The Commitments: Running Backs


[A few days ago, a commenter mentioned how little talk there was about wide receiver Chris Brown, a freakishly good athlete that’s joining the Notre Dame recruiting class from South Carolina to little fanfare. Consider these columns a response to a very good comment.]

In the next six days, the recruiting rollercoaster will surely rumble down the tracks one last time, with twists and turns we already know are coming, yet somehow surprise and amaze us every time. For Notre Dame, we’ve already taken a look at who’s left on the board, with the Irish still in the running for almost half a dozen of the top 100 players in the country.

But while most the attention in the media stays focused on those players still openly considering multiple schools, the Irish coaching staff hasn’t forgotten about the fourteen verbal commitments that plan on faxing their letters-of-intent into the Gug on Wednesday morning. While we’ll certainly recap the names when they become official next Wednesday (more info to come on what will be a crazy, sleep-deprived day), here’s a quick look back at what the Irish have done with this recruiting class, and what it means for the football program.


With the depth chart down to Cierre Wood, George Atkinson, Cam McDaniel, and an injured Cam Roberson‘s future unclear, landing two running backs was a priority for Notre Dame. The Irish cast a fairly wide net, offering around a dozen potential running backs that fit two distinct criteria: powerful one-cut runners, and dual-threat backs that can also split out wide.

While the Irish got official visits from blue-chip prospects like Keith Marshall (who eventually committed to Georgia) and Byron Marshall (who will be in Eugene next season), they also landed two of their top targets, running backs that are perfect complementary parts in the 2012 recruiting class.

High School: Mariner High — Everett, Washington
Measureables: Six-foot, 175-pounds
Other major offers: USC, Washington, Stanford, Cal, UCLA, Oregon, Boise State
Fun Fact: Class president at Mariner High.
On choosing Notre Dame: “Once you get a degree from Notre Dame, you’re pretty much set for life. My goals are bigger. I’ll have a chance to go to the NFL. At Notre Dame, you get your degree in 3½ years. And when I graduate – it’s money.”
What he’ll bring to the offense: The ability to make plays in space. Whether or not Theo Riddick stays at running back, Russell will have an opportunity to see the field either in the backfield or the slot. He’s not the biggest of prospects, but he’s an electric open field player, something the Irish clearly missed last year, and will miss even more without Michael Floyd.

High School: Austintown Fitch — Youngstown, Ohio
Measureables: Five-foot-eleven, 210-pounds
Other major offers: Penn State, Tennessee, Pitt, Iowa, Michigan State, West Virginia
Fun Fact: Chuck Martin told him his jumper looks like Ray Allen’s. Be the judge yourself.
On choosing Notre Dame: “They graduate I think 98, maybe it was 99 percent of their players,” Mahone told Irish Illustrated. “After talking with the academic advisors and everything, I felt I could definitely succeed there and there would be no problem getting all the help I need, but I’ll definitely be buckling down and getting my studies done.”
What he’ll bring to the offense: He’s not as physically imposing as Jonas Gray was coming out of high school, but Mahone fits the mold close enough, and shows good power and vision. If Russell has the opportunity to play out on the edge of the offense, Mahone looks like a great fit in the backfield, making one cut and getting up field, which he did incredibly well in high school.

Okwara’s pledge makes a dozen recruits for 2012


If Romeo Okwara can step onto campus and make the same type of impact as the last linebacker from Ardrey Kell High School, Brian Kelly and Bob Diaco are going to be very happy.

As rumors swirled around other more familiar names in the recruiting derby this weekend, Romeo Okwara, who hails from the same high school as sophomore linebacker Prince Shembo, stole some of the headlines and committed to the Irish, making the announcement via his Facebook page en lieu of a press conference.

The Charlotte, North Carolina native is the twelfth recruit to commit to Notre Dame for the 2012 class, and he’s right out of central casting for the Irish when it comes to outside linebackers. At 6-foot-4, 235-pounds, Okwara has the build to become a prototype outside linebacker in the Irish system, a position the coaching staff sees him slotting into.

Okwara spent this weekend in South Bend, visiting with former teammate and family friend Shembo as well as getting the full pitch from head coach Brian Kelly and the current players. According to, Okwara said the coaching staff was going to bring in three outside linebackers, and Okwara joins David Perkins as the first two to pull the trigger.

If you watch tape of Okwara, it’s clear the Irish see pass rushing ability in him, as just about every inch of tape has Okwara playing with a hand on the ground and wreaking havoc in an opposing offense’s backfield. Okwara continues a good trend for the Irish, pulling good players out of the Carolinas. His offer list is filled with Southeastern schools, with every major program in North Carolina offering, as well as offers from Miami, Michigan, Virginia Tech and Clemson on board. H/T to Irish message-board oracle Hobbs, who notes that Okwara is an absolute perfect fit for a 3-4 defense, with Al Groh at Georgia Tech, Mike London at Virginia, Al Golden at Miami, and Bob Diaco at Notre Dame all chasing Okwara, with each of those defenses holding the same philosophies, passed down from Groh, one of the forefathers of the 3-4 defense.

There are reports that Okwara just turned 16 last week, which would lead you to believe he’s not done growing yet and could turn into a monstrous player. He’ll be a great developmental prospect at Cat linebacker, where the Irish are stockpiling a pretty diverse set of passing rushing talent to fill in after Darius Fleming graduates.

Turner’s pledge to Irish continues commitment to secondary


It turns out it didn’t take a few weeks to make a college decision. Over the weekend, just days after earning his way to a scholarship offer, John Turner pulled the trigger, committing to Notre Dame.

“It was just a perfect fit,” Turner told the South Bend Tribune. “Every time I came up I fell in love with it again. The academics, the people there, the coaches, just everything. I loved it.”

Turner is the eleventh commitment to the Irish, and the 6-foot-2, 200-pound safety adds another physical presence to the secondary’s depth chart. After spending last recruiting cycle making a commitment to the physicality and size of the front-seven, the Irish recruiting efforts seem to have been focused on replentishing the secondary, with Nicky Baratti, Ronald Darby, CJ Prosise, and Tee Shepard already committed to play for Chuck Martin and Kerry Cooks.

The Irish are in need of reinforcements, with Gary Gray, Robert Blanton and Harrison Smith all in their final seasons of eligibility. And while Turner’s commitment might not have resonated on the national scale, he fits the prototype of what Brian Kelly and his staff are looking for in a safety.

We’ve spent a lot of time pointing out the height/weight specs of defensive ends and outside linebackers in Brian Kelly’s system, but Kelly seems to be revealing the archetype of what he’s looking for in defensive backs as well.

Until last season, the Irish defense was plagued by mediocre secondary play. Either a step slow or underwhelming physically, Notre Dame was often “out-athleted” by opposing offenses, and the results were often painfully obvious.

Under Charlie Weis, the Irish rarely picked up players of Turner’s physical profile. If you’re looking for safeties that were at least 6-foot-2 and 200-pounds, you can only find four — David Bruton, Harrison Smith, Zeke Motta and Danny McCarthy. Motta had a breakout season last year, thrust into action after injuries depleted the depth chart. McCarthy has been plagued by injuries throughout the beginning of his career, but like his brother has the chance to be a great late bloomer. David Bruton, when he’s not substitute teaching, is an NFL safety for the Broncos. Harrison Smith is on the way.

(Interestingly, Chinedum Ndukwe is the perfect example of why finding prototype athletes at safety is such a good way to go. Whether he was on campus as a linebacker, wide receiver, or safety, his speed and athleticism is what got him on the field, and player development is what turned him into a tenured NFL safety.)

In many ways, Turner embodies the type of player Kelly is targeting. A physically impressive safety that just proved to the staff that he has the speed and skillset needed to play at a high level. At safety, all three of the players Notre Dame has received commitments from are 6-foot-2 and at least 190-pounds, revealing that the Irish understand the need to bring in physical players that can both cover space and play physically at the point of attack.

We won’t know how good Turner, Baratti, or Prosise truly are until they get to campus, but as we saw last year, there’s a plan in place. Once you look at the details, you realize there’s a bit of architecture when it comes to Brian Kelly’s plan. More often than not, that’s a very good thing.

Local product David Perkins commits to Irish

Property of Ryan Call

(Ed. Note: Photo is property of Ryan Call.)

It’s not every day that the Irish pick up a recruit from their own backyard, but Notre Dame reeled in commitment number ten from South Bend’s Washington High School, with linebacker-running back-athlete David Perkins announcing his intent this afternoon.

Perkins chose the Irish over Tennessee and Syracuse and had offers from Michigan State, Mississippi State, Iowa, Arizona and others.

“Notre Dame not only committed to me as an athlete, but also in my development as a man, both academically and socially,” Perkins said at his press conference. “Coach Kelly and his staff have proven to me that Notre Dame will provide me with more than a four-year commitment. Instead, Notre Dame offers me a 40-year plan for a successful life… I’d like to thank the University of Notre Dame for the life-changing opportunity that they have offered me.”

With Perkins, the Irish have clearly targeted an explosive, fast-twitch athlete, now the question becomes where does he play? If Notre Dame turned down linebacker Joe Bolden because he didn’t have the size the Irish wanted in an outside linebacker, they likely see something extraordinary in Perkins that let them take a chance on the similar-sized player.

It could be the geography that goes along with protecting your city limits or it could be that Perkins has put up impressive tape at running back as well, a position the Irish need to fill in this recruiting class. More likely though, it’s Perkins’ freakish first step, athleticism that turned Perkins into a combine All-Star when working against offensive linemen.

At 6-foot-2 and roughly 210 pounds, Perkins has the ability to grown into the mold of Darius Fleming or Steve Filer with some serious weight room work, two athletes that don’t quite fit the Brian Kelly – Bob Diaco defensive template but might have exceptional aspects that make him attractive to the coaching staff.

What’s clear is that Notre Dame got a very good football player from its own friendly confines, a proposition that was likely too good to pass up.

It appears about half of the recruiting bus is already filled, with 10 scholarships accounted for, not to mention the return of Chris Badger and the potential enrollment of Jordan Prestwood.

Mark Harrell is seventh commitment to 2012 recruiting class

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Just as Irish fans were starting to feel a little antsy, North Carolina offensive lineman Mark Harrell brought his recruitment to an end by calling up his recruiting coach Mike Elston and becoming the Irish’s seventh commitment of the 2012 recruiting class. Harrell joins Ohio-native Taylor Decker as the second offensive linemen in the class.

“I’m all done with recruiting,” Harrell told “It feels great to get it all done with. I’m solid on the Irish and just glad to get it done with, move on from there and enjoy my senior season.”

The 6-foot-5, 270-pound offensive tackle had offers from North Carolina, South Carolina, Auburn, Michigan and Stanford among a dozen others.

When the South Bend Tribune asked national recruiting guru Tom Lemming about Harrell, he had this early evaluation:

“A good, solid, down-the-line guy,” Lemming told the South Bend Tribune. “A solid prospect. Definitely a Notre Dame type of kid.”

Harrell certainly fits an archetype that head coach Brian Kelly looks for in offensive linemen, with Harrell easily filling the size requirements that come with playing on the offensive line under Kelly and Ed Warinner. It’s good to see every local program chasing Harrell as well, a sign that he’s one of the top prospects in his area — and more success for the Irish in the Carolinas.

While Harrell isn’t listed on any of Rivals’ initial recruiting lists, Harrell’s offers have come fast and furious, with the junior from Charlotte without any offers until he attended the National Junior Combine in January. Like more than a few Kelly targets, Harrell plays tight end for his high school (shown here playing the role of road-grader) but will likely give up all skill-position aspirations when he arrives in South Bend.