Irish succeed with 2014 class, even against the odds

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Brian Kelly introduced his 2014 recruiting class today, a 23-man group that brings back-to-back top 10 classes to South Bend. We’ve talked a little bit about the construction of the group before, but here’s Kelly’s initial reaction to the group.

“I really like the fact that this has come together and the fact that it really represents for us going into our fifth year the one thing that I believe that you’re looking for, and that is depth across the board,” Kelly said. “I think some of the things that stand out, 18 of these recruits that are in this class were in the top 15 in their position group, and so that’s what we were trying to achieve in this class.”

Let’s take a look at the group as a whole:

2014 Notre Dame National Letter-of-Intent Signees

Alex Bars, OL
Grant Blankenship, DE
Jonathan Bonner, DE/OLB
Justin Brent, WR
Jimmy Byrne, OL
Daniel Cage, DT
Jay Hayes, DT
Kolin Hill, LB
Corey Holmes, WR
Deshone Kizer, QB
Tyler Luatua, TE
Greer Martini, LB
Pete Mokwuah, DT
Nyles Morgan, LB
Sam Mustipher, OL
Quenton Nelson, OL
Tyler Newsome, P/K
Nile Sykes, LB
Drue Tranquill, S
Andrew Trumbetti, DE
Nick Watkins, CB
Nic Weishar, TE
Jhonny Williams, DE

As expected, there were some signing days surprises and disappointments. The morning started off with a big victory for the Irish, with Daniel Cage joining the Irish’s recruiting class, bringing in a much needed defensive tackle, solidfying the front seven haul.

There were some tough misses as well, with the Irish finishing second for Terrence Alexander, who chose Stanford, and Michiah Quick, who picked Oklahoma. The Irish also lost out on Courtney Garnett, who had pledged to Bob Stoops last week, but seriously considered Notre Dame until today. (At the time of posting, John “JuJu” Smith has not made his decision, though he’d be a surprise addition to the class.)

Setting aside the events of today, that we’re able to discuss this class as a top 10 group is an achievement. Notre Dame lost both coordinators during the home stretch of this recruiting cycle, with Chuck Martin a key part of the Irish’s efforts in Chicago and Bob Diaco calling the shots on defense. The recruiting staff was shorthanded in the final month with JR Sandlin leaving to take a position coach job at Jacksonville State.

Still, the Irish staff was able to adapt and achieve, evaluating, targeting, recruiting and landed the meat of this class during the final few months. That they went outside their profile at positions like linebacker and defensive end show a flexibility that didn’t exist in previous cycles, and is a big reason why Notre Dame was able to sign 23 in this class, not sputtering down the stretch like they did after the 2011 season.

The Irish didn’t achieve their goals on the field in 2013, but this recruiting class is proof that the foundation of the program is still sound. That can’t be said in Ann Arbor, where Brady Hoke is stuck in a toxic place many coaches can’t recover from, with Pete Sampson pointing out a damning statistics that is just as painful as the team’s won-loss record (or handling of the Brendan Gibbons expulsion).

Just as important, Kelly seemed to double down on his belief in the unique opportunity for student-athletes at Notre Dame. While the Irish lost Stephon Tuitt, Troy Niklas and George Atkinson to the NFL after three years, Kelly made it clear that he wants players who understand the value of getting their degree first.

“When we were having this opportunity to recruit a young man, they had to have a passion for wanting to get a degree from Notre Dame and winning a National Championship,” Kelly said. “If they want to come here just to hang their hat to play football and go to the NFL, we passed on some pretty good players, because I don’t want guys to come here and not finish their degree.  I want guys to come to Notre Dame, get their degree, help us win a National Championship, and be the No.1 pick in the NFL Draft.  That’s what I want, if that’s what they want.”

In the end, Notre Dame didn’t land everyone they wanted. But no school does. Yet even after losing four games and two coordinators, Kelly and his staff landing a deep group that filled roster holes and added talent at every position.

That’s progress.