One of the more impressive hauls in this year’s recruiting class was the work Brian Kelly and his staff did on the front seven. Needing to replace starters at every position with the exception of Jaylon Smith and Sheldon Day, the group was key in rebuilding the team’s depth chart.
Considering Notre Dame needed to replace their defensive coordinator (who also served as the linebackers coach) and transition in Brian VanGorder during the home stretch of the process, it’s hard to be too tough on this group.
Let’s walk through the signees, with Kelly’s comments from his introductory press conference:
BK on Grant Blankenship
“He just continues to grow. He’s about 265 pounds. We loved him in camp. We had a hard time with anybody blocking him. He was a guy that just stood out right away for us when we saw him in our summer camp working out. Had a great senior year, and again, a guy that continued to just grow. I think he’s just starting to hit his potential level, and it’s only going to get better and better.
“Grant is going to be really a solid player for us with great size, somebody that’s really going to grow into that position at the defensive line.”
BK on Jonathan Bonner
“We really project him to be an outside player for us, an edge player, rush player, a guy that gets after the quarterback, and really was impressed with Jonathan, his personality, his character.
“Has a bit of a connection here with Notre Dame, as well. When you talk about the right fit to Notre Dame, Jonathan possessed all of the right characteristics, academics, socially, and then as a football player. When he came up here, again, a lot of these guys we see firsthand, so our evaluations in a lot of these young men, we got a chance to see them. Jonathan really impressed us in all of those areas.”
BK on Daniel Cage
“This guy is a ferocious player. He’s an inside player, and we love the way he got off the ball. His strength, lower body strength, he’s a guy that’s going to play the shade, he can play the nose. He’s a guy that’s very disruptive inside.
“As you know, it was not a long recruiting process. We told Daniel, the circumstances, because of losing a player and then having a couple of guys go early, we had to recruit him in a shorter window, but we were able to show him why we thought Notre Dame was the right fit for him, and he got a chance to see Notre Dame, and he signed with us today. Daniel Cage, we’re excited about having him at Notre Dame, as well.”
BK on Jay Hayes
“One thing I’ll say about Jay is that he has been probably one of our, I would say best recruiters in a sense from day one. He’s talked about Notre Dame and why you make a decision to come to Notre Dame. I remember one of his quotes when I was with him was, Coach, some of these guys don’t get it. They don’t really understand why you would come to Notre Dame. And he’s such a thoughtful kid at his age that he understands why he would come to Notre Dame for all the right reasons, getting a degree and opening up doors for him for the rest of his life.
“Having said that, he’s a heck of a football player. Long, and he’s long. He’s 6’4″, long arms, about 275 pounds. He’s got multi‑position capabilities. He can play inside, he can play outside. Really like the way he plays the game, ferocious attacking player and a guy that we have a lot of trust in their head coach. He’s a defensive line coach by trade, and he’s one of the best he’s ever had. Really excited about Jay Hayes coming into our program.”
BK on Kolin Hill
“Colin was a young man that we offered when he didn’t have a lot of action, but we saw a young man that we thought we could develop into just an outstanding football player. First of all, we loved him as a person. Again, a right fit for Notre Dame, character, high energy, yes, sir, no, sir, had all those things that we really liked. He was engaging. Really impressed our admissions people. He had all the things that we were looking for as well as somebody that we felt we could develop.
“After we offered him, of course then he got a million offers after that. Another kid from Texas that was offered by Texas, but he saw the reasons that he chose Notre Dame and fought through that late recruitment. Again, I thought Kerry did a great job of recruiting Colin and getting him here to Notre Dame.
“Here’s a guy that really will continue to just develop. He has not even seen his ceiling yet.”
BK on Greer Martini
“Greer Martini is one of the smarter defensive players we signed. We got a chance to spend some time with him here on campus. His leadership skills, his ability to recognize and really‑‑ you have to have leaders. He’s a really good player, and he’s a really good leader, and he’ll be a very good linebacker for us here at Notre Dame and will also be a guy that makes others around him better.
“He’s a good size at 6’3″, 225. He’s only going to get bigger and stronger while he’s here. He’ll be an inside linebacker for us, and again, a position of need for us moving forward.”
BK on Pete Mokwuah
“Pete was a great fit for us, and looking for to augment our defensive line position, we wanted to find the right profile young man. He’s Nigerian. We’ve had a great Nigerian connection here, Romeo Okwara, Prince Shembo, just to name a few, and then Pete was able to connect Catholic institution, goes to a Catholic school. That profile fit very well for us. A kid that’s serious about his academics here at Notre Dame. All very good profiling for us in terms of the right fit here at Notre Dame and a 6’4”, 315‑pound defensive lineman, pretty good fit there, too.
“So all of those things together, we really liked his personality. His mom got a chance to come up with him and see Notre Dame. He’s got a couple of sisters, one at UConn, one at St.John’s, so the family really understands about college and getting a great education and so it was a really good fit in getting Peter here at Notre Dame.”
BK on Nyles Morgan
“One thing that stands out about Nyles is his thirst for knowledge of the game. Every time I’m with him, he just wants to talk about football, and he’s a good student, and his mom and dad want him to just talk about academics, and he’s a good student and he recognizes the value of getting a degree at Notre Dame. A couple of his choices were Notre Dame and Vanderbilt, so he understands that clearly, but every time he’s with me he just wants to talk about football. He is a student of the game.
“He couldn’t wait for today because after today he gets to talk a lot more football, and on a daily basis he’s going to be talking about football.
“Just got a great nose for the football, plays downhill, plays fast, great instincts, and when he arrives, he arrives with a bad attitude when he gets to the football. He’s just that kind of player. Very, very talented. You know, I think from our standpoint, an inside guy that certainly has the physical tools to be an exceptional player here at Notre Dame.”
BK on Nile Sykes
“Just a great addition to our class. Really like Nile and his personality. He’s got a great family. Mom and dad, really excited about being a part of the Notre Dame family. Listen, that matters, too. We want people that want to be part of Notre Dame and be part of our family, and to bring Nile and his family in, he’s a versatile player. He can play inside, he can play outside. He is a physical player. He’s got very good ball skills, instincts, and again, another versatile player in our front seven that’s going to add to the depth of our football team.”
BK on Andrew Trumbetti
“The thing that I would say about Andrew, the thing that really put him over the top for us is when we were watching his film, he was returning kickoffs in high school, and not many times do you see a defensive lineman returning kickoffs.
“We knew about his athletic ability right away, and certainly we loved the fact that he was a multisport player, was a track athlete, and when we got a chance, when Coach Diaco was here before he moved on to Connecticut, got a chance to see him in track practice and got a chance to see his footwork and his quickness and all those things, and that started the recruiting process for us, and then obviously getting a chance to see him up on campus in our summer camps.”
BK on Jhonathon Williams
“Here’s a young man that just started play the game, 6’6”, 230 pounds, and who knows what his future is going to be. There’s no ceiling on Jhonny Williams’s future. He’s an engaging young man. He just recognizes that he’s got a great opportunity at Notre Dame, and we’re excited to provide him that opportunity.
“You know, he’s one of the top players in the state of Michigan, and I think from our perspective, we’ve got one of those guys that if you call him a sleeper or whatever you want to call it, he didn’t play great competition, but he’s going to get an opportunity to play against the very best competition here. But we’ll take that any time with his athletic skill set.
“At his size, his athletic ability, we’re really excited about developing Jhonny Williams. He’s the kind of guy that you want to have on your team because of his personality, who he is, his story, his family background, and then a guy that you feel like you can develop down the road.”