Jonathon MacCollister Rivals
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Irish land commitment from DE Jonathon MacCollister

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Notre Dame’s big recruiting weekend got off to a quick start. The Irish coaching staff accepted the commitment of Florida defensive end Jonathon MacCollister.

MacCollister, a 6-foot-4, 250-pound defensive end, was a teammate of Parker Boudreaux on the Florida 5A state champs at Bishop Moore. He had offers from Ohio State, Auburn, Oregon, Clemson and UCLA among others.

He made the news official after arriving on campus in South Bend.

Some programs are looking at MacCollister as a tight end. Notre Dame sees him as a potential strong-side defensive end, with Keith Gilmore and Brian VanGorder looking at him as a potential replacement for Isaac Rochell.

But if you’re looking for a good reason to like, MacCollister, he gave the following quote to Matt Freeman of IrishSportsDaily.com.

“It means everything to me,” MacCollister told ISD. “At the end of the day, I am using football. I am not letting football use me. I am using football to get a free education. A degree from Notre Dame is using football to benefit myself. I can’t even lie about that.”

MacCollister is another front seven addition to the 2017 class, joining linebackers David Adams, Drew White and Peter Werner and defensive lineman Kurt Hinish. He is commitment No. 11 in the class.

Irish A-to-Z: Shaun Crawford

Crawford BGI
Blue & Gold / BGI
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Notre Dame’s nickel back never made it to the field in 2015, with freshman Shaun Crawford lost for the season after he tore his ACL in August. It was an unceremonious end to a freshman season with great expectations, with Crawford impressing everybody who saw him compete in his first days on campus.

Crawford’s absence set back the Irish defense, hamstringing the secondary and putting Todd Lyght’s unit into a scenario where they felt their best option to fill his job was Torii Hunter—a converted wide receiver. That so much was hoisted onto the shoulders of Crawford tells you quite a bit about what the Irish staff thinks about the diminutive Ohio native, especially heading into his sophomore season.

With a starting job open opposite Cole Luke, Crawford has the chance to be more than just the team’s nickel back. And after seeing him compete this spring less than eight months after knee surgery, Crawford looks like a key piece to the defensive puzzle.

 

SHAUN CRAWFORD
5’8.5″, 180 lbs.
Sophomore, No. 20, DB

 

RECRUITING PROFILE

Under Armour All-American, top-100 player per Rivals. First-team All-State, Ohio state champion. Offers from Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State and plenty other elite schools.

Crawford’s height was the only thing holding him back from a 5-star grade. And he got mighty close even at five-eight (and change).

 

PLAYING CAREER

Freshman Season (2015): Did not play after tearing his ACL in August camp. Medical redshirt saves year of eligibility.

 

WHAT WE SAID LAST YEAR

Crawford was ready for whatever the Irish staff planned to throw at him last year, if only the knee injury didn’t stop him.

Greg Bryant’s reported four-game suspension likely opens a door for Crawford to get a shot at returning punts for the Irish in addition to battling for snaps in nickel and dime coverage packages.

Crawford’s instincts are part of what makes him such a dynamic football player. While physically there’s not much he’s going to be able to do about getting matched up with a 6-4 receiver, Crawford could also be part of the solution at safety, especially if something goes wrong with Plan A and Max Redfield and Elijah Shumate.

Throwing too much on the shoulders of a freshman defensive back is never wise. But it would be smart to give Crawford a specific assignment—like the Irish did with Elijah Shumate during the 2012 title run—and let him go to work.

 

FUTURE POTENTIAL

The sky is the limit. The staff believes Crawford is an immediate impact player. I’m a believer as well—even if our only data point is a spring game where Crawford managed to wreak havoc, even while wearing a non-contact green jersey.

In today’s pass-heavy football, Crawford’s ability to play on the inside and against slot receivers is a key skill. While he’s not going to grow into the lengthy outside cornerback that can matchup all the time with lanky receivers, Crawford can do plenty of other things at an elite level that make him a really, really impressive prospect.

 

CRYSTAL BALL

I think it’s only a matter of time before Crawford is a starter on this defense. I’m confident he’s already one of the team’s best 11 defenders, regardless of if he’s categorized as a starter or nickel back.

The battle to start on the outside opposite Cole Luke will be interesting. Devin Butler’s foot injury likely turns this into a three-horse race, with Nick Watkins having to rehabilitate a broken arm this summer and Nick Coleman still very raw. Crawford’s best spot might not be on the outside, though he could be a compelling boundary cornerback. But he might be too good to pull off the field, especially if Watkins isn’t able to ascend to the starting job.

I’m not going to get wrapped up in what Crawford is called. I think he’ll be a guy that stays on the football field for as many snaps as possible, knowing that his playmaking ability and nose for the football will make him invaluable in Brian VanGorder’s scheme. I expect him to be one of the team’s leaders in filling up the stat sheet, an instantaneous upgrade from Matthias Farley at his best—when he had a quietly productive 2015 season in the slot.

 

2016’s Irish A-to-Z
Josh Adams
Josh Barajas
Alex Bars
Asmar Bilal
Hunter Bivin
Grant Blankenship
Jonathan Bonner
Ian Book
Parker Boudreaux
Miles Boykin
Justin Brent
Devin Butler
Jimmy Byrne
Daniel Cage
Chase Claypool
Nick Coleman
Te’von Coney

 

Big recruiting weekend on campus with Irish Invasion

The Opening - Day 1
AP
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It’s a big weekend at Notre Dame as the annual Irish Invasion camp will take place Saturday night in South Bend. With months of prep work by recruiting coordinator Mike Elston and his off-field staff, Saturday’s turnout will be a national showing, with Notre Dame’s staff getting an in-person look at some of their priority targets in the upcoming recruiting cycles.

Current commits Avery Davis, Cole Kmet and Isaiah Robertson will be on hand. Elite targets like OLB Baron Browning will get their first look at Notre Dame, along with edge rusher and UCLA commit Hunter Echols. The Irish will also host Osiris St. Brown, younger brother to Equanimeous, who was offered the night his brother committed to Brian Kelly.

This camp has been hugely beneficial to the Irish staff in recent years. Te’von Coney was a part of Irish Invasion. So were Kevin Stepherson and Devin Studstill, a first-hand look for the Irish staff that helped explain why Notre Dame’s coaches valued the three-star recruits so highly.

We’ll keep you updated over the weekend if Notre Dame’s recruiting class grows. For some prospects, this is commitment time. For others, it’s the first step onto campus, with an official visit coming during the season.

With plenty of info out there (most behind premium paywalls), there’s no shortage of previews on the talented recruits that’ll be on campus. Notre Dame’s staff won’t just be looking at 2017 recruits, but players in the next two cycles as well.

With a national reach and players coming from coast-to-coast, the Irish staff has made great strides by turning Irish Invasion into a must-attend camp for many elite prospects. We’ll see how quickly that translates into additions in the 2017 recruiting class, with 10 commitments already in hand.

Kelly stays on offensive in CFB Playoff debate

FILE - In this Jan. 1, 2016, file photo, Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly makes a call during the first half of the Fiesta Bowl NCAA College football game against Ohio State in Glendale, Ariz. Kelly has agreed to a six-year contract to stay on as coach at Notre Dame through 2021, the school announced Friday, Jan. 29,2 016.  (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, File)
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There is no offseason in college football. Especially when it comes to the politicking that comes with the College Football Playoff.

As the Big 12 approves a conference championship game to try its best to level the playing field, Notre Dame remains the lone viable CFB Playoff contender without the ability to play a thirteenth game.

And speaking with ESPN’s Heather Dinich, Brian Kelly sounded like a coach who was more than okay with that.

Kelly took a proactive stance when he talked about where the Irish were positioned, taking dead aim at the FCS games that other major conferences are playing, specifically the SEC with its late-season set-up.

Here’s Kelly’s quote:

“I think my 12 stand up against another team’s 11 at any time, and I’m saying 11 because one of those games is really an effective bye week because it’s an [FCS] team,” said Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly. “Then if they play a championship game, it’s my 12 against their 12, and then that’s where the committee will have to make a decision — my 12 against their 12.

“There are SEC schools that are effectively playing bye games in Week 11,” he said. “If there are any complaints I have with the committee, I don’t know how you reward anybody and keep them out there in the rankings when they effectively take a week off by playing a [FCS] opponent.”

Kelly’s pointing to a late-November weekend that saw No. 2 Alabama play Charleston Southern and No. 8 Florida take on Florida Atlantic, just two of the cupcakes that found their way into the late-season schedules of playoff contenders. (Yes, the Gators needed OT to win, but the point remains.) A late-season game where you can rest the majority of your starters should hurt your case just as much as a conference championship game can help.

This isn’t a new concern for Notre Dame. Athletic director Jack Swarbrick has spoken about the challenges of being independent. He’s also mentioned multiple times that a 13th game isn’t a viable option for the Irish. So that means scheduling aggressively and making sure that the selection committee sees Notre Dame against multiple conferences, something Kelly talked about.

“We want markers against every single conference, and we’ll continue to do that in scheduling,” Kelly told ESPN. “As long as we have markers against each conference across the board — and I mean the top schools across the board — I think that’s the most important thing for a college that’s independent like us.”

Irish A-to-Z: Te’von Coney

GLENDALE, AZ - JANUARY 01:  Linebacker Te'von Coney #4 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish in action during the BattleFrog Fiesta Bowl against the Ohio State Buckeyes at University of Phoenix Stadium on January 1, 2016 in Glendale, Arizona. The Buckeyes defeated the Fighting Irish 44-28.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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It looked like Te’von Coney had a difficult job when it was only filling the shoes of the nation’s best linebacker. But the rising sophomore’s ascent into the starting lineup was thrown off course when he was injured just plays after Jaylon Smith in January’s Fiesta Bowl, setting off on his own grueling recovery after undergoing major shoulder surgery.

Coney wasn’t a part of spring practice as the rebuilt linebacking corps looked for answers with a skeleton squad. And while Brian Kelly has been optimistic about the players he has recovering from injury, Coney’s real test will be getting back into the swing of things this August, with a rebuilt linebacking corps looking for answers in the run-up to Austin.

The Irish have a talented young linebacker in Coney. Now it’s up to his shoulder to cooperate.

 

TE’VON CONEY
6’1″, 235 lbs.
Sophomore, No. 4, LB

 

RECRUITING PROFILE

An Under Armour All-American and consensus four-star prospect. Coney visited campus for Irish Invasion and Notre Dame won a hard-fought recruiting battle over schools like Florida, Ohio State, Alabama, Miami, Auburn and dozens more.

Give an assist to Florida for firing Will Muschamp. Coney looked destined for Gainesville until the wheels came off the wagon. Also give credit to Coney for making the tough decision to leave his comfort zone, a rare Palm Beach prospect to head to South Bend.

 

PLAYING CAREER

Freshman Season (2014): Played in 12 games, making 13 tackles including a half TFL. Replaced Jaylon Smith early in the Fiesta Bowl at Will linebacker before severely injuring his shoulder just plays later.

 

WHAT WE SAID LAST YEAR

It’s too early to see how Hilliard will turn out in Columbus, but we had last season pegged pretty well.

I’m not sure how Coney makes his impact this season, but I expect him to play. He’ll be a regular on special teams, and will likely fight his way into the rotation, especially if Jaylon Smith plays on the edge of the defense.

There’s an argument for redshirting Coney, saving a year of eligibility and then allowing him to plug in with Nyles Morgan in 2016. But I just think there’s too much talent here to assume Coney will stay in South Bend for five seasons, so might as well make the most out of the talented rookie.

Bold prediction: Blue-chipper Justin Hilliard may have been the linebacker Irish fans thought was the must-have prospect in the class. But when all is said and done, I expect Coney to be the more productive college player.

FUTURE POTENTIAL

A lot of this potential is tied up in the recovery of Coney’s shoulder. While we spend most of our time worrying about football players’ knees, shoulder injuries tend to be more difficult to recover from, and the timing of Coney’s certainly wasn’t ideal.

At this point, it’s not fair to assume Coney won’t recover fully from surgery. And if he does, there’s a reason the true freshman was the next man in behind Jaylon Smith. There’s athleticism-a-plenty in Coney and his ability to jump into the two-deep also shows plenty of football acumen.

This arrow stays pointed up.

 

CRYSTAL BALL

Athletically, Coney feels like the best fit for the starting job. But inevitably, this will come down to how quickly he gets back in the swing of things and how impactful Greer Martini can be in this defense.

A healthy Coney is a starter in this scheme. But his development as a player was put on hold this offseason. Coney’s still a sophomore who missed half a year in the weight room after just 61 snaps—the majority coming against UMass—so it’s hard to say he’s a better option than Martini, acknowledging that the veteran might be playing slightly out of position.

Still, this staff has a major belief that Coney will be an impact player. I’m just reluctant to think it’ll happen in 2016 until we get more information about his shoulder injury.

 

2016’s Irish A-to-Z
Josh Adams
Josh Barajas
Alex Bars
Asmar Bilal
Hunter Bivin
Grant Blankenship
Jonathan Bonner
Ian Book
Parker Boudreaux
Miles Boykin
Justin Brent
Devin Butler
Jimmy Byrne
Daniel Cage
Chase Claypool
Nick Coleman