Author: Keith Arnold

Jaylon Smith declares for NFL Draft


A major knee injury won’t stop Jaylon Smith from heading to the NFL. Notre Dame’s consensus All-American and Butkus Award-winning linebacker declared for the draft on Monday, deciding to turn professional even after surgery to repair a torn ACL and LCL ligament.

Smith made the announcement via social media, confirming a decision most expected regardless of the injury status.

Smith received a first-round draft grade from the advisory committee before his injury, a grade revealed in the days before the Fiesta Bowl. While the injury may impact how high in the draft he goes, Smith has a $5 million insurance policy that protects him should he slide out of the first round.

“It’s really just perseverance from here, with the adversity that I’m going through right now and dealing with the knee injury,” Smith said during the low-key video announcement. “I have the same vision, it’s just a different path.”

Smith ends his three-year career at Notre Dame with two 100+ tackle seasons, the team-leader each of the past two years. He was a three-year starter for the Irish and their first consensus All-American on defense since Manti Te’o in 2012.

Kevin Stepherson begins ND career as early enrollee

Kevin StephersonTWITTER

Five members of Notre Dame’s 2016 recruiting class are getting a jump start on college. The latest to make it official is wide receiver Kevin Stepherson. The Florida native arrived in South Bend over the weekend, set to begin classes this Monday.

ND Football’s official Twitter handle made the news official this weekend:

Stepherson is a three-star prospect who camped at Notre Dame over the summer. Shortly after that he committed to the Irish coaching staff, picking Notre Dame over offers from Michigan, Miami, North Carolina, Florida and a dozen others. Stepherson was one of Jacksonville’s top players, a Super 11 pick from the Times-Union before his senior season.

Multiple publications have Stepherson listed at 6-foot-3, a lanky receiver with a long stride. While that may have an inch (or two) of fluff, he dominated on the camp circuit this summer, has an incredible highlight reel (see below), and was an early target by the Irish staff.

Stepherson will join classmates Daelin Hayes, Khalid Kareem, Spencer Perry, and Devin Studstill as early enrollees.


Javon McKinley commits to Irish at U.S. Army All-American Bowl


Notre Dame’s recruiting class just added another key piece of the puzzle, with U.S. Army All-American Javon McKinley pledging his commitment to the Irish during the fourth quarter of the All-Star game in San Antonio. The four-star receiver picked Notre Dame over finalists Oregon and Washington and scholarship offers from Stanford, USC, UCLA and a few dozen others.

“I think they offer best for me the combination of early playing opportunity and one of the best hands-down degrees in the nation,” McKinley said during the live broadcast on NBC before sprinting back to the sidelines.

A consensus four-star recruit, McKinley is a big-bodied receiver with dynamic ball skills. He broke onto the national scene with a monster junior season at Centennial high school in Southern California with a ridiculous 2,062 receiving yards and 25 touchdown catches. The Irish have recruited McKinley hard, with Mike Denbrock and Mike Sanford both putting in major time to land the 6-foot-2, 195-pounder. He’s been on the top of their recruiting board for over a year.

While some question if McKinley has elite speed, it’s worth pointing out who he put those ridiculous numbers up against. He caught 14 passes for 240 yards against Gardena Serra, a program that produces a half-dozen D-I prospects every year (most heading to USC). He followed that game up with monster efforts against St. John Bosco and caught two touchdowns in the CIF Open Championship against Concord De La Salle.

When asked about McKinley’s speed this August by the Los Angeles Times, high school coach Matt Logan said the following:

“I don’t know where that came from, that’s never been the case. He’s run away from Bishop Gorman and De La Salle players.”

Notre Dame had plenty of participants in the Army All-American game. Offensive lineman Tomy Kraemer, Ohio’s Gatorade Player of the Year, stood out along the offensive line. Running back Tony Jones, long snapper John Shannon and linebacker Daelin Hayes all took part in the festivities.

McKinley is the 22nd member of the Irish 2016 recruiting class, joining Chase Claypool and Kevin Stepherson at receiver. He is an excellent student, boasting a 4.1 grade point average and a recruitment by Harvard as well.

Report: Smith expects full recover from ACL, LCL surgery

during the BattleFrog Fiesta Bowl at University of Phoenix Stadium on January 1, 2016 in Glendale, Arizona.

Jaylon Smith had surgery to repair two torn ligaments in his knee on Thursday. And according to’s Brian Hamilton, a source close to the situation called the surgery a success.

Smith had the ACL and LCL repaired in his left knee. There was no sign of nerve damage, a rumor floating around since NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport tweeted it earlier in the week. But the immediate prognosis after the surgery is that Smith will be back to his normal self after rehabbing the injury.

“What we do know is there’s going to be a full recovery,” the source told “The repair is solid, and he’s very optimistic. We’re optimistic. And Jaylon is ready to get going with his rehab.”

Smith hasn’t declared whether that rehab will take place under the supervision of Notre Dame or an NFL team. He has until January 18th to decide whether or not to enter the NFL Draft as an underclassman. The true junior is coming off a consensus All-American season and the Butkus Award.


Last Look: Running Game

SOUTH BEND, IN - NOVEMBER 14:  Josh Adams #33 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish rushes for a 98-yard touchdown against the Wake Forest Demon Deacons during the second quarter at Notre Dame Stadium on November 14, 2015 in South Bend, Indiana.  (Photo by Jon Durr/Getty Images)

The season is over. Before we turn our attention to recruiting and some of our offseason plans that’ll surely lead into an interesting spring, let’s take a look at the final stats from the 2015 Fighting Irish as we reach some final conclusions on the season that was.

We’ll start with the running game. Notre Dame’s ground attack was its most potent in the Kelly era, both the cumulative 2,699 rushing yards and the astonishing 5.6 yards per rush the team averaged, eighth-best in the country. Big plays certainly buoyed those totals—Josh Adams, C.J. Prosise and DeShone Kizer each had touchdown runs of 79-yards or longer and Brandon Wimbush added a 58-yard scamper as well.

All of this came from a depth chart not many expected to see. Exiting fall, C.J. Prosise looked like a contingency plan, a wildcard added to a two-deep of Tarean Folston and Greg Bryant. That duo took the field for a total of three carries, Bryant exiting the program over the summer and Folston ending his season on the third carry of the year.

That didn’t stop the rushing attack. Prosise managed to be the first Irish back to break 1,000 yards since Cierre Wood did it in 2011. Adams set a freshman record for rushing yards. And Kizer set a school record for most rushing touchdowns by a quarterback. Not too shabby.

Let’s take a closer look at the stats and hand out some end of the year awards.

Rush Totals







MVP: C.J. Prosise. The late surge by Josh Adams makes this a much tougher decision than I expected—especially with Prosise touching the football only 16 times after Halloween. But that would undervalue the first two-thirds of the season, and Prosise was a star for the Irish essentially through the USC game, going on a three-game run of averaging over nine-yards a carry while also making huge gains in the passing game as well.

Prosise was dynamic in the open field. He was tough to tackle. And his versatility was likely what led to the decision to head to the NFL instead of playing out his eligibility. He still has room for improvement as a running back, especially between the tackles and picking up the tough yardage. But he supplied a season’s worth of big plays in his limited action, a triumphant debut season as a running back.


Biggest Disappointment: Tarean Folston’s knee injury. You can only wonder what Notre Dame’s running game would’ve looked like had Folston lasted more than three carries. The Irish’s most natural runner, Folston doesn’t have the big-play speed that Prosise and Adams enjoy, but his vision and elusiveness would’ve been really impactful behind the Irish offensive line.

Prosise’s departure likely impacted Folston more than anybody else. With Adams and Prosise both returning, Folston’s role in the backfield likely would’ve made things cluttered. Now the Irish will enjoy a two-back platoon with sophomore Dexter Williams fighting for carries after showing some skills as a true freshman.

Folston’s rehab is on track, the rising senior is already running as he enters the fifth month of his recovery. He won’t likely do much in spring practice, but he should be ready to cut loose during summer, a critical time for his reemergence in the backfield.


Biggest Surprise: DeShone Kizer’s record-breaking season. If you had DeShone Kizer as the quarterback to break the touchdown record for his position, I’ll check your pockets for Biff’s sports almanac from Back to the Future 2. Kizer’s abilities as a runner were the big surprise of the season. They allowed the Irish offense to continue churning after Malik Zaire‘s injury, with Kizer showing a great feel for the read option and better-than-expected speed.

As a big-bodied 23o-pound runner, Kizer turned into Notre Dame’s short-yardage weapon of choice. He allowed the Irish to add an additional blocker to the box, neutralizing some of the defense’s advantages in addition to his size allowing him to fall-forward for tough yards. No, it didn’t pay off on the two-point play against Clemson late in the game. But Kizer’s 10 scores eclipsed a team record held by Tony Rice and Rick Mirer. Not too bad for a kid who was collecting dust as the No. 3 quarterback last spring.


Brightest Future: Josh Adams. Notre Dame’s freshman back might have the highest ceiling of any running back recruited by Brian Kelly. A hidden gem courtesy of an ACL tear suffered midway through his junior season, Adams arrived on campus expected to redshirt and instead set a school record for most yards as a freshman.

Adam’s 835 yards were impressive. He broke loose in his debut against Texas for two scores on five carries. His 70-yard run against UMass hinted at the breakaway speed Kelly and his staff saw when Adams camped in South Bend.

But more important than any highlight was the workload Adams took on when Prosise could no longer go. In the season’s final five games, Adams ran the ball 83 times for 570 yards, averaging 6.9 yards a carry and 114 yards a game against five tough defenses. A true freshman picked up the slack when there was nobody else to carry the load, and Adams produced at an elite level.

With an additional year in a college strength program and another year away from his knee surgery, Adams could have a monster 2016.