William Fuller, Julian Whigham, Durell Eskridge

Irish A-to-Z: Another deep dive into the Irish roster

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Summer is here. And that means another big project here at Inside the Irish: The return of Irish A-to-Z.

Last year, we were dumb bold enough to tackle a complete roster breakdown digging into every player on the scholarship roster. While our friends over at Irish Illustrated have taken on a similar endeavor, even though we’re not the only game in town anymore, we’re still back at it with another edition of Irish A-to-Z. 

With the 85-man roster still coming into focus, there’s a lot of typing to be done between now and late August. So get ready (cold sweats beginning) for a daily staple that should get you up to speed on everybody from freshman running back Josh Adams to new starting quarterback Malik Zaire.

As the Irish get started on their “OTAs” and building their team in preparations for a 2015 season with great expectations, we’ll be doing the same from Inside the Irish HQ. That means checking out our Crystal Ball readings from last year, and projecting the impact of every player heading into the season.

So feel free to look back at the spot-on analysis on players like Joe Schmidt, Will Fuller and C.J. Prosise. (I’ll leave my swing and misses for you guys to unearth…) Even if football is more than 90 days away, it’s going to be a busy three months here at Inside the Irish.

Lack of depth at QB won’t change game plan with Zaire

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On Monday, the South Bend Tribune’s Eric Hansen tracked down Brian Kelly, the head coach making his first public comments since the departure of Everett Golson and the ascent of Malik Zaire into the starting lineup. So while the focus of the day was Kelly’s charity golf tournament for the Kelly Cares foundation, the spotlight—as always—was on the state of the Irish.

Since Kelly arrived in South Bend, Notre Dame has struggled to keep a competitive depth chart at quarterback. Kelly inherited a deficiency at the position, with the only scholarship quarterback on his roster Dayne Crist, who was recovering from an ACL injury. Add to that the transfer of Gunner Kiel and the suspension and eventual transfer of Everett Golson, and you find the Irish right back to where they started.

But it appears that Kelly has learned something from the experience. And while there’s absolutely no experience behind Zaire—who himself has only played in one game where the final score was still in question—don’t expect Kelly to protect Zaire from himself, just because there’s no safety net behind him.

Here’s a snippet from Hansen’s report where Kelly talks about playing to Zaire’s strengths and not worrying about what’s behind him.

“I think we have to play him to what his strengths are,” Kelly said Monday at Lost Dunes Golf Club, where his charity golf event, the Kelly Cares Invitational, was taking place.

“We’re just going to have to get a second quarterback ready. But we’re not going to play scared. We’re not going to play tentative. We have too many good pieces around our football team to take the quarterback position and wrap him in bubble wrap.”

Zaire rushed for 187 yards on 33 carries (5.7 per carry average) and two touchdowns in six quarters of meaningful downs, against USC and LSU, and a handful of mop-up cameos last season. He redshirted as a freshman in 2013.

Golson, who joins his new teammates at Florida State this month, totaled 283 yards for the 2014 season on 114 carries (2.5 per carry) and eight TDs.

But he fumbled 12 times, losing eight of those, some of which came on read option plays. Zaire has yet to commit his first college turnover of any kind.

If you’re looking for an intriguing position battle, the backup quarterback job certainly has the looks of it. Brandon Wimbush isn’t just any freshman stepping foot on campus, especially considering he ran a 10.8 100m dash this spring for the St. Peter’s Prep track team. (To put that into context, C.J. Prosise ran a 10.9 100m as a high school senior.) And while he certainly didn’t have a great Blue-Gold game, DeShone Kizer isn’t someone to give up on after one year in the program.

So while it’s safe to say that Wimbush won’t wear the redshirt that was all but assumed anymore, Kelly hopes that Zaire’s durability—we saw it on display as he pinballed his way through LSU’s defense for 22 carries—will carry the day for the offense.

“Injuries are part of the game, and we’re going to hope that he’s physically strong,” Kelly told Hansen. “He’s done a great job in weight training and putting himself in position that he can take what’s necessary to run the ball. But we’re not going to change what we think are his strengths and what he can do for our offense.

“We’ve worked too hard to this point to change now.”

$35 million gift from Richard Corbett helps endow head coaching position

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Brian Kelly is now the Corbett Family Head Football Coach. That comes after alumnus Richard Corbett gifted Notre Dame $35 million, including $10 million that’ll serve as an endowment of the head football coaching position.

The majority of Corbett’s gift—$25 million—will go to underwrite the construction of the 280,000-square-foot building that’ll be along the east side of Notre Dame Stadium. The Corbett Family Hall will house the Anthropology and Psychology Departments, along with a digital media center.

“For many generations of Notre Dame faculty and students to come, Corbett Family Hall will represent a full integration of teaching, research and advanced technology on our campus,” Notre Dame president Rev. John Jenkins said in a statement. “Likewise, the endowment of the head football coaching position will underwrite salary, provide stability and resources for the long term and create funds for use within the department and across campus.

“We are humbled by and tremendously grateful for these extraordinary gifts from Dick.”

The top three levels of the Corbett Family Hall will serve as additional viewing locations for Notre Dame Stadium. They’ll including club and premium seating options, open-air terraces, additional concessions stands and the top level will be the new media press box.

Corbett’s endowment for the football coaching job is the third at Notre Dame, following women’s basketball and men’s lacrosse. The move is part of a growing trend at major football programs to endow the head coaching position, following universities like Stanford and Michigan.

Corbett graduated from Notre Dame in 1960, serving as class president. He worked on John F. Kennedy’s presidential election campaign and then served in the White House. He earned a master’s degree from Harvard, served as a financial manager for the Kennedy family and as the business manager for Robert F. Kennedy’s presidential campaign. He’s currently the CEO and president of Concorde Companies, a real estate venture in Florida.

“My father, brother and I have proudly and boldly worn our blue and gold in all that we have done,” Corbett said in the release. “We have sought to support the tradition of excellence in academic, athletic, personal and professional performance. We are very pleased to help further build Notre Dame’s commitment to the dynamic blend of academic and athletic enrichment that continues to be a beacon of this nation’s values and sustainability.”

 

Updates from South Africa point to student-athlete experience

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With most of Notre Dame’s football team is assembled on campus for the beginning of summer workouts and classes, a group of the university’s student-athletes is experiencing life on another continent in the newly formed study abroad program.

While we mostly stick to football in these parts, we mentioned the abbreviated study abroad program that is allowing student-athletes to take part in a valuable student experience that has until now been unavailable to them because of their athletic commitments.

Well, we’ve gotten two updates from UND.com’s travel journals, and it appears that the experience is a memorable one. Courtesy of former ND basketball player Zach Hillesland, here are a couple of the greatest hits from the time in South Africa.

First, this piece on why the program exists in the first place, the brainchild of athletic director Jack Swarbrick, former basketball star Ruth Riley and international studies director Rosemary Max:

“Why can’t student-athletes have the full academic experience?”

That was the question swirling around campus that eventually led to the creation of a student-athlete study abroad program (the first of its kind for Notre Dame), a three-week trip combining study, service, physical training, and cultural exploration that’s currently taking place all over South Africa. The program is entitled, “Negative Attitudes: A Cultural, Historical, and Social Psychological Analysis of Racism in South Africa.”

The brainchild of Notre Dame vice president and athletics director Jack Swarbrick, former Irish women’s basketball star/current MBA candidate Ruth Riley and Notre Dame International Studies director Rosemary Max, the program has attracted 16 student-athletes from seven different varsity sports: football, volleyball, swimming and diving, women’s soccer, women’s basketball, fencing and golf.

The intention of the program was to produce a genuine study abroad experience for student-athletes, an experience they usually have to forgo due to their demanding schedules.

 

Next for some fun stuff. Before a safari trip to Kruger National Park, the student-athletes were asked to determine their “Spirit Animals.”

The group decided that Jaylon Smith was a leopard—laid back, but one of the wild’s most efficient hunters. Corey Robinson was an impala—bouncy, energetic, and surrounded by females. (Robinson also sounds like one of the trip’s MVPs, as he’s brought along a ukulele and an adventurous attitude.)  Jerry Tillery? He went with a hippo. Capable of lounging around in water, and also biting you in half.

(Tillery also has taken to campus life. As a first-semester freshman, he already organized a “Yoga & Yogurt” event in his dorm, explaining to Hillesland his thought process.

“Well, yoga was the first component, and then I just thought it could use an alliterative aspect.” Sounds like a smart kid.)

Both entries (Part One & Part Two) are worth reading, as the group explored the poverty stricken Kliptown orphanage, the Apartheid Museum, and will end their trip with two weeks in Capetown.

So as Swarbrick made waves a few weeks ago when he expressed his disinterest in any version of collegiate athletics that turn student-athletes into employees, opportunities like this—no small financial investment, it’s worth adding—show that Notre Dame is deeply committed to their scholarship athletes getting a full student experience.

Meyer does his best to flip Kraemer

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How do you know a Notre Dame recruit is a good one? Because Urban Meyer wants him.

And while the Irish’s 2016 recruiting class has yet to fully hit its stride, two offensive linemen—blue-chippers Tommy Kraemer and Liam Eichenberg—had offers and major interest from Meyer and hometown program Ohio State, only to choose Notre Dame.

But nobody expects Meyer to quit after a commitment. And it sounds like the Ohio State coaching staff is doubling-down its efforts to flip Kraemer. The good news for Irish fans? It doesn’t sound like Kraemer is budging.

After earning an invitation to The Opening, Cleveland.com caught up with Kraemer, and asked about the Buckeyes’ pursuit.

“Coach (Kerry) Coombs called me last week and was at the school last week,” Kraemer told Cleveland.com. “They have not stopped. Coach Coombs said they aren’t going to stop until I sign, so I’ll take it as it is and focus on Notre Dame.”

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Kraemer is a recruit worth chasing. He just earned rave reviews at the Columbus Regional Camp. One of the top prospects in the country, he’s already committed to the U.S. Army All-American game.

247 Sports views him as a 5-star prospect. Rivals views him as the 31st best player in the country. And he’s a key building block for the Irish at tackle, a position that needs restocking this February.

In days past, Meyer served as one of the ultimate thorns in the side of Notre Dame, routinely plucking top players from Charlie Weis’ recruiting classes when he was at Florida. And while Meyer managed to pull away Taylor Decker (who has turned into an excellent tackle for the Buckeyes), Brian Kelly has more than held his own against Ohio State, especially along the offensive line.

And while Ohio State would like to add Kraemer to former Irish assistant Ed Warinner‘s depth chart, Kraemer plans to honor his pledge to Notre Dame, taking pride in his decision.

“I am very happy with Notre Dame and I love it there. I knew when I first visited that was the place for me, and I’ve never looked back since,” Kraemer told Cleveland.com. “I take pride in the fact that one of the top players in Ohio is going to Notre Dame over Ohio State.

“I think it shows that they still have that recruiting tie in Ohio and can keep it going.”

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