Tag: Bennett Okotcha


Friday notes: Martin, recruiting and more recruiting


The dust has settled and hopefully an Irish coaching staff that traversed the country chasing down some of the top defensive recruits in the country gets some rest. (Not to mention a certain writer who has been having hand cramps since about noon on Wednesday.)

With no real football news to speak of, let’s go over some of the under-reported topics from a pretty incredible 23-man 2011 recruiting class.


Late Wednesday night, one of the guys from Irish Illustrated tweeted that Chuck Martin has to be one of the best coaches in America to have a beer with. I can say that after having the chance to have one or two with him back during the Notre Dame Fantasy Camp last summer, he’s definitely at the top of my list.

After head coach Brian Kelly spoke to the assembled media and a few thousand people watching the live-streaming broadcast at UND.com, Martin gave one of the better off-the-cuff press sessions you’ll ever want to see, including some incredible insight on how the Irish swung Stephon Tuitt back into Notre Dame’s corner after an 11th hour switch.

In a shrewd recruiting move, the Irish coaching staff, even though Tuitt had technically been  committed to Notre Dame for quite some time, saved their head coaching visit to Tuitt’s home for as late in the process as possible, as they knew an elite recruit like Tuitt from a hyper-competitive area like Georgia, would need to be recruited until the very end.

“One of the best things we did with Tuitt is that we still had our boss’s visit,” Martin said. “It was planned. We talked about it. This is not over. This one’s going to go. We can say he’s committed all we want. We knew there was going to come a time whether he was recommitted or very gray, we had it scheduled for the last week like the last Thursday. It got accelerated a week because it happened that way. That changes [Kelly’s] week. Well, you’ve only got seven on the road, you’ve got 10 coaches. Once you change one guy’s, it’s like dominoes, everybody’s week changes.”

When Tuitt pulled the panic switch and changed his commitment, the Irish didn’t stick their tail behind their legs and get insulted that their prized defensive lineman wanted to stay home, they stayed mobile and sent down Kelly, who obviously must be one helluva closer.

As Tuitt recounted to Pete Sampson of Irish Illustrated of that visit:

“What really shocked me was when he told me multiple times that if I was just some great player out there that everybody loved and everybody recruited, if I was just a good football player, that he never would have came,” Tuitt said. “He said the reason he came was that I’m a great football player, a great character person and to have both of those, to be able to handle myself in public and keep positive eyes on me, that was important. That’s like all the work I’ve been doing, not putting myself in the spotlight. I really appreciated that.”

That’s the type of experience 20 years as a head coach in college teaches you.


Probably one of the most interesting things Martin talked about was the recruit that got away, Oklahoma commit Bennett Okotcha, who pledged to the Irish after decommitting from Wisconsin, only to pick the Sooners on the final weekend of recruiting.

“A lot of people will say we’re not aggressive enough,” Martin said. “Well, some things that make sense, it still has to be right. You don’t want to twist a kid’s arm. If distance and weather are going to be an issue, you’re not going to have a good career here.”

Taking things away from Okotcha’s situation, Martin then spoke of the difficulties helping a player reach their full potential if they’re not happy at the school they’ve chosen.

“What happened to him when he got here? Well, he was miserable,” Martin continued. “Why did he never become the player we thought he was going to be? Well, because he was miserable. Then there’s another kid that no one thought was great that fits here and loves it here and is an overachiever and the next thing you know, he’s a second-round draft choice and everyone’s like, ‘How did that happen?’ Well, he was the right fit, right place, right time.”

The Irish could’ve definitely used another cornerback in the recruiting class and I was high on the type of athlete Okotcha was and the player he could’ve become. But as Rich Rodriguez can attest to, not every elite college athlete loves their school enough to play football over a thousand miles from home.


For those of you that follow the national rankings on things like recruiting, here’s how Notre Dame matched up:

MaxPreps/CBS Sports: #1 in country
247sports.com: #7
Scout: #8
Rivals: #9
ESPN: #9
Sporting News: #11
ESPN: #9

Bennett Jackson moving to defensive back

Getty Images - Nick Laham

Today the Irish recruiting class took a hit, with cornerback Bennett Okotcha reportedly switching his commitment from the Irish to Oklahoma after a weekend visit. But whether it was a reaction to the news or an already planned switch, the Irish responded with a fairly large cornerback commitment of their own — quite literally — when Bennett Jackson announced on his Twitter page that he’s switching to defensive back, taking over Darrin Walls’ No. 2 jersey.

Expect Brian Kelly to discuss the move on Wednesday during his 1:00 p.m. signing day press conference, but he hinted at something like this 10 days ago when he wrapped up season one. While most people focused on Theo Riddick’s name, the idea of shifting Bennett Jackson, or one of the surplus wide receivers to defensive back, makes perfect sense. The fact that Jackson was a tackling machine on special teams makes this move all the more logical.

Jackson immediately moves into the two-deep conversation at either cornerback or safety, and he’ll provide top-flight speed that’ll help him overcome any catching up he’ll need to do developmentally.


Quiet period leads into intrigue

Bennett Okotcha

It’s officially an NCAA quiet period right now, meaning there’ll be little news breaking until Wednesday morning, when faxes begin pouring into the football office at The Gug. (I’ll be getting up at a bizarrely early hour to follow along in the festivities, for your pleasure of course…) While the past few days have added some clarity to the roster situation, that doesn’t mean it’ll be smooth sailing until Wednesday.

With running back Savon Huggins staying home and going to Rutgers and long-snapper extraordinaire Bryce Haynes committing to Ohio State, that leaves the Irish in the mix for only one more player, defensive end Troy Niklas. Where he’ll go is anyone’s guess, but Servite high school has plenty of ties to USC, so it’s far from a lock that he’ll be dialing 574 into the fax machine.

One other situation to monitor is that of cornerback Bennett Okotcha. The Coppell, Texas native and teammate of running back Cam McDaniel reportedly visited Oklahoma over the weekend, who have made a hard push after Okotcha in the final days of recruiting. It’ll likely be Wednesday morning by the time we find out where the talented corner ends up. It’s a position that the Irish need depth at, and the Irish’s flipping of Okotcha from the Wisconsin Badgers was one of the more under-rated moves of the recruiting season.

There are the usual rumors buzzing around, including the news that Fort Wayne running back and Stanford commit Remound Wright has been offered a scholarship by the Irish, but it looks to be only internet rumors. Of course, if a second fax comes in from Bishop Dwenger high school on Wednesday, the Irish will have secured another four-star recruit, this one in rather spectacular fashion.

Hang on, it might be a bumpy ride until Wednesday morning. We’ll do our best to steer you through.


Reports: CB Bennett Okotcha flips pledge to Irish

Courtesy of Dallas Morning News

The Brian Kelly recruiting machine is on a roll, and the Irish just picked up a much needed commitment from defensive back Bennett Okotcha. Okotcha, high school teammates with recent Irish pledge Cam McDaniel, has been committed to Wisconsin since August before flipping his commitment to Notre Dame, the South Bend Tribune and IrishSportsDaily.com report.

Okotcha is a big-bodied cornerback with offers from Wisconsin, Baylor, Minnesota and Wake Forest, and was only recently targeted by Kelly and his staff. All reports say he’ll enter college as a cornerback, a position that’s thin on the depth chart and losing senior Darrin Walls to graduation.

Last week, McDaniel had this to say about Okotcha to IrishSportsDaily.com:

“Bennett and I are tremendous friends and ever since our freshman year when I moved to Coppell we worked out together,” McDaniel told ISD. “I think he is one of the top corners in the nation, if not the top corner. I know that is kind of biased coming from my stand point but nobody will throw the ball in his direction. He literally gets bored during games because people are scared to throw it in his direction, it’s amazing.”

While McDaniel might be prone to hyperbole when talking about his high school teammate, the sentiment that Okotcha was an elite recruit was likely shared by Kelly and his defensive staff, and his recruitment by Kelly and outside linebackers coach Kerry Cooks sheds some light on the emphasis the Irish will have on targeting the state of Texas.

Cooks is a Texas native and also spent the past four years at Wisconsin, coaching the secondary for Bret Bielema’s Badgers, the team where Okotcha had been committed. While Wisconsin is obviously having a historic season, it isn’t hard to see the draw to Notre Dame, where the depth chart has plenty of room for a guy like Okotcha.

The cornerback is the 19th commitment to the Irish for this recruiting class and third in the past week. Okotcha joins recruits Josh Atkinson, Jalen Brown, Eilar Hardy and potentially Matthias Farley as defensive backs in the 2011 class.

Irish take momentum onto recruiting trail

Getty Images - Jonathan Daniel

After an undefeated November, the Irish coaching staff hit the recruiting trail, and it isn’t hard to see the difference between spending the season’s final month building momentum versus the tailspin of the last two years. The commitments of Cam McDaniel and Everett Golson this week help illustrate how important stability at the top of a football program — and more importantly, winning football games — helps down the stretch in closing a recruiting class.

While Rich Rodriguez is fighting for his job and playing Josh Groban songs, Brian Kelly and his staff are canvasing the country, as the coaching staff have a recruiting class to finalize and a young roster to build upon.

(For those of you that think all 7-5 records are equal, the Michigan and Notre Dame situations show that to be quite untrue.)

While it’ll hardly be as comprehensive as some of the premium websites, here’s a look at where the coaches have been, who they might be targeting, and what’s left to accomplish.


Notre Dame currently has 18 verbal commitments for the 2011 recruiting class:

Josh Atkinson — DB
George Atkinson — WR
Kyle Brindza — K
Jalen Brown — DB
Brad Carrico — DE
Ben Councell — DE
Davaris Daniels — WR
Matthias Farley — DB/WR
Everett Golson — QB
Jarett Grace — LB
Conor Hanratty — OL
Eilar Hardy — DB
Matthew Hegarty — OL
Ben Koyack — TE
Cam McDaniel — RB
Anthony Rabasa — DE
Tony Springmann — DE
Stephon Tuitt — DE

As we’ve seen in the past with “commitments,” these are in no way binding, and Kelly and his staff have been out visiting all of their commitments this month as they come down the home stretch of the recruiting cycle.

Losing both Aaron Lynch and Clay Burton at defensive end certainly hurts the Irish, but they’ve done a very good job filling some holes on the depth chart there in this current class. The Irish’s lack of depth at safety was a huge issue this year as well, but all four safeties in the two-deep return and the Irish have a few guys that profile for the position and a few offers outstanding as well.


Pete Sampson of IrishIllustrated.com reports that Brian Kelly spent much of the day yesterday visiting touted Iowa recruit Christian French and his family, offering the athlete the ability to come into Notre Dame as an offensive player and not an outside linebacker like many project French to be.

In addition to long-standing targets like French, the Irish continue to pursue New York’s Ishaq Williams, and recently had defensive coordinator Bob Diaco visit in advance of Williams’s official visit to campus next week. The Irish have a legitimate chance of landing Williams, something many thought was a long shot when the recruitment began.

The Irish are also still targeting running back Savon Huggins, who welcomed Diaco and running backs coach Tim Hinton into his home. Huggins has other official visits set up, but the Irish are a favorite here, and Huggins would be a great addition to a running back depth chart that loses two of its top performers in Armando Allen and Robert Hughes.

Tight ends coach Mike Denbrock swung by Anaheim to visit with defensive end target Troy Niklas, who has the Irish among his top three schools, with USC and Stanford also in the mix. Niklas is a 6-foot-7 athlete that also has a chance to be a tight end, but fits the developmental mode for a 3-4 defensive end in the Irish system. Servite high school and Orange county are traditional Trojan territories, but USC’s struggles and Stanford’s annual Jim Harbaugh departure questions give the Irish a shot at adding more depth along the edges of the defense.

Denbrock also headed to the Pacific Northwest to visit Oregon’s Brennan Scarlett, a top defensive end/outside linebacker prospect that compares favorably to current Irish defensive end (and Oregon native) Ethan Johnson. Scarlett has a national offer list, but he was in South Bend for the victory over Utah and adds another intriguing athlete and high-character kid to the fray.


One thing that seems different from the Kelly regime to the previous coaching staff under Charlie Weis is that the Irish seem to be in less “high-leverage” positions. Too often, the Irish put their eggs in the baskets of high profile athletes that changed their mind, leaving Notre Dame scrambling for other options. No doubt, defections hurt any recruiting class, but under Kelly and recruiting coordinator Chuck Martin, the Irish seem to have left themselves with plenty of options as signing day arrives, and now it’s a matter of filling up the remaining seats on the bus as more than enough passengers standing by, swinging the supply and demand power in the Irish’s favor.

The recruitment of Golson and McDaniel this week show just how nimble this recruiting staff is, and the addition of an early-entry national quarterback recruit like Golson this late in the game is pretty unparalleled for Notre Dame. Likewise, the Irish have a chance to add a few more wildcards to the fold before players ink their letters of intent.

Kansas native Shane Ray is a new target on the Irish board that has a lot of similarities to another outside linebacker that’s from the same area. It wasn’t long ago that Brian Smith walked away from a commitment to Missouri to come to Notre Dame, and Ray, who is coached by former Irish lineman Tim Grunhard and also committed to Mizzou, will be visiting South Bend this weekend.

When Randy Shannon was fired at Miami, the Irish dispatched Tony Alford to check on one-time target Anthony Chickillo, a high-motor defensive end whose father and grandfather played football for the Hurricanes. It’s likely that whatever coach is hired at Miami will have every shot to get Chickillo back in the fold, but with Alford on the scene, who knows what could happen.

With the Irish coaching staff’s connections to Ohio, don’t count them out on their pursuit of Doran Grant, a Buckeye target from Akron. Having just offered his teammate Cam McDaniel, Bennett Okotcha, currently a Wisconsin commit, could consider the Irish as well. Guys like Miles Shuler and the Stanford commit Amir Carlisle also stay in touch with the Irish, making the next few months an exciting time to follow the craziness that is college recruiting.