Author: Keith Arnold

USA Today

Elston ready to make his mark on Notre Dame recruiting

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Notre Dame landed three recruiting commitments coming out of the weekend’s Junior Day. And if it’s up to Mike Elston, there’ll be plenty more where that came from.

Elston spoke after Monday’s practice with the assembled media to talk about spring football, his role in the recruiting department and how Notre Dame’s efforts to continue to land elite talent are only going to be ramped up.

Along with Mike Denbrock, Elston is Brian Kelly’s longest-tenured assistant at Notre Dame, working with Notre Dame’s sixth-year head coach at both Central Michigan and Cincinnati before joining him in South Bend. After a few staff reshuffles and more than one opportunity to move to another program, Elston was promoted to recruiting coordinator while taking over the linebackers as Keith Gilmore joined the coaching staff.

Elston talked about returning to a job he held at Cincinnati, and his thoughts on what makes for productive recruiting with BlueandGold.com.

“I was the recruiting coordinator at Cincinnati. The biggest thing was just reorganizing, and making sure that everybody within the recruiting department knew and understood the roles that they needed to play, so that we could function at a really high level,” Elston said.

After Tony Alford left to join Ohio State, Elston takes over the position, previously held by Chuck Martin before that. While Elston’s reputation on the recruiting trail isn’t as celebrated as Alford’s, Elston has won more than his share of battles for good players. He also makes the very good point that being a great recruiter and being a great recruiting coordinator aren’t the same thing.

“Typically your best recruiters, if you take and tie them down with all of the constraints that you have as a recruiting coordinator… You take your best recruiters and put them in that role, then you’re limiting what they can do,” Elston explained.

“You don’t have to be the best recruiter on the staff to make sure that everybody is doing what they are supposed to. It’s about holding people accountable and having leadership for the people that are working under you for the recruiting department. I’m excited because I think those are my strengths. I think that I’m able to do those things. I’m excited about where the recruiting department is headed.”

We saw some of those organizational skills in action as the Irish hosted players from 11 different states, no small feat when you consider that travel on unofficial visits is paid for by the recruit.

Another area of focus is connecting with recruits on social media. With just about every teenager and seemingly every bluechip recruit taking to Twitter, Instagram or Facebook to talk about their recruiting status, it’s critical that college coaches become as comfortable building relationships on those platform as they are in traditional manners, not necessarily the easiest thing for grown men of a very different generation.

Elston made it clear that the Irish have established a presence. And he believes it’ll be more proprietary and ground-breaking than just sending out updates in 140 characters or less.

 

“We’re taking this thing to a whole different level,” Elston said, not wanting to go into details. “One area of a massive improvement is our social media.”

You can see that effort when you follow Notre Dame’s assistants on Twitter. And as he does after every commitment, Brian Kelly took to Twitter yesterday to blast out #WeAreND, after accepting the commitment from Tony Jones Jr.

Even with spring practice midswing and important on field work taking place, Notre Dame’s recruiting efforts are just getting started for the class of 2016.

“We’ll be all over. We’re already talking about where we’re coaching this summer. We’re going to be at a few camps,” Elston said. “We got a bunch of kids coming in this weekend, a bunch of big players, so we’re excited about those guys. We’ve got our coaches clinic, so coaches will be bring players with them, and that will be great. We have a busy, busy, busy next couple of months.”

Running back Tony Jones Jr. commits to Irish

Rivals
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This weekend’s Junior Day netted another recruit, with Notre Dame’s coaching staff accepting the commitment of Florida running back Tony Jones Jr. The IMG Academy runner was in South Bend this weekend, and is the first running back in the fold for the Irish in the 2016 class.

With offers from Florida, Miami, Ole Miss, Mississippi State and South Carolina, Jones has some impressive early offers before he hits the combine and camp circuit. At 210 pounds already, Jones fits the mold of a potential power back, a welcome addition to a depth chart.

Jones had early interest in Notre Dame especially after earning an offer, and took in campus with his parents. The first big fish landed by new running back coach Autry Denson, Jones saw all he needed this weekend, according to Blue and Gold’s Andrew Ivins.

“It just felt right to me and my family. I like the tradition, the coaching, the players, it felt right,” Jones told B&G. “I committed to Autry Denson and head coach Brian Kelly at the same time. They’re very excited.”

Jones has started to see his star rise, impressing at an Orlando event last month. Scout.com views him as the top running back in Florida, while he’s a three-star prospect according to Rivals and isn’t ranked by 247 Sports yet.

Jones joins Julian Love and John Shannon as commitments from the weekend, joining Tommy Kraemer to make four commits in the 2016 class.

Here’s a highlight reel from Jones’ junior season.

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Junior Day nets commitments from Julian Love, John Shannon

Rivals
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Notre Dame’s 2016 recruiting class took a big step forward on Saturday, gaining commitments from cornerback Julian Love and long snapper John Shannon. Both Love and Shannon pledged their commitment after receiving offers this afternoon from the Irish staff.

In Love, Notre Dame adds another cornerback to the fold. A state champion last season after leading his Nazareth Academy squad to a 6A Illinois title, an offer from the Irish was all Love needed to chose Notre Dame over early offers from programs like Boston College, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas and Northwestern.

 

Love took to Twitter to announce his decision.

In Shannon, the Irish find their replacement for long-snapper Scott Daly. Another Illinois product, Shannon camped at Rubio Long Snapping camp, named the No. 1 long snapper by Rubio’s rankings.

Per Andrew Ivins of Blue & Gold, Shannon is also the grandson of former Irish All-American Dan Shannon, who played in the 1950s. From a program building perspective, Shannon’s entry into the program will allow him to redshirt for a season while Daly plays out his fifth year, a strategic scholarship offer and quick acceptance that will finalize the line-change of specialists with Justin Yoon and Tyler Newsome about to take the field.

 

Both commits hail from Illinois, with the Irish drawing strongly from their base in the Chicagoland area.

In Love, the Irish seem to be following a similar tactic that they have in recent years, among the first to offer—and land—profile athletes that may not be the most highly-touted recruits at this stage, but recruits that fit what they’re looking for nonetheless.

Love and Shannon join Tommy Kraemer as the three commitments in the 2016 class.

2016 recruiting begins with weekend Junior Day

Rivals
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Notre Dame’s coaching staff begins their 2016 recruiting efforts this weekend with its first on-campus Junior Day. While the reshuffled staff had an opportunity to hit the road in February, the Irish coaches will host their first major recruiting event of the spring this weekend.

At last count, nearly two dozen prospects are invited to campus to see what Notre Dame has to offer. With the weather looking like it’ll cooperate, expect a close look at the Irish practice, as the duo of Mike Elston and Dave Peloquin coordinate the efforts to back up the Irish’s surprising 2015 class with another excellent group.

Notre Dame’s lone commitment, Cincinnati offensive lineman Tommy Kraemer, will be on campus. Here’s a list of some others, with early recruiting rankings supplied by Rivals and Blue & Gold Illustrated.

 

 

Junior Day Visitor List
March 21, 2015

 

Cameron Brown, OLB
Potomac, Maryland

Noah Burks, ILB
Carmel, Indiana

Donnie Corley, WR*
Detroit, Michigan

Damar Hamlin, CB**
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Dwayne Haskins Jr., QB*
Potomac, Maryland

Elijah Holyfield, RB**
Atlanta, Georgia

Naquan Jones, DT
Evanston, Illinois

Tony Jones Jr., RB
Brandenton, Florida

Michael Jordan, OT**
Canton, Michigan

Khalid Kareem, DE**
Farmington Hills, Michigan

Tommy Kraemer, OT*
Cincinnati, Ohio

Julian Love, CB
Westchester, Illinois

Kenny Lyke, S
Hoffman Estates, Illinois

Austin Mack, WR**
Fort Wayne, Indiana

Tylin Oden, QB**
Columbia, Tennessee

Brandon Peters, QB**
Avon, Indiana

Martell Pettaway, RB
Detroit, Michigan

Auston Robertson, DE**
Fort Wayne, Indiana

John Shannon, LS
Wilmette, Illinois

AJ Epenesa, DE (2017)
Edwardsville, Illinois

Brock Wright, TE (2017)
Cypress, Texas

Corey Malone Hatcher, DE (2017
St. Joseph, Michigan

*Signifies Rivals100 ranking. 
**Signifies Rivals250 ranking. 

 

At this point, take any grading evaluation from the recruiting websites with a very large grain of salt. With the summer circuit of camps and combines still around the corner, all sorts of moving and shaking is still to come on the virtual big boards.

That said, it’s worth looking at the guys who already hold offers that’ll be on campus. Per Irish 247, that includes Haskins, reportedly ND’s top QB on their board and Corley, another prospect the Irish staff covets.

Cornerback Damar Haskins looks like another battle with Penn State, though Notre Dame’s staff has to feel good about their ability to out-duel James Franklin’s group after last recruiting cycle’s poaching of Brandon Wimbush and Josh Barajas.

Fort Wayne prospects Austin Mack and Auston Robertson both have offers from the Irish as well, with Notre Dame looking to make up ground. So does defensive end Khalid Kareem. You’ve got to expect an edge rusher to remain a priority for the Irish staff, especially after adding just Bo Wallace to that group in the last recruiting cycle.

There’s also a ton of interest in adding a running back this cycle even after adding two in the 2015 class. Both Holyfield and Jones are guys with Notre Dame offers as they step foot on campus. Adding the former heavyweight champion of the world to the parents section would be a nice replacement for David Robinson as his days watching Corey run down.

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Expect more offers to go out and the recruiting class to grow sooner than later. The past few recruiting cycles, the Irish staff did some damage in March, April and May, building its base as the team went into summer.

The 2013 recruiting class had huge spring months, hitting a dozen commitments before May. Last year’s class had nine commitments by June, though sat at four more than a year before signing day.

While it’s still early to project the size of the 2016 class, any worries about a late start shouldn’t be considered until the summer months. Kelly acknowledged that rebuilding his staff and pushing back the start of spring practice was a necessity, and with the work he did one that he found well worth it.

More news to come this weekend after the first reports from visitors come through.

Jeff Quinn officially joins staff as offensive analyst

Jeff Quinn
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When Notre Dame announced Brian Kelly‘s reshuffled coaching staff, one name many expected to be part of the release wasn’t. Former Buffalo head coach Jeff Quinn—an offensive coordinator and line coach for Kelly for decades—had been long rumored for a staff position, but wasn’t part of Kelly’s reshuffled team of assistants.

But after the hiring of Mike Sanford and Autry Denson for the open jobs on the offensive side of the ball, the natural fit (and likely contractual necessities for the recently fired head coach) made Quinn’s position with Notre Dame better suited for an off-field staff role.

As the Irish went to work during their first spring practice, Quinn was there. But he was working as an offensive analyst, a growing piece of Kelly’s football staff, and a reflection of Notre Dame’s efforts to keep up with the growing infrastructure of college football’s elite.

After practice, Kelly detailed Quinn’s role with the Irish this year.

“Jeff’s on the offensive side of the ball. He’ll be working as an analyst for us,” Kelly explained. “He’ll have a myriad of different things that he’ll be responsible for. Different projects on the offensive side of the ball, which we’ll detail out.”

After letting two experienced assistants go to top programs—Kerry Cooks to Oklahoma, Tony Alford to Ohio State—many wondered if this was a sign that Notre Dame wasn’t willing to compete for top-end coaching talent.

But the addition of guys like Quinn to the staff, joined in an off-field role by veteran Bob Elliott, make it clear that Kelly and athletic director Jack Swarbrick are likely just choosing to utilize their resources better instead of paying position coaches more and more money.

That meant fitting Quinn onto a staff that didn’t really have a spot, with Harry Hiestand embedded as the offensive line coach, Mike Denbrock “promoted” to associate head coach and Sanford joining as the new offensive coordinator and quarterback coach.

“Jeff obviously is somebody I have a great deal of respect for and we’ve worked together for over 25 years,” Kelly continued. As we move forward, he’ll have different responsibilities in terms of offensive oversight. It could be from a game plan perspective…Just more brain power in the room is what we’re looking for. A lot of experience, so it’s great to have him on staff with us.”

Kelly also announced that the Irish have a new special teams analyst, with Pryce Tracy moving into the role after spending last year in a recruiting and personnel role. Tracy spent a year with the Alabama program in 2011 and two years as a coach at South Bend’s Clay High School before joining Notre Dame’s program in 2013.

Kelly announced Notre Dame will be bringing in a defensive analyst as well, though one hasn’t been hired yet.