2016 recruiting begins with weekend Junior Day


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.


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

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.


Two different roads to return for Russell and Williams

Notre Dame at USC

As Brian Kelly kicked off spring practice with his press conference Tuesday, he gave a long-awaited update on exiled players KeiVarae Russell and Ishaq Williams.

Both Russell and Williams were expected to be key starters on the 2014 team, but the duo was among five players suspended from football activities while an academic misconduct case worked its way through the university. Russell and Williams accepted their two-semester suspension from school.Russell vowed to return and Williams made his intentions clear to his head coach that he planned to do so as well.

Since then, we’ve heard from Russell, mostly with updates from his Instagram page, showcasing the work he’s putting in to prepare for his senior season.

But even though both have served what appears to be the same punishment, Russell and Williams’ two avenues for return appear to be quite different. For Russell, it appears his long-awaited return for the summer session is on schedule.

“I know what KeiVarae’s situation is and have had a lot of contact with him,” Kelly said. “Academically he’s making the progress necessary to be back here. I can confidently say standing in front of you today he’s making all the steps necessary to be back here, be part of our football team this summer.”

In contrast to Russell, things have been trending in the wrong direction for Williams. After hinting at some potentially difficulties for Williams’ return around Signing Day, Kelly also acknowledged that he’d had little contact with his suspended defensive end, mostly getting his information from third-parties (likely his assistant coaches).

He also noted there’s some complexities for Williams, who also needs to have his re-application to the university accepted.

“He’s working right now.  He’s trying to make some money.  Right now he’s got to get re‑enrolled into school,” Kelly explained. “He’s got to re‑apply, go through that process. There are some uncertainties there. He’s trying to do the things necessary to have a Plan B if he needs one.”

Without knowing the details of the academic misconduct case, a process that was shrouded in secrecy and included an internal investigation through the school’s general counsel and then an Honor Code hearing, it’s impossible to know what makes the situation different for Williams, Russell or any of the other three athletes. While Kendall Moore and DaVaris Daniels also missed the entire season, Eilar Hardy was allowed to return to the field and will play out his eligibility after earning his degree from Notre Dame at Bowling Green.

Any hope Daniels had of returning to school disappeared after the academic work needed to earn back his eligibility was deemed too difficult. There could be elements of that going on with Williams as well, who would’ve been a fourth-year senior last year.

With a scholarship crunch still existing even with Matt Hegarty’s transfer and Ben Councell walking away from football, Kelly was candid when asked if he could guarantee a spot to Williams on the team if he was accepted back into school.

“I can’t guarantee him a spot, no.  There are other factors involved,” Kelly said.


Video Roundup: Spring Practice Begins

Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl

Notre Dame kicked off spring practice bright and early Wednesday morning. With our first look at the Irish as they prepare for the 2015 season, Brian Kelly’s troops were ready for action, even if they were relegated to helmets and shorts.

We’ll have more reaction to Kelly’s comments after practice, and dig a little deeper into yesterday’s action as well. But there’s some good video popping up around the interweb from the media availability portion of practice.

Here are some assorted clips:


Brian Kelly after practice, courtesy of UND.com:



Worth noting: Consider the message sent to Justin Brent, the sophomore wide receiver who some had pegged for a position switch to safety. Kelly mentioned it was Brent’s second spring with the team and that he needs to play to his skills or worry about getting passed by.


Blue & Gold Illustrated looks at practice:

Fun to see: There might not be a coach better cut from central casting than Harry Hiestand. Seeing him lord over the offensive line group has to bring a smile to your face. Also, Todd Lyght throws a nice ball. Later in the video, Keith Gilmore works with his linemen.


Rachel Terlep of the Elkhart Truth:



Fun to see: Jarrett Grace looking more than a little nimble to open up the video. Also Drue Tranquill moving fluidly and without hesitation as he runs cones with the safety position. Both guys doing great things after significant injuries.


Irish Illustrated’s Practice Video: 



Interesting Parts: Freshman Jerry Tillery (No. 99) is one big dude. Two early catches from Corey Holmes (No. 15). Impressed by how athletic the linebackers look. And happy to see Joe Schmidt taking part in backpedal drills without his helmet.


Tom Loy of Irish 247 introduces the new coaching staff:



Check it out: In the first 15 seconds, Loy introduces us to new assistant coaches Todd Lyght, Autry Denson, Mike Sanford, Keith Gilmore and new offensive analyst Jeff Quinn, long suspected of joining Notre Dame’s staff.




Irish open spring: Five quick updates from BK

Michigan v Notre Dame

With Irish eyes already smiling thanks to St. Patrick’s Day, Notre Dame fans got a free double-down with Brian Kelly’s opening press conference before spring practice starts tomorrow.

Kelly, donning a green sweater over a green golf shirt, spoke with the assembled local media over the lunch hour, giving us 50 minutes of long-awaited updates as the spring roster was revealed.

Here are five quick things I found very interesting:


Ben Councell is retiring. 

I hinted at this last week, but outside linebacker Ben Councell is not going to pursue a fifth-year. As we looked at the roster-crunch to get to 85 scholarships, Councell was one name that I had heard wasn’t a lock to come back.

Kelly confirmed that on Tuesday.

“He chose not to continue to play. We respected that decision,” Kelly said. “He was offered an opportunity to continue to play. He’s not going to play football anymore. He’s just going to get his degree and move on to the next chapter for him. Ben’s a great young man and we wish him the best.”

Kelly also confirmed Jalen Brown was not returning, while also clarifying that the little used cornerback wasn’t invited back.


It’s Alex Bars and Quenton Nelson battling for the open left guard job. 

We’ll get a look at the two redshirt freshmen for the first time. And if Kelly’s comments are any indications, the young players are all that’s been advertised.

After explaining that Nick Martin was returning to center and Matt Hegarty didn’t want to compete for the left guard job, Kelly pointed to the two first-year participants as the top candidates for the vacancy along the offensive line.

“Quenton Nelson, Alex Bars,” Kelly said. “We’ll let those guys battle at the left guard position. That’s going to be fun to watch those two guys battling out at the left guard position.”

While some other players are going to cross-train and add some depth at tackle and center, don’t expect it to be Bars or Nelson. After seeing how difficult that was for Steve Elmer, consider it a lesson learned for Kelly and Harry Hiestand.


C.J. Prosise is cross-training as a running back. 

Even though Amir Carlisle was Notre Dame’s starting running back to open the 2013 season, it’s fellow slot receiver C.J. Prosise that’s taking reps at running back.

Kelly confirmed the position tweak for Prosise with Tarean Folston and Greg Bryant the only scholarship backs on the roster until Josh Adams and Dexter Williams arrive this summer.

“He’s been in the running back meetings. He’ll get a lot of work at running back,” Kelly confirmed of Prosise. “Amir will not cross train. He’ll stay at the slot receiver. C.J. will get quite a bit of work at running back.”

After leading the team in yards per catch and showing a ton of explosiveness at 220 pounds, this looks like a smart way to get Prosise more touches while also protecting the depth chart. Expect new offensive coordinator Mike Sanford to enjoy seeing what Prosise can do in a hybrid role.

We’ve talked constantly about finding a Percy Harvin (the game-breaking elite talent not the guy who can’t stick on an NFL roster) for this offense. Prosise might be that guy.


Fifth-year candidate Chase Hounshell is attempting to reboot his career as a blocking tight end. 

Long assumed gone after struggling with injuries and the defensive line depth chart, get ready to see a new number—and a new attitude—associated with veteran Chase Hounshell.

He’ll be wearing No. 18 and at 255 pounds will compete to be a blocking tight end. And he’s getting that opportunity because he did everything he could to convince Kelly to give him the chance.

“Chase knocked down my door, wouldn’t leave me alone, just kept coming back and saying, ‘Coach, I want to be part of this team. I have something to offer,'” Kelly explained.

“We don’t really have a role for you on the defensive line, but we could use a big, physical, blocking tight end. Would you be interested in that role? He said, ‘Coach, I’ll do whatever you ask me to do.'”

With just Durham Smythe’s one catch returning to the position and rising sophomore Tyler Luatua the only big-body that looks the part of a run blocker, experimenting with Hounshell at the position is a win-win for both parties.

If a roster crunch comes, Hounshell will have spent the spring staying in shape and could supply some good tape to a program looking for a veteran player, who could also have sixth-year options considering his multiple shoulder injuries.

Jake Golic finished his career at Cincinnati. Perhaps Hounshell will have the same type of opportunity if it doesn’t work out in South Bend. But credit the veteran for wanting to finish things the right way.


Any assumptions about the quarterback position should be thrown out. 

After an offseason where many of us (I’m partially guilty, too) have advanced the storyline at quarterback when we’ve heard nothing out of the parties actually involved, Kelly did a nice job resetting the expectation at the position.

While talking about both Everett Golson and Malik Zaire, he laid out his expectations for spring practice, with each player having clear objectives.

But for all the talk about the offense being turned over to Zaire or a ride-share program already being implemented, these comments from Kelly about Golson and his future as the team’s starting quarterback struck me.

“First of all, if I’m Everett, I don’t think that he has to accept that he has to share time with anybody,” Kelly said. “I don’t think that notion has ever been floated to him. I’ve never floated that.

“The only thing that I’ve ever said to Everett is that you have to come in here and compete for the starting quarterback position. I never once said to him, You have to come here and share playing time with anybody. You need to come in here and be committed to competing for the quarterback position. That’s all I’ve ever asked him to do.”