drive here for an unofficial visit, so the sped-up timing of the early signing day combined with not being able to bring young men here officially in the spring and summer made it a little bit difficult and unique,” Polian said.

Nonetheless, Notre Dame hit its marks.

Consensus four-star safety Derrik Allen (Lassiter High School; Marietta, Ga.) could force his way into the starting conversation his freshman season. Consensus four-star defensive back Houston Griffith (IMG Academy; Bradenton, Fla.) immediately patches the depth concerns stemming from not signing any cornerbacks a year ago. Of the three other defensive backs, if so much as one becomes a regular contributor, the Irish hit on a sustainable rate of success.

“If you bat .500-.600 in a recruiting class and look up and say we had two or three starters and impactful players and good kids and good students, then you’re doing a heck of a job,” Polian said, referencing his Pro Football Hall of Fame father’s track record. “Obviously, we feel good, because they’re ours, they are in our family. We don’t feel like we made any mistakes but ultimately time will tell.”

Adding four linebackers fills a need after what may have been a lackluster signing a year ago. Even if current freshman David Adams and Drew White prove to be success stories, Notre Dame will lose seniors Nyles Morgan and Greer Martini this season and junior Te’von Coney could still yet head to the NFL Draft. Consensus four-star linebacker Jack Lamb (Great Oak H.S.; Temecula, Calif.) helps ease those worries dramatically.

If the Irish receivers disappointed this season — removing that if would not be an inaccurate decision — adding a multi-positional threat in consensus four-star Kevin Austin (North Broward Prep; Pompano Beach, Fla.) and a physical option in rivals.com four-star Micah Jones (Warren Township; Gurnee, Ill.) will force others to up their games lest they be passed by the newcomers. Notre Dame may still add another receiver in this period, too, with consensus four-star Braden Lenzy (Tigard; Portland, Ore.) expected to make a decision yet tonight. Adding the speedster would be the Christmas present the Irish did not think would arrive in the mail in time to make it under the tree.

This class fits Notre Dame’s needs already, and it isn’t done. Not every player needs to be a four- or five-star. That is not reasonable in any sense. Adding a number of them where the roster lacked means more than splashy names or outrageous claims.

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