Weekend notes: Recruiting Ohio, Bracketology, Cooks, Daniels and more

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It’ll likely be months until anybody is certain what the fate of Ohio State football will be, but that hasn’t stopped people from talking about it. If you’re looking for some context, Michigan blog MGoBlog.com revels in the comparison to USC (their conclusion: “Yeah, you guys are screwed), a benchmark that’ll likely be referenced a few thousand times before the NCAA Committee on Infractions puts the Buckeyes athletic program in its crosshairs.

With that angle in mind, Brian Kelly was asked earlier this week about the Ohio State problems and whether they effect the Irish’s recruiting efforts in the state of Ohio.

“It doesn’t,” Kelly said point-blank on Tuesday.

“We still have to be focused on what we’re about and what we’re looking for. If there’s a hole in recruiting because Ohio State is not on a kid because of what’s going on, that really doesn’t affect us. We’re still going to recruit the kind of guys that we believe fit at Notre Dame. If there are things ancillary that will work in our favor, we don’t sit around thinking about those things.”

In the two recruiting classes Kelly’s already signed, he’s made it clear that recruiting Ohio is important by the sheer volume of players he’s taken. Notre Dame has signed nine players from the Buckeye state in the past two classes, and the state of Ohio trails only Illinois for active members on the roster.

Here are the Ohio recruits Kelly inked in the last two classes:

     Alex Welch, TE (Ohio State offer)
     Derek Roback, LB
     Luke Massa, QB
     Matt James, OL (Ohio State offer)
     Andrew Hendrix, QB (Ohio State offer)
     Chase Hounshell, OL/DL
     Eilar Hardy, DB
     Jarrett Grace, LB (Ohio State offer)
     Brad Carrico, OL

The Irish already have Ohio native Taylor Decker committed to the 2012 class and are chasing another ten or so players from Ohio, many with offers from the Buckeyes. With or without Jim Tressel, it’s pretty clear Brian Kelly thinks he’ll do just fine.

“It’s been a great state, it’s a state we need to continue to work hard in,” Kelly said. “It was good for me in Cincinnati, and it’s going to be good for us at Notre Dame.”

***

You want a playoff in college football? Well, here’s likely your best chance… for now.

As part of the run-up to EA Sports’ popular videogame franchise, “NCAA Football 12,” EA is holding a bracket challenge to decide what college football tradition is the country’s best.

The Irish’s “Play Like A Champion Today” is the No. 1 seed in the tournament, and facing off with West Virginia’s “Hold the Rope” tradition. (I honestly didn’t know this existed…) Over 42,000 votes have been cast, with the Irish holding a 70/30 advantage over the Mountaineers, but be sure to continue to stuff the ballot box, because a dog fight is coming next round, with either Uga the dog from Georgia or Tennessee’s Smokey moving on to the quarterfinals.

If you are so inclined, help Notre Dame defend their No. 1 seed.

(Yep, it’s the offseason…)

***

Irish cornerbacks coach Kerry Cooks is on his way back from Orlando, where he was one of seven college football coaches selected to participate in the NCAA Champion Forum.

Put on in conjunction with the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics (NACDA) convention, the Champions Forum focuses on a select group of minority coaches who have been identified as potential candidates to become college football head coaches.

Here’s more from UND.com on the focus on the initiative:

During the Forum, the coaches, athletics directors and speakers will have time to develop professional relationships in a more informal, private setting. There will be simulated interview sessions, media training, keynote speakers. There will also be opportunities to discuss key topics such as understanding and developing culture within their team and the athletics department and effectively engaging with the campus and academic staff after becoming a head football coach.

Through the Forum, the football coaches will have an opportunity to gain a better understanding of the search process and the steps taken by search firms and athletics directors when preparing to hire head football coaches to lead intercollegiate programs. In turn, the athletics directors and administrators will have opportunities to meet, interact and become better acquainted with the football coaches; become “champions” by assisting with the coaches’ continued career growth; and broaden their outlook on potential minority head coaching prospects within the NCAA.

Joining Cooks in Orlando were Michael Barrow, linebackers coach for Miami, Lawrence Dawsey, Florida State’s wide receivers coach, Gary Emmanuel, Purdue’s co-defensive coordinator, William Inge, Buffalo’s defensive coordinator, Brian Stewart, University of Houston’s defensive coordinator and Joel Thomas, Washington’s running backs coach.

This is Cooks’ second year on Brian Kelly’s staff and first year coaching cornerbacks.

***

Following up on the Matt Hegarty story, Davaris Daniels’ hometown newspaper, The Daily Herald, had an in-depth profile on the incoming freshman receiver after naming him the Lake County male athlete of the year.

Daniels starred on both the football and basketball team for Vernon Hills, something he’s done since his freshman year.

Clearly, Daniels leaves Vernon Hills as one of its best athletes in history. But he also goes down as one of Lake County’s most decorated and talented athletes, so it seems only fitting that Daniels has been named the Daily Herald’s male athlete of the year for Lake County.

“This all went by so quick,” said Daniels, who is eyeing a starting spot at wide receiver at Notre Dame, which opens football camp in eight days. “But it also seems like I’ve been in high school forever.”

Could be all those weeks, months and years of varsity pressures and expectations.

Not that Daniels ever seemed flustered by them.

He was on the radar of college recruiters almost from the moment he returned that kickoff for a touchdown. Yet, Daniels stayed grounded and kept his nose to the grindstone.

“DaVaris is a once-in-a-lifetime athlete to coach when you consider his abilities, work ethic and attitude,” Vernon Hills basketball coach Matt McCarty said. “His attitude has always been team first. Rarely do you see the complete package, but we have had it with DaVaris in both football and basketball.”

Daniels role in the offense could be rather large, depending on what happens with Michael Floyd and his uncertain return to the football team. Either way, if he’s even within two-tenths of a second of his reported 4.3 forty time, he can make an immediate impact as a returner or in the red zone, where his 6-foot-3 height and leaping ability should come in handy.

Another point of interest will be Daniels’ development as a wide receiver. He was used all over the field last season for Vernon Hills, which means he didn’t spend a ton of time concentrating on the nuances of the receiver position. Athletically, that’s a good thing for Daniels, but it also might make the transition a little harder.

***

Is it possible Notre Dame is continuing its way up the cool charts? Consider this article that came up in my Notre Dame news feed, from celebrity tabloid OK! Magazine:

“Selena Gomez & Taylor Swift Tried to Have a “Normal College Experience” at Notre Dame.”

Here’s the quote of record from Taylor Swift, whose younger brother is a Notre Dame student.

“So we fly to Notre Dame and decide we’re gonna fit in,” Taylor explains. “We went and we got all this Notre Dame gear so we’re like wearing the Notre Dame jacket and the Notre Dame visor and we learned that’s not how you fit in at college evidently.”

I expect every guy on campus to have two size-small “The Shirts” waiting for these girls when they try to come back for a game next year.

***

Lastly, for any fans of Friday Night Lights out there, we might have found a replacement for Tim Riggins.

Enter Cam McDaniel:

Notre Dame 99-to-2: No. 84 Cole Kmet, tight end

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Listed Measurements: 6-foot-5 ½, 255 pounds
2018-19 year, eligibility: Sophomore with three seasons of eligibility remaining, including 2018.
Depth chart: Kmet will be the second option among Notre Dame’s vertical threats at tight end, behind senior Alizé Mack, provided Mack proves more reliable than he has in the past.
Recruiting: Not only was Kmet a consensus four-star prospect, he was a consensus top-five tight end in the country. Rivals.com, for example, rated Kmet as the No. 3 tight end in the class of 2017.

CAREER TO DATE
Kmet appeared in all 13 games last season, catching two passes for 14 yards against Wake Forest, both completions from back-up quarterback Ian Book, on back-to-back passes in fact. Kmet also dropped a red-zone pass on a third down that November afternoon, that one attempted by starting quarterback Brandon Wimbush.

QUOTE(S)
Much of the praise around Kmet this spring revolved around his ability to excel both in football practices and baseball games. In his first collegiate season on the mound, Kmet appeared in 25 games, notching eight saves with a 4.76 ERA and 1.57 WHIP in 45 1/3 innings, striking out 37 batters.

“He handles two sports here and is never on a list,” Irish head coach Brian Kelly said in late March. “He never is a guy we have to worry about in terms of going to class and representing Notre Dame in the fashion that he needs to. A pretty extraordinary young man in terms of the whole picture.

“… He catches the ball, soft hands, he’s physical at the point of attack, and when he catches the ball, he runs through tacklers, which is in itself pretty impressive.”

At some points this spring, Kelly and offensive coordinator Chip Long gave Kmet the option of taking a football practice off if following a late baseball game. The tight end dismissed that notion.

“You can see some days where it wears on him,” Long said in mid-April. “… But he’s been extremely consistent. Staying with us all last fall, you can see where the carryover has been big for him to blossom this spring.”

WHAT WAS PROJECTED A YEAR AGO
“A situation in which Kmet plays in 2017 is nearly beyond fathoming. An injury crisis would have to tear through the Irish tight ends in order to make playing the sixth and most-inexperienced option a necessity.

“Kmet’s odds of seeing action this season were further diminished when [classmate Brock] Wright not only enrolled early but also held his own in spring practice. It is not that Wright is far-and-away better than Kmet, it is the head start will be most noticeable in their freshman campaign. If Notre Dame opts to play a freshman tight end, it will be Wright, not Kmet.”

2018 OUTLOOK
This projection cannot be more inaccurate than last year’s, so that’s a start.

Kmet complements Mack as a viable receiving option among the Irish tight ends, but he could become more than that. That speaks as much to Mack’s habitual inconsistency as it does to Kmet’s soft hands and aptness at the point of attack. His rise, though, could be the push Mack needs to focus. For the team, that may be the best-case scenario: Kmet plays well, leading to Mack playing better. Both would get their fair share of opportunities in Long’s multiple tight end schemes. That is the version of the Irish offense which would be a nightmare for opposing defensive coordinators.

If Kmet were to statistically surpass Mack for a week or two in September, that could just as equally result in Mack checking out mntally. To be blunt, such a disappointment could happen with or without Kmet’s success this fall, but having another dangerous pass-catcher at tight end for Long to tinker with would diminish the possible debilitating effects.

The gap between those two scenarios is vast. Last year, Notre Dame’s top-three tight ends (Mack, Durham Smythe and returning fifth-year Nic Weishar) combined for 43 catches for 462 yards and four touchdowns. If Kmet and Mack could combine for about those totals, maybe 500 yards and four touchdowns on 45 catches, then that would be a solid baseline, no matter how those stats are distributed.

DOWN THE ROAD
Mack could return in 2019, but Kmet will continue to rise to prominence in Long’s system. His combination of height and hands makes him an intriguing piece for a tight end-heavy offense. However, some caution needs to be exercised. Kmet looked solid in his freshman season and certainly impressed across the board this spring, but that is all a far cry from excelling in the fall.

Kmet should contribute this season and take the lead in 2019, with or without Mack on the Irish roster, but he may not yet become an offensive staple even then. If his progression follows an understated rate, that day may come in 2019 or 2020. Part of that inevitable outlook traces to Notre Dame’s tight end reputation. They keep becoming NFL contributors, Smythe after Koyack after Niklas after Eifert …

NOTRE DAME 99-to-2:
No. 99 Jerry Tillery, defensive tackle, senior
No. 97 Micah Dew-Treadway, defensive tackle, senior
No. 95 Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa, defensive tackle, sophomore
No. 94 Darnell Ewell, defensive tackle, sophomore
No. 93 (theoretically) Ja’Mion Franklin, defensive tackle, incoming freshman
No. 91 Ade Ogundeji, defensive end, junior
No. 90 (theoretically) Tommy Tremble, tight end, incoming freshman
No. 89 Brock Wright, tight end, sophomore
No. 88 Javon McKinley, receiver, junior
No. 87 Michael Young, receiver, sophomore
No. 86 Alizé Mack, tight end, senior
No. 85 George Takacs, tight end, early-enrolled freshman
No. 85: Tyler Newsome, punter and captain, fifth-year senior

Notre Dame 99-to-2: No. 85 Tyler Newsome, punter and captain

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Listed Measurements: 6-foot-2 ½ , 210 pounds
2018-19 year, eligibility: Fifth-year with only the 2018 season remaining.
Depth chart: Newsome will handle all the Notre Dame punting duties while also serving as one of four Irish captains.
Recruiting: Though only a punter, rivals.com marked Newsome as a three-star recruit and the No. 6 kicker/punter in his class.

CAREER TO DATE
Newsome preserved a year of eligibility as a freshman while former Irish leg extraordinaire Kyle Brindza both kicked and punted. Since then, Newsome has rarely faltered, averaging 43.8 yards on 172 career punts.

2015: 55 punts at an average of 44.5 yards per punt with a long of 62 yards. Notre Dame averaged a field position swing of 38.1 yards per punt.
2016: 54 punts (in only 12 games) at an average of 43.5 yards per punt with a long of 71 yards. Notre Dame averaged a field position swing of 35.3 yards per punt.
2017: 63 punts at an average of 43.6 yards per punt with a long of 59 yards. Notre Dame averaged a field position swing of 37.9 yards per punt.

QUOTE(S)
Newsome’s rise to captainship this offseason was chronicled when Irish head coach Brian Kelly named him a captain along with fifth-year linebacker Drue Tranquill and fifth-year center Sam Mustipher to begin spring practices. (Fifth-year left guard Alex Bars joined their ranks the morning of the Blue-Gold Game on April 21.)

The week before the spring finale, Kelly revisited what led his team to elevate Newsome as a leader.

“He’s a guy that holds all players to a level, a standard of excellence that we have here at Notre Dame,” Kelly said. “When you’re not meeting that standard, he’s going to take the load from you to make sure that it gets done. He’s a remarkable teammate.

“Our losing SWAT team weekly, they have to come in to run. [Newsome] didn’t lose once, his team, but he came in every Wednesday to be there for that losing team, to support them. Just that kind of wanting to hold everybody to the same standards. He was there to help them. He wasn’t there to yell at them. He was there to encourage them. That was recognized by his teammates.”

WHAT WAS PROJECTED A YEAR AGO
“Notre Dame does not necessarily want Newsome to excel. If he is getting enough work to truly stand out, that simply means the Irish offense has turned stalling into a routine occurrence.

“Whether he gets frequent use or not, Newsome has proven to be a consistent performer, largely immune to the pressure so often found to figuratively cripple college kickers and punters. Expect that steadfastness to continue this season.”

2018 OUTLOOK
First and foremost, the peace of mind provided by a lack of punting concerns should not be overlooked. There is absolutely no reason whatsoever to worry Newsome may develop the yips in his final season.

His off-kilter leadership, meanwhile, intrigues. Two-year captain Tranquill can and will lead the defense as Mustipher and Bars combine to lead the offense. That does not simply leave the special teams for Newsome’s guidance, however.

He should serve as an offbeat catch-all for any unusual circumstances. That role would be behind the scenes, beneath the radar, etc., but Newsome’s effect could be a unique dynamic helping to easy any locker room tension.

Even with that capacity, it will almost certainly still be Tranquill and now Bars, stepping into former Notre Dame captain Mike McGlinchey’s stead, answering the media’s questions in a distant arena after a fourth quarter goes awry.

DOWN THE ROAD
Newsome’s leg does not offer the booming power necessary to break into the NFL. His Irish career alone may warrant an invite to an offseason camp, but Newsome does not look to be the next rendition of Craig Hentrich.

NOTRE DAME 99-to-2:
No. 99 Jerry Tillery, defensive tackle, senior
No. 97 Micah Dew-Treadway, defensive tackle, senior
No. 95 Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa, defensive tackle, sophomore
No. 94 Darnell Ewell, defensive tackle, sophomore
No. 93 (theoretically) Ja’Mion Franklin, defensive tackle, incoming freshman
No. 91 Ade Ogundeji, defensive end, junior
No. 90 (theoretically) Tommy Tremble, tight end, incoming freshman
No. 89 Brock Wright, tight end, sophomore
No. 88 Javon McKinley, receiver, junior
No. 87 Michael Young, receiver, sophomore
No. 86 Alizé Mack, tight end, senior
No. 85 George Takacs, tight end, early-enrolled freshman

Notre Dame’s defensive line recruiting surge continues with Texas four-star’s commitment

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Defensive line coach Mike Elston predicted Notre Dame would enjoy great recruiting success along its defensive line this cycle. With Saturday’s commitment of consensus four-star defensive end NaNa Osafo-Mensah (Nolan Catholic High School; Fort Worth, Texas), Elston can consider his boasts backed up.

“I haven’t had a stronger group of underclassmen that I’m recruiting than I have this year in 2019,” Elston said on Feb. 7, the most-recent National Signing Day.

“This could be the best defensive line haul we’ve ever had here.”

Osafo-Mensah is the third consensus four-star defensive end to join the Irish class of 2019 and the highest-rated of the trio, joining Howard Cross (St. Joseph H.S.; Montvale, N.J.) and Hunter Spears (Sachse; Texas). Per rivals.com, Osafo-Mensah is the No. 160 prospect in the country and the No. 17 in Texas. The recruiting service lists Osafo-Mensah as an outside linebacker, and the No. 6 outside linebacker in the country, but his 6-foot-4 frame holding about 220 pounds projects as a pass-rushing defensive end in the future.

Osafo-Mensah is not only explosive, but he has the length of a top-flight quarterback hound. Obviously, he remains a bit light as he finishes his junior year in high school.

Osafo-Mensah chose Notre Dame over his homestate Texas, with Oklahoma and Texas A&M also pursuing him strongly. Just about every college football power offered him a scholarship, notably including Alabama, Michigan and USC.

With the Irish, he becomes the 10th commit in the class, including consensus-four star defensive tackle Jacob Lacey (South Warren; Bowling Green, Ky.). Clearly the defensive line is an emphasis for Elston, defensive coordinator Clark Lea and Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly.

If not for the changes to NCAA recruiting rules in the last cycle, Osafo-Mensah and the rest may still be in the early parts of the recruitment process. First of all, December’s early signing period gave the coaching staff a head start on chasing the next set of recruits.

“A lot of it is because I’ve been able to put [the class of 2018] to bed and get moving on the ‘19s and go visit in their schools all throughout January,” Elston said.

Those impressions led to Osafo-Mensah’s official visit last month. Before the new rules, he would not have been able to take a paid-for trip to campus until the fall.

Notre Dame 99-to-2: No. 85 George Takacs, tight end, early-enrolled freshman

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Listed Measurements: 6-foot-6, 245 pounds
2018-19 year, eligibility: Early-enrolled freshman with four years of eligibility remaining, including the 2018 season.
Depth chart: One could argue Takacs is the second option as an H-back blocker behind sophomore Brock Wright, but the arrival of Auburn transfer fullback Keenan Sweeney could diminish the immediate need for Takacs in that regard.
Recruiting: A rivals.com four-star recruit and No. 15 tight end in the class, the U.S. Army All-American chose Notre Dame over Georgia, Wisconsin and homestate Florida, also holding offers from much of the southeast, including Florida State, Tennessee and Auburn.

QUOTE(S)
A meniscus tear before spring practice started cut short Takacs’ early impressions. Thus, the only available insights into Takacs trace back to National Signing Day proceedings.

“George is already here doing a great job,” Irish offensive coordinator Chip Long said on Feb. 7. “… The good thing I got to see this year with George, though, is he was split out wide and did a lot of good things in the passing game.”

WHAT WAS SAID WHEN TAKACS’ NATIONAL LETTER OF INTENT ARRIVED
“The target Takacs presents to his quarterback makes him an intriguing possibility all on its own. With reach to match his 6-foot-6 frame, Takacs can get to nearly any ball in his vicinity, making up for a lack of top-end speed.”

2018 OUTLOOK
Takacs will likely be healthy before the fall, if not already. He underwent surgery for the bucket tear in his cartilage, which typically reduces recovery time from the injury. Nonetheless, the step back limited the positive effects of Takacs’ early enrollment.

The most logical result of that is Takacs spends the season on the sidelines, getting healthy and getting up to college fitness levels.

DOWN THE ROAD
Long’s praise of Takacs’ ability in the passing game indicates the tight end may be more of a complete player than he was originally recruited to be. On the surface, Takacs looks to be the successor to Wright as an attached tight end, strengthening the Notre Dame running game.

If he can do both that and catch passes, even if only short routes in the flat or on bootlegs, Takacs will fit right into Long’s multiple tight end schemes. Those formations make it so every tight end on the Irish roster matters. Three rotate in frequently, making the fourth tight end actually within the two-deep depth chart. When fifth-year Nic Weishar runs out of eligibility and senior Alizé Mack ponders the NFL, Takacs will be that fourth tight end, at the absolute least, with classmate Tommy Tremble the third tight end, especially if he sees action this year while Takacs reaches full health.

NOTRE DAME 99-to-2:
No. 99 Jerry Tillery, defensive tackle, senior
No. 97 Micah Dew-Treadway, defensive tackle, senior
No. 95 Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa, defensive tackle, sophomore
No. 94 Darnell Ewell, defensive tackle, sophomore
No. 93 (theoretically) Ja’Mion Franklin, defensive tackle, incoming freshman
No. 91 Ade Ogundeji, defensive end, junior
No. 90 (theoretically) Tommy Tremble, tight end, incoming freshman
No. 89 Brock Wright, tight end, sophomore
No. 88 Javon McKinley, receiver, junior
No. 87 Michael Young, receiver, sophomore
No. 86 Alizé Mack, tight end, senior