Recruiting

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Irish offer legacy QB Jacob Eason

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With Notre Dame already set in the 2015 recruiting class with Blake Barnett, the Irish coaching staff has begun making offers to rising juniors in the 2016 cycle. One of those is to Irish legacy Jacob Eason, the son of former Notre Dame wide receiver Tony Eason.

Notre Dame is hardly alone chasing this Seattle area prospect. At 6-foot-5, 205 pounds, Eason has offers from Alabama, Florida, Florida State, Georgia, Texas and a handful of other top programs already.

He’s being recruited by new quarterback coach Matt LaFleur, and Irish Illustrated’s Pete Sampson caught up with the elder Eason, who gave a nice insight into the thought process behind his son’s recruitment.

“Matt (LaFleur’s) side of it was that Jacob is in a unique spot because he’s the only pro-style guy they’re going after,” Tony Eason told Irish Illustrated. “Matt’s got a big NFL background and from that standpoint really likes Jacob. You look at everything Tommy Rees did, Jacob obviously fits that mold but is bigger and has a stronger arm, the whole nine yards. I think it comes down to coach Kelly and what direction they want to go in.”

It’ll be interesting to see how the Irish coaching staff decides to recruit quarterbacks going forward. After Gunner Kiel’s decision to transfer, it appears that this staff has focused on dual-threat prospects, with a depth chart of Everett Golson, Malik Zaire, DeShone Kizer and soon Barnett.

Eason clearly has skills that this staff appreciates (and ranked as the No. 1 QB in 2016, they are hardly alone), and Notre Dame offered other pro-style QBs in the 2015 cycle before landing Barnett. While Kelly has shown with quarterbacks like Tony Pike that his offense can thrive, it’s an interesting wrinkle as the staff moves forward with life post-Tommy Rees.

Of course, just because his father played receiver for Notre Dame doesn’t mean Eason is heading to South Bend. But as the Irish do more and more work on the current recruiting cycle, getting out in front and evaluation the next fleet of players remains a priority.

Irish flip blue-chip LB Josh Barajas

Josh-Barajas
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One of Notre Dame’s top linebacking prospects is in the fold after the Irish out-dueled Penn State. Josh Barajas, one of Indiana’s best prep players, has verbally committed to Notre Dame, backing away from a pledge to James Franklin and the Nittany Lions.

The 6-foot-3, 210-pounder has offers from Michigan, Ohio State, Tennessee, Wisconsin and other top schools. He had been one of Notre Dame’s top linebacking targets until he made a surprise commitment to Penn State after a visit.

But the Irish coaching staff didn’t give up on Barajas. According to Andrean High School coach Phil Mason, defensive line coach Mike Elston stayed in contact with the coach, continuing his recruitment until Barajas realized he was a better fit at Notre Dame.

Pete Sampson of Irish Illustrated explains:

The move to Notre Dame began when Barajas reached out to Mason in mid-May to express second thoughts about his decision to commit to Penn State. Barajas was unclear if Notre Dame would still be interested in taking his pledge after hosting him for a junior day in early March, at which point it seemed the Irish held a strong lead for his services.

“He said, ‘Coach, do you think Notre Dame would still be interested in me?'” Mason told Irish Illustrated. “Coach (Mike) Elston has stayed in contact with me throughout the process. I will give Notre Dame a lot of credit. They stayed very professional. They didn’t do anything to persuade him. They stayed very much out of the picture and let Josh make the decision.”

Barajas plans to visit South Bend this summer, likely heading to campus for the Irish Invasion camp. He’s an early Top-250 prospect on just about every recruiting board, though several services will get a better look at him in the coming weeks as some national camps begin.

For the Irish’s recruiting efforts, Barajas is a huge get. He’s the new prototype outside linebacker for Brian VanGorder, a speed player who will add bulk to an already nice frame. With the Irish still in a battle with Urban Meyer for Cincinnati linebacker Justin Hilliard, landing Barajas is a huge step towards filling the position with some of the top players on their recruiting board.

After reading various reports, it’s pretty obvious that both Barajas’ family and his high school coach were in Notre Dame’s corner. Mason told IrishSportsDaily.com the following about how the change of events went down:

“He called Penn State last night and he called Notre Dame this morning,” Mason said. “My conversation with Josh was, ‘Josh, this is it. You’ve got to be sure now.’ He looked at me and said, ‘Coach, I’m sure.’

“I said, ‘Good. I’m not sure how you couldn’t be. I would have done anything to play at that university. I think when you say college football, if Notre Dame isn’t the first thing that pops into your mind, I don’t know what it is.’”

Barajas is Notre Dame’s ninth commitment in the 2015 class. He joins safeties Nico Fertitta and Prentice McKinney on the defensive side of the ball.

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Irish add commitment from WR C.J. Sanders

Photo: George Walker IV / THE TENNESSEAN
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Just as things had seemed to quiet on the football front, Notre Dame’s coaching staff received an important commitment for the 2015 recruiting class. Tennessee wide receiver C.J. Sanders gave the Irish a verbal commitment, choosing Notre Dame over offers from Cal, Georgia, Northwestern, Stanford, Tennessee, USC and others.

Sanders is a 5-foot-10, 175-pound wide receiver from Nashville’s Brentwood Academy. He’s the eight member of the growing class of 2015, joining Allen, Texas’ Jalen Guyton at wide receiver. Sanders visited campus last weekend, needing very little time to pull the trigger on picking the Irish.

While Sanders is a fairly off-the-radar prospect in this recruiting cycle for Irish fans, one thing that’s readily apparent is his speed. An elite level sprinter, Sanders ran a 10.64 100 meter dash last year in track and field. That speed flashes once you watch Sanders’ highlights, when he caught 52 passes for 734 yards and 12 touchdowns last season.

Sanders’ athleticism is the product of a great family tree. His father Chris played wide receiver for Ohio State and then played seven seasons in the NFL. His stepfather Corey Harris played 12 seasons in the NFL, winning a Super Bowl with the Ravens. His mother played basketball at Michigan.

Sanders has moved to Southern California and will play his senior season at Notre Dame in Sherman Oaks. He’s an established actor, working regularly as a younger child, a series regular on Six Feet Under and Saved after breaking in playing a young Ray Charles in the Oscar-winning movie starring Jamie Foxx.

(KeiVarae Russell might have some competition for best actor on the football team.)

Sanders projects as a slot receiver with speed as good as any of the receivers currently on the roster. He’ caught up with Irish Illustrated’s Steve Hare to discuss what made him pull the trigger now.

“Once I got the chance to go up there this weekend I just fell in love with it,” Sanders told Hare. “After the visit I knew that’s where I wanted to be. I felt it. This morning I wanted to make it official so I told Coach Booker that I wanted to get in contact with coach Kelly and call him and let him know everything. I called him during my study hall at school and made it official.”

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Early signing period could help (and hurt) Irish

USA TODAY SPORTS
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The long discussed idea of having an early signing period for college football appears to be picking up traction. A recent report by ESPN says that a panel of conference commissioners will meet this summer as momentum for legislation picks up.

With Signing Day becoming one of the signature holidays in college football, a cottage industry has grown around the first Wednesday of February. As stakes grow, the resources allocated by universities chasing recruits around the country has pushed the pressure of the entire situation to a tipping point.

It’s also put an enormous amount of pressure on student-athletes, some of whom aren’t all that comfortable in the fishbowl that recruiting has become. While college basketball already has an early signing period in place, no such thing has happened in football. But Susan Peal, a high-ranking official inside the NCAA says that might be changing.

This from ESPN’s report:

“I think everyone wants an early signing period,” Peal said this week. “It’s just trying to nail down what’s the appropriate date for that.”

The letter of intent program is governed by the CCA, a 32-member panel of Division I conference commissioners. The group will meet in June to review an agenda that includes an early signing period.

The commissioners previously considered the issue, but Peal said it has been a few years.

“I think there’s more momentum now than ever just because of the changes that are happening with recruiting regulations,” said Peal, who works closely with the commissioners on topics related to national letters of intent. “The landscape is changing, so it’s time to look at it again.”

Kentucky head coach Mark Stoops weighed in on the issue, with ESPN reporting that Stoops said in January that college football’s most powerful conference wouldn’t be in favor of changing things.  “I know the SEC coaches are not in favor of changing the recruiting calendar,” Stoops said, according to ESPN. “If things start moving up, it changes the way we’ve been doing things for a long time.”

The skeptic would point to over-signing, grayshirting and other mechanisms the SEC has traditionally used to manipulate the recruiting calendar, making it obvious that any changes would require their well oiled machines to go in for some tweaks. Just this offseason Tennessee coach Butch Jones found a new loophole to exploit, adding 31 members to his recruiting class.

Jones likely stated what all coaches feel when he told the Knoxville Quarterback club the following in December:

“If we can find a way to sign 35, we’ll sign 35,” he said.

How an early signing period would effect the Irish remains to be seen. On the surface, you’d expect Notre Dame to be in favor of it. For Brian Kelly’s program, a coaching staff that recruits nationally, finding certainty and taking student-athletes that are firmly committed out of play early would allow for a better use of resources.

With an early signing period, the Irish would’ve most certainly won some and lost some, but ultimately could’ve ended up spending less time and resources making sure that an entire class stays committed, even with schools making late runs at prospects.

But Stanford’s David Shaw is against the early signing period for reasons that might also impact Notre Dame. The Cardinal head coach deals with similar (and probably more stringent) academic challenges as he navigates his university’s admissions process, with recruits sometimes heading into January not knowing whether they’ve officially been admitted into Stanford or not.

Notre Dame landed Troy Niklas after he wasn’t accepted into Stanford. They lost out on recent cornerback target Terrence Alexander after he received admission. But Shaw thinks an accelerated recruiting calendar is a terrible idea (Thanks to Chris Vannini at CoachingSearch.com for the transcription):

“I might be alone in this, but I think it’s terrible,” Shaw said. “I think it’s terrible. The reason is, in my opinion, coaches don’t like when a kid commits and then switches. It’s still going to happen. If a kid wants to change after the early signing period, he’s going to appeal, and that appeal is going to go through, because the committees that decide on those appeals always give in toward the student-athlete. You’ve got a kid that might be 16 going on 17 that commits, then really has a chance to think about it, changes his mind, and we’re going to try to hold him to that.

“On top of that, to be honest, we have a lot of kids that don’t know if they’re going to get into school until after that early signing period. We’re going to punish the academic schools just because coaches don’t want a kid to switch their commitment. People can make whatever argument they want, it boils down to that. Coaches don’t want to keep recruiting an entire class. That’s what it boils down to. We’ve been doing it for a long time, and most of us have been able to do OK.

“We just don’t want those late commitments switches, which puts the young man back in a tough decision. He’s gotta make a fast decision, because we’re saying ‘early signing day,’ when it’s an early pressure point. Coaches pressure these kids into making decisions. We’re going to force kids to make decisions. Three weeks later, he might say, ‘I don’t want to do this.

“This is not something for student-athletes, which is something we’re supposed to be making their experiences better. We’re making it worse. All it’s going to be is a whole bunch of adult males pressuring young males into doing something they might regret three weeks down the road.”

Shaw’s comments are incredibly candid and also a perfect counterpoint to the common sense logic that makes an early signing period desirable. His comments should also ring true for Irish fans, especially after seeing Eddie Vanderdoes earn immediate eligibility after signing his letter of intent with Notre Dame.

While the issue isn’t as transparent as the failed attempt to institute a 10-second wait, there are valid points being made by both sides of the issue. As the debate continues, it’ll certainly be interesting to watch how it impacts Notre Dame.

Kelly on the recruits: Offensive Line

Alex Bars
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The dust has settled. Notre Dame’s Signing Day class is in the books. With Brian Kelly at Pebble Beach, competing in the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, let’s walk through the head coach’s comments on each position group from his introductory press conference.

OFFENSIVE LINE

BK on Alex Bars: 

“Another young man that we got a chance to see in the summer, has a great pedigree, a couple of brothers that play college ball, dad played here at Notre Dame, and it’s one of the things sometimes‑‑ you know, everyone thinks, well, if the parent played here you have an easy connection.

“Sometimes it’s the most difficult, right. Dad played here, it’s an easy leap; not so much. Sometimes you’ve got to work harder to get that young man to come to Notre Dame because he wants to go off on his own sometimes.

“Alex is a young man that we think has all the gifts necessary to be a great student athlete here at Notre Dame.”

 

BK on Jimmy Byrne:

“Really love the way Jimmy has progressed, especially his senior year.  We liked Jimmy last year.  He was an early offer for us and committed, and then really had a great senior year from our standpoint.  Physical, moves his feet well.

“You’re going to see that there’s an athletic component to all of these guys, and Jimmy certainly fits that, and really excited about him.  He’s a great student, great young man, and a great fit for Notre Dame.”

 

BK on Sam Mustipher:

“I think what stood out for us with Sam was his ability to move his feet again.  All these guys can be big and strong and physical, but if they can’t move their feet, if they can’t bend, if they can’t get out of their stance and do a good job and moving and bending, then we’re moving on.

“They’ve got to be good people.  They’ve got to be tough, competitive kids.  They’ve got to be benders.  They can’t be waist benders, they’ve got to be knee benders.  And again, they’ve got to be able to move their feet.”

 

BK on Quenton Nelson:

“I think the one thing that stands out about Q is that here’s a guy that just is relentless.  He’s going to come after you play after play after play.  And again, his desire to want to be great is what always stood out about Quenton is that he’s always pushing himself.

“Every time we talk to him he’s coming back from something.  He plays basketball, he’s working out, he’s a guy that’s driving himself always to be the best he can be.

“One of the best players in the country at his position, but physically strong, and at 6’5″, 300 pounds as a senior in high school, I mean, this kid can still move his feet and he’ll continue to work on that, and he’s a guy that is so focused on what he needs to work on, that’s what we loved about him.”