Keith Arnold

Te'o Victory Stanford

Michigan State and Stanford set for primetime at Notre Dame

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Notre Dame will host two night kickoffs in 2016, with Michigan State and Stanford pegged for primetime. Two of the country’s finest teams from last season will visit South Bend and play under the lights in a still-to-be-finished Notre Dame Stadium.

The Irish will kickoff against the Spartans on September 17 at 7:30 p.m. They’ll play at the same time on October 15 against the Cardinal before taking a week off and then welcome visiting Miami. Notre Dame’s Shamrock Series game against Army in the Alamodome will kickoff at 2:30 local time in San Antonio. All three games will be televised on NBC.

The complete Notre Dame schedule for 2016 is as follows. (All home games in CAPS with day time kickoffs set for 3:30 p.m. ET.)

Sept. 4 at Texas
Sept. 10 NEVADA
Sept. 17 MICHIGAN STATE
Sept. 24 DUKE
Oct. 1 vs. Syracuse (at MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford, NJ)
Oct. 8 at North Carolina State
Oct. 15 STANFORD
Oct. 22 Bye Week
Oct. 29 MIAMI
Nov. 5 vs. Navy (EverBank Field, Jacksonville, FL)
Nov. 12 ARMY (Alamodome, San Antonio, TX)
Nov. 19 VIRGINIA TECH
Nov. 26 at USC

Path to the Draft: Sheldon Day

Sheldon Day, John Fadule
AP
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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.

Path to the Draft: C.J. Prosise

Notre Dame running back C.J. Prosise (20) runs past Georgia Tech defensive back Jamal Golden (4) for a touchdown during the second half of an NCAA college football game in South Bend, Ind., Saturday, Sept. 19, 2015. Notre Dame defeated Georgia Tech 30-22. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)
AP
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Part six of the series. See earlier work on Ronnie StanleyWill FullerJaylon SmithNick Martin and KeiVarae Russell

C.J. Prosise
No. 90 overall to Seattle Seahawks

There are traditional paths to college football stardom. And then there’s C.J. Prosise’s.

Notre Dame’s third-rounder, now a key piece to the Seattle Seahawks’ reshuffled offensive puzzle, spent a long time trying to find the right fit in the Irish football program.

But Prosise’s athleticism was never in question. That’s what ultimately led Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly to pursuing the prep school athlete, a three-star prospect with modest offers.

“It was him dunking a basketball, I saw this athlete,” Kelly said last September. “And I said, ‘I don’t know where he’s going to play, but we’ve got to take him. We’ve just got to find a place for him to play.'”

Finding that place took some time. It was a journey that started at safety, a redshirt season spent learning Bob Diaco’s defense. Then there was the transition to receiver, and a quiet sophomore season where his biggest impact came on special teams.

Prosise showed hints of being a game-changing player as a junior. He earned Notre Dame’s special teams player of the year award, earned mostly for his impressive coverage work. But his 29 catches for 516 yards averaged more per play than even Will Fuller. After Prosise took a jet sweep to the house against LSU, it was likely all anybody on staff needed to see when they decided that Prosise would spend time in the spring cross-training at running back, just in case Tarean Folston and Greg Bryant needed a break in 2015.

A break turned into a breakthrough for both the Irish and Prosise. Notre Dame got three carries from Folston and Bryant last season, proving the move of Prosise to the backfield a brilliant one.

And after slowly finding his fit in the defensive backfield or at receiver, Prosise took to running back immediately, showcasing his game-breaking skills with the ball in his hands and a quick comfort at the position, even as he was learning on the fly.

The jump to the NFL robs Kelly and his staff from finishing their job developing Prosise as a player. And make no mistake, there’s work to be done. Prosise still needs work on his pad level. His short-yardage success left much to be desired. But those things can be taught. The ability to turn five yards into fifty? Not so much.

That’s also what makes him such an intriguing prospect. With Seattle needing to replace Marshawn Lynch, the lack of wear on Prosise, not to mention the versatility in his game, add new dynamics to an offense that needs to surround Russell Wilson with playmakers. And with a degree already in hand and Folston back along with Josh Adams and Dexter Williams, Prosise thought it was the right time to jump on the chance to head to the NFL.

Is he ready? Pete Carroll sure thinks so.

“He has a tremendous range of ability,” Carroll said during rookie camp. “Going into this draft I was hoping we were going to get this guy so that we can do the things that we can do with him. I don’t mind saying this because it’s not going to take us very long to show it—he is a guy that you can line up out of the backfield as a wide receiver, and he can line up in the backfield and run the football and beat you there too.”

 

It took three seasons for C.J. Prosise to find his footing and one to become a star. It’s another success story for Notre Dame’s coaching staff.

Irish back in the mix for elite DE Robert Beal

Robert Beal
Rivals / Yahoo Sports
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Blue-chip defensive end Robert Beal looked like the one who got away. One of Notre Dame’s earliest commitments in the 2017 recruiting class—and then, their biggest decommitment—was the lone black mark on a recruiting class that’s coming together quite nicely for Brian Kelly, Mike Elston and a hard-working group of assistants.

 

But news broke today that Notre Dame is still in the mix for Beal. The edge rusher will visit campus for the Irish Invasion camp this summer, with Irish247’s Tom Loy the first to break the news:

This according to Loy and Irish247’s Juice:

In the past month, per a source, the family has changed its tune on that. They wanted to “remove some of the stress from Robert” and no longer have his decision depend on which school is able to get his sister into college.

With his sister’s decision no longer playing a role in Beal’s recruiting process, our source says that Beal wanted to reach out to the Notre Dame coaching staff immediately to see if things could be mended and if the staff was still interested in him as a student-athlete. It looks like Notre Dame is very interested, as defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder has put in a ton of effort recently to make sure things work out and Beal gets back on campus in June.

 

Getting too worked up about anybody’s recruitment nearly nine months until Signing Day is silly. It’s a big reason why worrying about a recruit like Josh Kaindoh, surprisingly off the board to Maryland last week, isn’t worth the effort until after the Terrapins show just how hard it is to rebuild a program.

But getting back into the game with Beal would be huge. The Georgia-native’s departure from the Irish recruiting class was tough to criticize, especially considering his family’s desire to keep the two siblings united. But as Beal considers a new option to finish high school—Anna Hickey at Irish Illustrated reports that Beal will finish his high school career at IMG Academy—the Irish seem to be back in position to land the pass rusher.

Notre Dame’s got Brian VanGorder on the case, with the Georgia native having a solid relationship already built with the Irish defensive coordinator. And it doesn’t take the head of the Irish defense to see the gaping hole in the depth chart where Beal could fill in, especially as the Irish continue to look for ways to fortify their pass rush.

 

Path to the Draft: KeiVarae Russell

PHILADELPHIA, PA - OCTOBER 31: KeiVarae Russell #6 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish intercepts a pass intended for John Christopher #7 of the Temple Owls in the fourth quarter on October 31, 2015 at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Notre Dame Fighting Irish defeated the Temple Owls 24-20. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
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Part five of the series. See earlier work on Ronnie StanleyWill FullerJaylon Smith and Nick Martin

 

KEIVARAE RUSSELL
No. 74 overall to Kansas City

It was no surprise that KeiVarae Russell finished an impressive Notre Dame career by being selected with a premium pick in the NFL Draft. Just ask him.

From the moment Russell stepped onto campus as a four-star running back with multi-purpose versatility, the Washington native’s confidence was through the roof. And while that’s colored the lens through which we’ve observed Russell both on and off the field, it’s also maybe the biggest reason why he was able to make a training camp pivot to the defensive backfield and find a starting role at cornerback on one of the best defenses in Irish history.

Before the narrative of Russell’s career was overwhelmed by his role in the academic dishonesty investigation that took him off the team along with four other teammates in 2014, it was a development success story. Russell wasn’t an elite recruit, but he was a blue-chip prospect, the U.S. Army All-American picking Notre Dame over USC, Stanford, Cal, Washington and the rest of the Pac-12.

Even better, he carried the “RKG” tag. He was impressive in the classroom at Mariner High, active in the community. In many ways, Russell was one of the first to embody and perfect Brian Kelly’s recruiting model—find the intangibles Kelly used to look for at Central Michigan or Cincinnati, and land the high-end physical talent that’s expected at Notre Dame.

With 26 straight starts to begin his career, many thought Russell’s 2014 season could be his final one in South Bend. And it very nearly was, the shocking academic investigation ended the season for Russell in August before it even started.

A year that could’ve been a coronation was instead a reckoning. The well-chronicled time spent at home in Washington, working in a real-estate office, taking classes full-time, and training. And training. There was no shortage of training videos that came from Russell as he used Instagram as the outlet for his confidence.

That confidence was present when Russell said all the right things upon his reinstatement. It was apparent why it existed in a handful of game-changing plays he made during the 2015 season, clinching victories against USC and Temple with critical interceptions.

But Russell’s performance last season wasn’t what we expected. At times it was somewhat ordinary—Russell giving up underneath throws and passes you expected him to contest. Hardly the dominant, non-stop, high-impact play that Russell certainly expected of himself. But the stress fracture in Russell’s tibia that finally ended his season against Boston College helped reveal why.

 

Hounded from training camp, Russell gutted out the injury. As the team’s medical staff tried to figure out a solution for how best to keep the injury at bay, Russell played on—ending his Notre Dame career on a high-impact forced fumble, a fitting end even if it wasn’t the conclusion to his college career that he wanted.

Instead of wading through the murky NCAA waters in front of him, Russell decided to head to the NFL anyway. The timing wasn’t perfect from a performance perspective, but Russell did what you have come to expect from him, show confidence and talk a great game.

Even though he wasn’t able to workout at the NFL’s scouting combine, he did all the right things. Russell also impressed at Notre Dame’s Pro Day, not fully back from injury but still putting up strong numbers. Some of those physical traits that you didn’t always see on the field in 2015—explainable now that we know about the stress fracture.

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While some wondered if Russell would slide on draft day, the Chiefs made him the 74th pick overall. It solidified the decision Russell made to leave, with a contract that’ll pay him more than $3 million certainly helping.

That personality? It’s already entertaining Chiefs fans, who heard Russell get emotional on draft day after the moment hit him. And the confidence? It shouldn’t be a shock that Russell expects himself to start from day one, replacing free-agent departure Sean Smith and forming an elite duo with Marcus Peters.

Now don’t be surprised when it happens. Russell won’t be.