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Flippin’ Sunday: Irish snag two more recruits

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Notre Dame’s recruiting class jumped to 18 commitments Sunday night with the decisions of two players previously committed to other Power-Five schools.

Receiver Jafar Armstrong (Bishop Miege High School; Roeland Park, Kan.) visited coach Brian Kelly and other offensive coaches on campus this weekend, quickly de-committing from Missouri after his visit. By the end of the night, he doubled the incoming receiver count with an Irish decision.

Only hours later, kicker Jonathan Doerer (South Mecklenburg H.S.; Charlotte, N.C.) switched his commitment from Maryland to Notre Dame in one fell tweet.

“After some recent talks with my family and people whose opinion I hold in high esteem, I have decided that it would be in my best interest to decommit [sic] from UMD and spend the next 4 years of my life at the University of Notre Dame ☘️!!!”

Safety Evan Fields (Midwest City; Oklahoma City) could possibly make it a class of 19 commitments today (Jan. 30) at 11:30 a.m. Eastern time, when he has a ceremony scheduled at his high school for his announcement. Notre Dame received the final visit of Fields’s recruitment, hardly ever a bad sign.

Three days from Signing Day, a look at offensive recruits

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Yesterday featured a quick look at defensive recruits. Some guy on Twitter joked today would bring a quicker glance at special teams recruits.

That attempt at humor pointed out there are no special teams recruits in Notre Dame’s current 2017 class. (Both kicker Justin Yoon and punter Tyler Newsome should be back handling those responsibilities in 2017.)

There are, however, nine offensive recruits with the increasingly likely potential of adding an additional receiver—or, though unlikely, two receivers—before Wednesday’s National Signing Day.

Coach Brian Kelly and his staff landed the commitment of Michael Young (Destrehan High School; Destrehan, La.) back in July, but Young remains the only receiver in the class. Former Missouri-commit Jafar Armstrong (Bishop Miege H.S.; Roeland Park, Kan.) spent this weekend on campus and announced on Twitter his de-commitment from Missouri on Sunday morning. He appears to be Notre Dame’s best chance at adding another outside play-maker this cycle, especially with that de-commitment coming in such short order from his visit with Kelly and, presumably, new offensive coordinator Chip Long and receivers coach Del Alexander.

Depending how much faith one puts in a peer’s influence on a teenager, picking up Armstrong’s prep teammate Colin Grunhard as a preferred walk-on offensive lineman this week could have played a part in Armstrong’s wavering.

If Armstrong did indeed reopen his recruitment with intentions of ending up with the Irish, Notre Dame will still look to Penn State-commit Mac Hippenhammer (Snider; Fort Wayne, Ind.) or Oliver Martin (West; Iowa City) with hopes of a Signing Day surprise and a third receiver in the class of 2017. Hippenhammer, a three-star recruit who should be noted for his five-star name if nothing else, made the 2 ½-hour drive to South Bend early last week shortly after receiving an offer, but an official visit to Penn State before Wednesday may bode poorly for Irish chances.

Martin, meanwhile, has defied the norms and kept his cards close to his figurative vest throughout his recruitment. Come Wednesday, he will delight the fans and coaching staff at likely Michigan, Michigan State or Notre Dame. Until then, well, stay tuned.

Theoretically, Kelly & Co. still have a chance at Jordan Pouncey (Winter Park; Winter Park, Fla.), but the receiver de-committed in December during the Irish coaching staff upheaval. He has supposedly kept Notre Dame in consideration, but let’s follow precedent and presume the Irish spurned.

Aside from receiver, the offensive half of this recruiting class has been set for some time, including four commitments—two tight ends and two offensive linemen—dating back to 2015.

CURRENT OFFENSIVE COMMITMENTS
QB: Avery Davis
RB: C.J. Holmes (early enrollee)
WR: Michael Young
TE: Brock Wright (early enrollee), Cole Kmet
OL: Aaron Banks (early enrollee), Robert Hainsey (early enrollee), Dillan Gibbons, Josh Lugg

Four days from Signing Day, a look at defensive recruits

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When safety Jordan Genmark Heath flipped his commitment from Cal to Notre Dame on Thursday, he raised the Irish class of 2017 to a total of 16 recruits. More exactly, he became the seventh commit on the defensive side of the ball.

Notre Dame and coach Brian Kelly may not yet be done, though, with up to a half dozen defensive recruits still realistically considering the Irish sales pitch.

Defensive lineman Jalen Harris (Desert Ridge High School; Mesa, Ariz.) is in South Bend this weekend, quite possibly as you read this very sentence. Harris remains committed to Arizona, but Notre Dame has not relented in its recruitment.

Naturally, getting the final visit before Wednesday’s National Signing Day cannot be a bad sign. You may get only one shot at a first impression, but oftentimes the last guy on a girl’s mind is the one who gets the girl.

Do note: Mesa, Ariz., is on Mountain time. Should Harris continue to ponder until Wednesday, Irish fans and defensive coordinator Mike Elko alike will have to wait until 9 a.m. Eastern time, at the earliest, to learn who receives Harris’s signature.

Safety Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah (Bethel H.S.; Hampton, Va.) visited campus late this past week. Originally committed to Virginia, Owusu-Koramoah reopened his recruitment and narrowed the field to Notre Dame and Michigan State.

Possibly joining Owusu-Koramoah in the defensive backfield, safety Evan Fields has scheduled a ceremony at his high school (Midwest City H.S.; Oklahoma City) for Monday, Jan. 30, at 11:30 a.m. Eastern time. Again, Notre Dame received the final visit of Fields’s recruitment.

The Irish have not let an October commitment to Louisville deter them from continuing to recruit defensive back Russ Yeast (Center Grove; Greenwood, Ind.). Yeast made the 2 ½-hour drive to South Bend in the latter half of the month days after receiving a Notre Dame offer Jan. 18.

Hawaii defensive lineman Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa received an Irish offer earlier in January and has yet to announce a commitment. Furthering his focus on defensive line reinforcements, Elko welcomed Kofi Wardlow (St. John’s College H.S.; Washington, D.C.) to campus earlier this month, though Wardlow remains a Maryland commit. Given his residency on the east coast, Wardlow will likely not keep Elko waiting for long Wednesday morning.

CURRENT DEFENSIVE COMMITMENTS
DL: Darnell Ewell, Kurt Hinish, Jonathon MacCollister
LB: David Adams, Drew White
DB: Isaiah Robertson (early enrollee), Jordan Genmark Heath

Redfield Moves on to Plan C

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When Max Redfield signed with Notre Dame four years ago, he figured he would spend January 2017 recovering from his rookie season in the NFL.

When he opted not to enter the NFL Draft last spring, Redfield figured he would play in a bowl game the first week of this month and then prep for an eventual pro day.

Instead, the former Irish safety has spent the month attending rehab sessions in the mornings before heading to class at Cal State Fullerton or an internship at a real estate firm.

“I believe everything happens for a reason, and I’ve learned so much from this,” Redfield said Wednesday. “I’ve grown so much from this. I’m extremely thankful for that, but I would obviously have loved to finish my last year at Notre Dame and have the impact on my team that I think would have been profound.”

PLAN A

Redfield, a class of 2013 five-star recruit, originally verbally committed to USC. During the Under Armour All-America Game, however, he changed that commitment to Notre Dame. For context: Two days later the Irish faced Alabama in the BCS National Championship Game in Miami. Notre Dame’s upcoming contest played a part in Redfield’s change of heart.

“Notre Dame was No. 1 in the country at the time, the academics are incredible, and the alumni are international, which is something I really valued,” he said.

“You hear various stories about how not ideal the weather is, location, all that kind of stuff. Being from California, obviously that is something that is on your mind, but for me it was, I’m going to go out and really experience this and go for it.”

Not because of the weather or location, Redfield intended to leave Notre Dame for the NFL as quickly as he could, hopefully with both a national championship and a degree—perhaps complemented by a minor or two—in hand. Looking to graduate in three years, Redfield took 17 or 18 credits (compared to a normal undergraduate load of 15) more semesters than not, including Mandarin Chinese from the outset.

“The coaches did not like that,” Redfield said. “I had to put a decent amount of time into that field of study, but it was something I was extremely passionate in and very determined to do.”

Before his dismissal from the University this fall, Redfield was on pace to graduate with a philosophy degree and minors in Mandarin Chinese and business economics.

“I made it clear I wanted to get my degree as fast as possible in three years flat … and potentially get drafted after my junior year because I thought I had that ability and that potential. I felt my junior year we had a team that could win a national championship, so my plan was to end on a high note, win a national championship, and do everything that I needed to do, including getting my degree.

“Often [the coaches] would make it very explicit they didn’t think it was best for me, even if it was maybe. It obviously wasn’t the best for their agenda and what they wanted for me. It wasn’t something that made us have an adversarial relationship, but I would be surprised if it wasn’t in the back of their heads at all times.”

PLAN B

Notre Dame did indeed come tantalizingly close to a College Football Playoff berth in 2015, losing only two games by a combined four points, both on the road. The 10-2 regular season yielded a Fiesta Bowl date with Ohio State. Redfield licked his chops at the chance to match up with Buckeyes running back Ezekiel Elliott, now a favorite for NFL Rookie of the Year honors.

“It was the biggest game of my life,” he said. “I don’t think I’ve ever been more excited for a football game. Obviously, the hype around Ohio State was incredible. Playing Ezekiel Elliott was something I was looking forward to for a while. I thought he was overhyped to a certain extent, although he was a great running back.”

One missed curfew later and Redfield’s junior season ended a game earlier than expected. Despite friction with the coaching staff long before that 2 a.m. bed check, Redfield opted to stray from his original itinerary, ambitious as it was, and return for his senior year.

“[The NFL Draft] was something that was on my mind, but it wasn’t a hard decision to make,” he said. “My heart was in coming back for another year. At that point, I felt like I would be leaving my teammates and leaving unfinished business behind.”

REALITY

That business would remain unfinished. Redfield and four teammates—sophomores running back Dexter Williams, defensive back Ashton White and linebacker Te’von Coney, and freshman receiver Kevin Stepherson—were arrested Aug. 19. Redfield was charged with possession of a handgun without a license and possession of marijuana.

Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly dismissed the senior two days later, saying Redfield was “expected to provide leadership and a positive example to the other members of the team” and “failed in that regard.”

This response caught Redfield off-guard. He expected a suspension for all five rather than being singled out and sent packing.

“That blindsided me. It definitely broke my heart.”

Though he may have disagreed with the severity of Kelly’s actions, he did not disagree with the sentiment. For this misstep, Redfield takes full responsibility.

“It was decision-making that was terrible on my part,” he said. “At that point, I was a leader on the team, and needed to act like a leader in everything I did. Falling into a situation like that, I wasn’t being a leader … That’s something I probably regret most.”

Redfield went home to Mission Viejo, Calif., returning to Indiana for necessary court appearances. To show the court he is moving forward with his life, he joined a rehab program about three weeks ago. His next appearance is scheduled for mid-February.

Redfield enrolled in two philosophy courses at Cal State Fullerton with the understanding they will satisfy his remaining requirements to complete his Notre Dame degree. The Mandarin Chinese minor will come with it, but he will end up two courses short for the corresponding business economics honor.

Presuming he graduates, he should be eligible to play football this fall thanks to the NCAA’s graduate transfer rule.

“I considered declaring for the Draft this year, but I felt it was the best decision for me to come back for another year and prove how consistent I can be on and off the field. Give it a year to put it behind me.”

Redfield would not go so far as to name schools he has been in contact with, deeming it “really premature,” but he did indicate he expects to play at the FBS level in the fall and should know where within a few weeks.

WHAT COULD HAVE BEEN

By no means does Redfield regret attending Notre Dame. Throughout a 30-minute conversation, he alternates between bluntly criticizing the Irish coaching staff and taking some responsibility for the “adversarial relationship.” More than anything, he praises the people he met at the University.

“I love my brothers, and most of the people I came into contact with at Notre Dame were incredible people, as well. I really do cherish all the experiences I had and all the connections I made as well.”

Nonetheless, Redfield entertains the thought maybe he should not have been so enticed by Notre Dame’s undefeated 2012 regular season. Maybe the Midwest location should have been a red flag not because of the weather, but because of the thousands of miles of separation from home.

“I wish I did make a decision closer to my heart and maybe stayed closer to my family,” he said. “Maybe that would have given me more opportunity to stay focused, but I definitely don’t regret it.”

Rees’s return should not surprise

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The return of Tommy – er, Tom – Rees to Notre Dame as a member of Brian Kelly’s staff should not have surprised anyone, really. Kelly himself predicted it in no uncertain terms more than three years ago.

The second question following Notre Dame’s 2013 victory over Rutgers in the Pinstripe Bowl asked Kelly, “Specifically, what was your message to Tommy after the game?”

Kelly insisted he had not spoken individually with the outgoing senior, only to the team as a whole. With that clarification, he continued.

“He’ll keep trying to play the game as long as he can,” Kelly said. “He’s got a bright future as a graduate assistant for Brian Kelly anytime.”

Technically speaking, Rees is indeed a graduate assistant, for now. Come April, the NCAA and its Football Oversight Committee are expected to allow staffs to enlarge to 10 assistant coaches. At that point, Rees’s title as quarterbacks coach will make more sense. (The difference lies largely in recruiting. GAs cannot recruit. Assistant coaches can.)

With either title, Rees’s primary challenge will be mentoring rising junior quarterback Brandon Wimbush as he prepares to take over the Irish offense. Rees never had that level of expectation necessarily heaped upon him, but he will still understand it thanks to his varied experiences as Notre Dame’s quarterback. His former teammates saw him accept the challenges of starting, of coming off the bench and of being a second-stringer.

“He did everything you could have done as a Notre Dame quarterback and always managed to excel,” said Rees’s former teammate and offensive lineman Mike Golic, Jr. “If you have a young group of guys, I would say injecting a little shot of Tommy Rees in there is the medicine.”

In addition to understanding the innate stressors of being the Irish quarterback, Rees also understands the ones that come with running Kelly’s offense under his watchful eye. Golic often had the privilege of trying to focus on his offensive line work in practice while Kelly and Rees debated the previous rep’s read only yards behind Golic.

“Tommy wasn’t a guy who was going to back down if he thought he was right. Both of them could certainly have that heated conversation and then come back and understand that is just part of the working environment there.

“…Tommy can prepare these guys for all that. He’s going to say, ‘Listen, this is what you expect out of coach Kelly. This is where you have to understand what he’s trying to tell you, what he’s trying to get to you.’ Tommy can sort of be a translator like that.

Golic was not alone in lauding his former quarterback’s return to Notre Dame as quarterbacks coach.

 

Former teammates’ approval may not be the strictest of tests, but it is one a good number would fail. If nothing else, it is a positive indicator, though also a small one.

And yes, Golic insisted on referring to Rees as “Tommy,” ignoring the usage of “Tom” in Notre Dame’s press release.

“I get it in the sense of trying to make ‘Tom Rees’ happen as a very adult, respected coach,” Golic said. “But I’ll be damned if I ever call that kid ‘Tom Rees.’ He is ‘Tommy’ for me now and forever.”