Tag: Arik Armstead

Nelson Agholor

Irish head down recruiting home stretch


Next Wednesday, thousands of college football fans around the country will wake up with it feeling like Christmas morning. That’s because after over a year of building relationships with high school prospects, fax machines across the country will get their annual workout as Letters-of-Intent roll into football offices, with Notre Dame expecting to receive fourteen letters (Sheldon Day, Gunner Kiel and Tee Shepard are already enrolled), with the potential to add another handful of elite players that could turn this class into one of the best in the country.

Next Wednesday, we’ll have a chance to roll out the players who have inked with the Irish. Until then, let’s take a look at the players still up for grabs.

With Gunner Kiel leaving LSU at the altar, the Irish managed to pull arguably the nation’s best quarterback into the fold at the eleventh hour, another amazing recruiting victory by Brian Kelly, who personally recruited Kiel for much of the process.

That said, if the Irish are going to move the needle at Signing Day, it’ll be because they added to their recruiting class with a last minute commitment from some of the most highly touted targets left on their board:

Nelson Agholor, WR: If there’s a big fish left on the offensive board, it’s Agholor. Unfortunately for the Irish, if they don’t end up reeling him in, they’ll likely still see him every season, as it’s looking more and more like Agholor could be heading to Southern California to play for the Trojans.

Agholor reminds me a bit of George Farmer, another all-everything recruit that ended up at USC, and bounced between running back and wide receiver this past season. Rivals.com has him in the top three at his position, among the top 20 players in the country, and he fits the academic profile of a Notre Dame student perfectly.

What he’d bring to ND: Teamed with Greenberry, Agholor would give the Irish the most celebrated recruiting class at the position in the country. (It can’t hurt that the Irish have been the landing spot for high profile transfers from both USC and Florida State, two finalists for Agholor’s services.)

Davonte Neal, WR: Notre Dame was able to get the first official visit for Neal, one of the Southwest’s premiere playmakers, who waited until after winning the Arizona state championship to take any official visits. The Irish are in good shape, but will likely battle through Signing Day for Neal, who plans on taking his time making a decision.

Expect Urban Meyer and the Ohio State Buckeyes to be the team to beat, with Neal having family in Ohio and getting the Meyer sales pitch that he’ll play the role of Percy Harvin. (That said, don’t count out Rich Rodriguez, now for the hometown Arizona Wildcats.)

What he’d bring to ND: It’s almost ridiculous to imagine the Irish landing both Neal and Agholor, giving the Irish three of the top players in the country at their position. Neal would immediately be the Irish’s most dangerous athlete in the slot, and his recruiting tape is about as impressive as it gets.

Arik Armstead, DL: What happens with Armstead (not to mention his brother Armond) is anyone’s guess. The mammoth prospect did the smart thing and passed up early enrollment, with just too many variables still in play. Already graduated, but not set to attend any school until summer, Armstead will likely attract visitors from every corner of the country, but Notre Dame will be there until the very end. As a two-sport athlete, Armstead will play basketball and football in college, and while talent evaluators can’t decide whether he’d be better on the offensive or defensive line, he’s the kind of prospect the Irish would just welcome in the door and figure out where to put later.

What he’d bring to ND: If Armstead ends up in South Bend, that’s another recruiting class where Notre Dame cherry-picks one of the nation’s top defensive linemen, after struggling to get anyone since what feels like the Holtz era. Armstead likely brings his brother Armond, who needs medical clearance for an undisclosed ailment, but is an NFL caliber defensive end with one year of eligibility remaining.

Ken Ekanem, LB: After loading up at the linebacker position, the Irish only have Romeo Okwara committed at the outside linebacker spot in the 2012 recruiting class. One name that might still jump on board is Virginia’s Ken Ekanem, a middle linebacker that tore his ACL during the state playoffs. The injury forced Ekanem to delay his official visit, finally set for this weekend. The Irish will likely battle Virginia Tech for Ekanem’s signature, and it still remains to be seen if they’re at a place where they’ll accept his commitment.

What he’d bring to ND: With Manti Te’o returning for his senior season, Ekanem would be a luxury item, and likely one that’d come to ND if the Irish miss on other targets that fill greater needs. Either way, Ekanem will likely spend 2012 getting healthy, especially with depth in the middle plentiful.

Ronald Darby, CB: Notre Dame long counted Darby among its most high profile commitments. But after staying true to his commitment for much of the process, Darby opened things up after the Under Armor All-American game, while still keeping the Irish in play along with Clemson, Florida State, and Auburn. Darby is among the fastest players in the country and Brian Kelly will be in his household to try and get Darby back in the fold.

What he’d bring to ND: If Darby ends up at Notre Dame, he’ll team with Tee Shepard to be the most impressive cornerbacking duo in the country (in terms of recruiting rankings). With both Gary Gray and Robert Blanton gone, Darby would step onto campus an immediate candidate for playing time and could make an instant impact on special teams as well.

Brian Poole, CB: The Irish haven’t given up on Poole, a commit to the Florida Gators who has built a strong relationship with Tony Alford. Poole is in that same stratosphere with Darby and Shepard, one of the best players in Florida and a guy that could also immediately challenge for playing time in South Bend. He’s reaffirmed his commitment to the Gators every time he’s been asked about it the media, but don’t expect the Irish to go down without a fight.

What he’d bring to ND: Another elite cornerback that’d immediately make a mark in the depth chart. If the Irish were somehow able to sign Darby, Shepard, and Poole, Irish fans should be dancing in the street.

Anthony Standifer, CB: Far from a backup plan, Standifer was long committed to Michigan before mutually parting ways with the Wolverines and opening back up his recruitment. The Illinois native was on campus last weekend, and it sounds like only a foreign language requirement (something he could pick up this spring) is in between the Irish and this 6-foot-1 cover cornerback.

What he’d bring to ND: Standifer might not come with the prestige of the guys we just listed, but he’s far from a program body and has offers from Pitt, Iowa, and Wisconsin — nothing to sneeze at. Standifer would give the Irish another versatile athlete at cornerback, helping solidify a spot with a lot of balls in the air.








Arik Armstead talks about his recruitment

Arik Armstead1

There’s been far too much to keep up on with the Arik Armstead recruitment, which has likely been put on the backburner for a few days as Armstead has decided to forgo early enrollment and instead sign a letter-of-intent on February 1 and enroll at the school of his choice this summer.

Depending on what you read, Notre Dame or Auburn are in the drivers’ seat for Armstead, with the recruitment of his brother Armond playing into things as well. Armond will transfer somewhere for next season, playing out his eligibility thanks to the same graduation transfer rule that allowed Dayne Crist to go to Kansas. Making things even more interesting is a medical issue that kept Armond off the field last season at USC, the school Arik was long committed to but has since eliminated. Armond will still need to be medically cleared by whatever school he attends next year.

Scout.com’s Whitney Blaine was able to sit down with Arik in the Armstead’s family home and talk about the past few days, where his head is at with recruiting, and what comes next for one of the nation’s top prospects.

Since it saves me a few thousand words describing the twists and turns of the past week, here’s the interview in its entirety.


With classes set to begin, did the Irish flip two blue-chips?

Gunner Kiel

You’ve got to hand it to Brian Kelly and his assistants. A year after reeling in the trio of Ishaq Williams, Stephon Tuitt, and Aaron Lynch in dramatic fashion, the Irish are close to landing two of the nation’s most heralded recruits, amidst even more extraordinary circumstances than last year.

With the spring semester set to start tomorrow, the Irish might have pulled a rabbit out of the hat: five-star quarterback Gunner Kiel might be headed to Notre Dame after all. Multiple website — though first reported by Steve Wiltfong of 247Sports.com — are reporting that Kiel hasn’t enrolled in classes at LSU and instead will stay home in Indiana, giving Kelly and the Irish offense the No. 1 quarterback on their board in the most miraculous of fashions.

Less than three weeks ago, Kiel turned down the Irish and instead chose to enroll early at LSU, giving the nation’s top team one of the country’s best quarterbacks. Kiel impressed at the US Army All-American Bowl in San Antonio, where nearly every report had Kiel ready to head to Baton Rouge where he’d give Les Miles a pro-style quarterback (something badly needed after watching the BCS National Championship game). But someone forgot to tell the Irish coaching staff that Kiel had decided where he’d spend the next four years, and even amidst a coaching transition that gutted the offensive side of the ball, the Irish did enough to make today’s flurry of reporting possible.

We won’t know if Kiel’s attending Notre Dame until he’s actually enrolled in classes, and while there’s plenty of smoke surrounding the story, there’s nothing definitive yet coming from the Kiel family. In a 36 hour period Irish fans went from being apoplectic about a recruiting class that was seemingly crumbling, with Ronald Darby opening things up and Taylor Decker choosing Ohio State, to potentially ecstatic as the Irish have potentially added the best quarterback in the class. And that might not even be the most important feat of the week, with the defensive side of the ball potentially hitting both short term and long term jackpots.

As the Pac-12’s recruiting landscape dramatically altered with Tosh Lupoi leaving Cal and heading to Steve Sarkisian’s Washington staff, Notre Dame looked more and more like the potential landing spot for Arik Armstead, one of the nation’s premiere defensive linemen. Armstead also likely comes with his older brother Armond, a former starter for USC that sat out this season after the school wouldn’t medically clear him after an undisclosed issue. Armond will have one year of eligibility remaining, and he visited Notre Dame Sunday and Monday with his father to meet with the coaching staff to discuss his role in the team’s future. Arik joined Armond at Auburn earlier this weekend, where the younger Armstead took his final recruiting visit before heading to a classroom this week. What classroom is still to be determined.

Arik’s enrolled at Cal, Notre Dame and Auburn, filling out the necessary paperwork so he can simply arrive on campus and attend classes. He’s reportedly eliminated Cal after the move of Lupoi to Washington, a shocking twist when you consider Cal was the odds-on favorite to land the two-sport star. The brothers reportedly will enroll as a package, and are waiting for the family to reunite tonight before making a decision.

There’s a chance that all of this doesn’t end well for the Irish, and all this glitter doesn’t turn into recruiting gold for the Irish. But more importantly, after a week of getting beat up by the Notre Dame faithful for the changes in the coaching staff and the perceived weakness in this recruiting class, it’s another stark reminder that Kelly has assembled a group of coaches that continually fight until the very end for players they truly want. (For instance, even though Jordan Westerkamp reconfirmed his commitment to Nebraska, that hasn’t stopped Notre Dame from going after him.)

While that dogged determination hasn’t brought enough wins to campus yet, it’s helping to build a program that’ll likely deliver more in the near future, especially if Monday’s magic turns out to be as promising as it seems.

UPDATE: 1:20 a.m. ETDouglas Farmer of Notre Dame’s school newspaper The Observer reports that Gunner Kiel is officially enrolled. He’s on campus and set to move into O’Neill Hall.


Armstead’s recruitment highlights West Coast visitors

Arik Armstead

This Saturday was already a critical weekend in the head-to-head recruiting battle the Irish and Trojans are waging with each other. It just got a whole lot more interesting with five-star defensive end recruit Arik Armstead backing away from his commitment to USC on Sunday, less than a week before his official recruiting visit to Notre Dame.

At 6-foot-7, 280-pounds, Armstead doesn’t do the word prototype any justice. He’s a monstrous prospect that also doubles as a power forward during basketball season. Whether he ends up at defensive end like he prefers or as an offensive tackle, his athleticism has him among the top players at either position in the country.

While Armstead was the longest tenured commitment to the Trojan recruiting class, the idea of a de-commitment had to at least be in the back of the minds of both USC coaches and fans thanks to the mysterious medical situation surrounding Arik’s brother Armond, a senior defensive end on the Trojan roster. Armond has been held out of Trojan contact drills with an undisclosed ailment, and the Armstead family hasn’t been happy with the way the university has treated the situation.

“All I can say is that over the last six months, my family has been a little disappointed with some things going at USC but that’s all I want to say on that,” Arik told ESPN.com’s Greg Biggins.

Armstead plans on enrolling early, shortening the recruiting process and putting a huge emphasis on the upcoming weekend. He’ll be joined by a very large West Coast contingent in South Bend, with nearly every recruit holding offers from both Notre Dame and Southern Cal.

Here’s a quick look at a few key targets for both schools:

Zach Banner, OL: At 6-foot-9, 310-pounds, Banner is one of the few recruits that look down at Armstead. He’s got coast to coast offers and is one of the most coveted offensive line targets in the country.

Byron Marshall, RB: The San Jose native has a brother at Arizona State, but offers from just about every team in the Pac-12. He’d be a great complement to Will Mahone.

KeiVarae Russell, RB: Another dual-threat running back, the Irish will likely battle hometown Washington and the Trojans for Russell’s services.

Shaq Thompson, S: It won’t be hard for Thompson to see Harrison Smith and know he’ll have a shot at his job next season. But Thompson has choices, including USC, Auburn, Alabama, Oregon and Cal, where he was once committed.

Jordan Payton, WR: Once committed to the Trojans, Payton saw the Irish in Ann Arbor and will see them again this Saturday. His offers include most of the Pac-12 and Florida, Oklahoma, Miami and Michigan among others.


There are plenty of other recruits that are looking at both schools visiting South Bend on Saturday, including top national players like Cal commit Bryce Treggs and Georgia commit John Theus. Blue-chip offensive tackle Ronnie Stanley, entertaining offers from both USC and Notre Dame was scheduled to make his first visit to South Bend, but IrishSportsDaily.com reports scheduling conflicts have pushed that visit back.

Either way, the recruiting subplot will be an interesting one on Saturday. And there might not be a more important cog in all of this than Armstead, one of the biggest players — both literally and figuratively — on either teams’ recruiting board.


Friday notes: Spring recruiting, NFL Draft, and more

Kyle Rudolph Michigan TD

If you’re looking for the Notre Dame football coaches, look up. As the spring evaluation period kicks into gear, the Irish assistant coaches are taking to the sky as they blanket the country talking to a wide net of Irish prospects. If you’re looking for Irish recruiting news, you’ll probably do better here, here, here or here.

But for those curious as to what the actual NCAA Evaluation Period entails, let’s take a quick look at the actual guidelines as they’re laid out by our friends in Indianapolis:

(f) April 15 through May 31, 2011 — Evaluation Period

One hundred sixty-eight evaluation days (216 for U.S. service academies) (see Bylaw (excluding Memorial Day and Sundays) selected at the discretion of the member institution and designated in writing in the office of the director of athletics [as provided in (1) below]:

(1)    An authorized off-campus recruiter may use one evaluation to assess the prospective student-athlete’s ability and one evaluation to assess the prospective student-athlete’s academic qualifications during this evaluation period.) It an institution’s coaching staff member conducts both an athletics ad an academic evaluation of the prospective student-athlete on the same day during this evaluation period, the institution shall be charged with the use of an academics evaluation only and shall be permitted to conduct a second athletics evaluation of the prospective student-athlete on a separate day during this evaluation period.

The entire schedule is available for download here, but it’s a far more complex system than what we usually read — where one coach usually “bumps” into a recruit, exchanges pleasantries with said recruit, then goes on his way to a meeting where the coach and the high school coach discuss the player.


Staying on the recruiting topic, the net that the Irish coaching staff is casting is much wider than any net the previous coaching regimes at Notre Dame have cast. It’s as much a sign of the times as it is a clear difference in philosophy, with Brian Kelly and his coaching staff understanding you need to throw out a ton of bait to catch some fish.

If you’re looking for a clear-cut example, look no further than uber-blue-chipper Arik Armstead, the mammoth 6-foot-6, 275-pound defensive lineman that’s already committed to USC. Nevermind that Armstead’s brother still plays for the Trojans and that he’s been pledged to Southern Cal since June of last year, IrishSportsDaily.com’s Christian McCollum reports West Coast recruiter Mike Denbrock was at Pleasant Grove High School paying Armstead a call.

“I got a chance to put faces with people I’ve been talking to and I’m just taking in more information and trying to pick the five I’m going to take my visit to,” Armstead told ISD.

Armstead has hopes of playing basketball as well in college, and right now the Irish are in the mix for one of Armstead’s five visits.

The Irish have well over 100 “reported” offers, and even if that number isn’t anywhere close to accurate, it’s a lot more than any Charlie Weis recruiting cycle.


Congratulations to Kyle Rudolph for becoming the 43rd pick in the NFL Draft, going to the Minnesota Vikings in the 2nd round this afternoon. Rudolph was the first tight end taken and joins an offense filled with talented skill players but an unproven quarterback position. (The Vikings drafted FSU quarterback Christian Ponder in the first round.)

Rudolph is about seventh months removed from the hamstring surgery that cost him much of the 2010 season, but he’s expected to be back and healthy as he approaches his first season in professional football.

Rudolph’s production in the NFL, where he’ll be paired with Vikings standout tight end Visanthe Shiancoe, will depend on Rudy staying healthy and the Vikings solving their quarterback issues.

(As a Vikings fan, I’m hoping to see Kyle catch plenty of touchdowns.)


Irish fans looking for more of Brian Kelly? Turn on the NFL Network tomorrow as Kelly joins NBC Sports analyst and draft expert Mike Mayock on the broadcast. Alabama coach Nick Saban, Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema, and North Carolina’s Butch Davis will also be on set.

Kelly should stay on the air for about two hours.