Pregame Six Pack: Time for the Tar Heels

37 Comments

After a week of imminent distractions, Notre Dame gets prepared to take to the field and get to 6-0.

On Saturday, only North Carolina stands in their way, not the Honor Code hearings (and likely appeals) still lingering on, nor the uncertainty of teammates still in a holding pattern after an academic indiscretion was uncovered in late July.

MORE: Watch Notre Dame video

Yesterday, Brian Kelly spent most of his time with the media answering questions that the school’s administration won’t. Tomorrow, life will be easier: He’ll coach a football game.

North Carolina and Notre Dame will meet for the first time since 2008, when the Irish squandered a double-digit lead in Chapel Hill and lost 29-24. In an 18-game series that’s only seen the Tar Heels win one other game, letting any off-field distraction get in the way — not to mention next weekend’s date with Florida State — could derail a season that’s been perfect so far.

Let’s get to the Pregame Six Pack. As usual, here are six fun facts, tidbits, leftovers or miscellaneous musings as Notre Dame welcomes North Carolina to South Bend at 3:30 p.m. ET on NBC on online via Live Extra.

 

Joe Schmidt is more than just a good Hollywood story. He’s a really good middle linebacker for one of the best defenses in college football. 

We’re all suckers for a great story. With a tradition dominated by the heroic narratives provided by Rockne, The Gipper and Rudy, bunching Joe Schmidt’s rags-to-riches walk-on story in with the group makes sense. But it’d be doing a disservice to the senior linebacker.

Schmidt’s a good football player. Period. While he slid through the cracks as an averaged-sized, three-year starting linebacker at Mater Dei, one of the top high school football programs in Southern California, Schmidt’s belief in himself never wavered, and Notre Dame has been the beneficiary of that self-belief.

Yesterday, Schmidt joined Jim Rome on his nationally-syndicated radio program, and told everyone the story of that belief, and what makes him such a wonderful ambassador for the university.

“It starts as a little kid. Since I was five years old, I’ve wanted to come to Notre Dame,” Schmidt said. “I’ve been a Notre Dame fan, a Notre Dame guy. My older sister and my brother-in-law Greg, they went to Notre Dame. The bug bit me early and I became infatuated with the idea of Notre Dame.

“In the recruiting process, they kind of looked at me a little bit and I had some other opportunities to play some big time football other places. But for me, it was all about, I have this dream. If I go and do something and I’m successful at some school, I don’t ever want to ask myself, ‘Could I have done that at Notre Dame?’

“For me, it was about following my dream and just trying to do everything I could to make this university better and everything I could to make this team successful. It was never too much of a decision for me.”

Of course, Schmidt’s story isn’t a great one because he stepped foot on the field or was able to lean on his parents for the financial means to make that dream happen.

“I don’t think I really understood, with taxes, how much you have to make to pay a $60,000 college tuition bill,” Schmidt said, incredibly thankful to his parents.

But Schmidt’s no longer a walk-on with a great story. He’s earned his scholarship. He’s the undisputed leader on the defense. And he’ll leave Notre Dame a two-year starter who’ll likely captain a 2015 Irish squad with sky-high expectations.

So while even Notre Dame fans look at him as some type of placeholder or scrappy, undersized underdog, Schmidt’s almost on pace for a 100-tackle season as a starter in the middle of one of the best unit’s in the country.

Enough about the story. Let’s talk about the guy on the field.

 

A Notre Dame-North Carolina rivalry? Saturday’s game deserves a quick history lesson. 

The Irish and the Tar Heels have only played twice since 1975, splitting a home-and-home series in 2006 and 2008. In a series Notre Dame has dominated, the Irish’s .889 winning percentage is only bettered against Wabash and Illinois in team’s played a minimum of 10 games, a one-sided reboot of a series that’ll now be more frequent with Notre Dame’s ACC scheduling alliance.

But the first meeting in this series is a noteworthy one. Back in 1949, No. 1 Notre Dame met the Tar Heels in a sold-out Yankee Stadium. How hard were tickets to get? Well, this story, courtesy of North Carolina’s official athletic website, gives you a good idea.

Albert Earle Finley began a construction equipment business in Raleigh in 1931, and nearly two decades later it had grown into the largest distributorship in the United States. Finley was generous with the proceeds from his businesses, establishing a reputation as one of North Carolina’s most generous philanthropists. He was also an avid golfer and sports fan, following with interest the pursuits of university teams in the Triangle area. Like many others without direct connections to Carolina, Finley had become a fan of those late-1940s Charlie “Choo Choo” Justice-led teams.

He phoned the ticket office at Carolina in the fall of 1949 and was told that, unfortunately, there were no tickets available.

“Surely there are tickets somewhere,” Finley countered.

He was told demand was high and that, no, there were none for sale. Pressing the matter, Finley was directed to the university’s athletic director, Chuck Erickson. Finley phoned Erickson, who explained that hard-to-get tickets went to the university’s most generous financial boosters.

“If you need some money, let’s talk,” Finley said.

Erickson, who doubled as the Tar Heels’ golf coach, told Finley that the university had built a nine-hole golf course during World War II with labor from the Navy Pre-Flight and that each hole had two tees to vary the holes on a golfer’s second time through. UNC had the land for nine more and wanted to upgrade the original holes and build a second nine.

A deal was struck: Finley agreed to pay for the services of George Cobb to design the course and for construction costs. The golf course was named in his honor and remains today UNC-Finley Golf Course (though the layout was completely redesigned by Tom Fazio in 1999). And Finley got his tickets to the Carolina-Notre Dame game.

Finley joined more than 20,000 North Carolina fans traveling to New York to see the Tar Heels take on Frank Leahy’s Irish. But after an early 6-0 lead and a deadlocked 6-6 game at halftime, the Irish exploded in the second half and won 42-6.

Thought Notre Dame’s development office was good at finding donations? Chuck Erickson was no slouch either.

 

Another week, another test for the Irish defense. Why 17 is the magic number.  

Notre Dame has surrendered just 60 points through the season’s first five games, a 12-point average that’s tied for third-best in the country, and the best among teams who haven’t played FCS competition. But against Larry Fedora’s North Carolina offense, the Irish will face one of their stiffest offensive challenges.

The Irish defense has held their opponents to 17 points or less all five games this season, matching the 2012 unit in an accomplishment that hadn’t been achieved since 1982. Fedora’s North Carolina offense has been held to less than 17 points only once in his tenure in Chapel Hill, last year’s season opener against South Carolina.

Most Irish fans thought Brian Kelly was paying lip-service to Fedora’s athletic roster and offense, especially looking at their relatively mediocre 2-3 record with wins over just Liberty and San Diego State. But Brian VanGorder’s defense will face off against a tough dual-threat quarterback and some athletic playmakers.

 

With the next chapter of the season about to begin, expect the running game to get on track this Saturday. 

That we’re applauding a blue-collar effort last Saturday isn’t insignificant. But Notre Dame’s modest 4.0 yards per carry against Stanford — bolstered by long runs by C.J. Prosise and Everett Golson — is hopefully something to build on.

With the restacked offensive line continuing to grow into their roles, Saturday against North Carolina’s very suspect defense will be important to continue the midseason reshuffling. Earlier this week, Kelly was asked about the play of new center Matt Hegarty, who struggled early against Stanford’s three-down front, but settled into the game.

“What we were most pleased with is that in the third and fourth quarter, he played his best football,” Kelly said. “So I think once we settled into the game and started to get into the flow of the game, he graded out much better.  But not to take away, there were some of those big misses that we have to really eradicate from his game.”

Hegarty wasn’t the only one that needs to eliminate some ugly plays. Sophomore Steve Elmer was physically overwhelmed a few times by Stanford’s Henry Anderson. Christian Lombard had an early slip-up or two as well. (And that’s certainly not to say Nick Martin and Ronnie Stanley were perfect, either.) But getting these five working in sync before heading to Tallahassee has to be a priority for Kelly and offensive line coach Harry Hiestand, and expect the game plan to reflect that.

Of course, the guys running the ball need to do a better job. And while it’s easy for those of us watching from the press box or the couch to spot cutback lanes, Greg Bryant, Tarean Folston and Cam McDaniel all need to take advantage of their opportunities this weekend.

Folston should be ready to go after a thigh contusion. Kelly said that the medical staff took four cc’s of fluid out of Folston’s quad and that he responded with an excellent week of practice. After a breakout freshman season started down the stretch, Folston could be ready to step into that role, if Bryant or McDaniel let him.

 

With Golson for the Irish and Hood for the Tar Heels, it’s a friendly reminder that all is fair in love and recruiting. 

Everett Golson has likely been looking forward to the matchup with North Carolina for a long time. After envisioning himself starring for the Tar Heels on both the gridiron and the hard wood, Golson ended up in South Bend, a winding road that we’ve spent tens of thousands of words describing.

Golson was committed to North Carolina, ready to play basketball for Roy Williams and football for Butch Davis, until an NCAA academic investigation took root. That opened the door for Brian Kelly to come in, finding a perfect quarterback for his offensive system, though ending any opportunity to play basketball.

Of course, North Carolina turned the tables in the last recruiting cycle with their flipping of Elijah Hood. The five-star running back was an early Notre Dame commit, dazzling at The Opening as he showcased elite speed and a physique about as impressive as you’ll find on a high school senior.

Hood has quickly ascended to the top of the running back depth chart for the Tar Heels, averaging 4.3 yards per carry as a powerful, fall-forward running back behind a suspect offensive line. He’ll likely get his opportunity to impress early and often for the North Carolina offense with no offensive line. That says nothing about the numbers Golson could put up against a defense that’s allowing 42 points a game.

As we saw earlier this week with Notre Dame’s flipping of quarterback recruit Brandon Wimbush, the Irish coaching staff isn’t afraid to continue to recruit a prospect that’s committed. It’s helped define the Kelly era, with no quarterback in Notre Dame history winning games at a better clip than Golson.

So while the Irish may lose an occasional big name like Hood, they’ll win enough to make it all okay.

 

Distractions, suspensions and “getting it.” Any questions about Brian Kelly’s fit at Notre Dame have been answered. 

Remember this moment, Notre Dame fans. Because there’s a very real possibility that it might not ever get any better than this.

Ranked in the Top Five according to the now meaningless Coaches’ Poll, Brian Kelly has led a ridiculously young football team into October unbeaten. That feat alone has rarely been accomplished in the post-Lou Holtz era of Notre Dame football.

But even Holtz rarely had to deal with the difficulties and distractions that Kelly has endured, none more frustrating and culture-inflicted than the “imminent” demise of DaVaris Daniels, Eilar Hardy, Kendall Moore, KeiVarae Russell and Ishaq Williams. That university brass is still determining discipline for five athletes after suspected academic misdeeds were discovered in late July is ridiculous.

The university, led by Rev. John Jenkins, has deserved a lot of credit in recent years for moving out of the dark ages — in campus life and social issues — all while retaining their ideals as the preeminent Catholic university in the world.

But a lot of that good will has eroded these past two months, with administrators exhibiting the uneasiness that comes along with Notre Dame’s continued hopes to be among academia’s elite while begrudgingly acknowledging football’s role as the foundation that quite literally built most of the university.

That struggle had revealed itself for too long in the athletic department. But Jack Swarbrick has solved that problem. Under Swarbrick, the athletic department no longer operates like their antiquated facilities inside the JACC, but rather like one of the elite athletic outfits in the entire country. Mens and women’s sports continue to win at historic clips, finding a way to recruit athletes that fit inside a mold that even the university’s top administrators are still working to define.

Swarbrick has succeeded largely because he bet on the right man to run his flagship program. And in his relationship with Brian Kelly, the duo has found a way to thrive, mostly because Kelly understands his place in the big picture. That he’s able to win while constantly being examined under a microscope that includes social media and viral memes, HD zoom lenses focused on his every sideline move, and a rabid fanbase demanding a return to past glories is something we shouldn’t take for granted.

Nor should we discount his political acumen. Just look to Ann Arbor when you want to see what happens when you throw a football coach to the wolves. So while some still worry that Kelly’s just a smooth operator and opportunist looking for the next big thing, these past few weeks should end that discussion.

The university has released its last statement on the academic suspensions, delivering a heavily-scrubbed message on a Sunday afternoon in the middle of NFL bedlam, seemingly willing to ride out this storm and batten down the hatches. So its head football coach continues to speak uneasily on its behalf, capably handling a mess not of his own creation.

That’s a man that understands his role at Notre Dame. And a man you couldn’t blame for wanting an easier job, where winning football games was the only measurement of success or failure.

Reports: Tommy Rees heads to Alabama after 10 total years at Notre Dame

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: APR 23 Notre Dame Spring Game
Getty Images
18 Comments

If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.

Tommy Rees will leave Notre Dame to do just that, heading to be the offensive coordinator at Alabama, according to reports Friday afternoon. Nick Saban and the Tide denied Rees a national championship as a player in 2012 and a title game appearance as an offensive coordinator in 2020.

The South Bend Tribune‘s Mike Berardino first reported Rees’s decision, coming a day after reports initially surfaced that Rees was Alabama’s preferred choice for the gig, and he had flown to Tuscaloosa to consider the position.

Those unbeaten regular seasons, along with one in 2018 as the Irish quarterbacks coach, were the high points of Rees’ total of a decade with the Notre Dame football program. Like his former head coach, he will now head to the SEC chasing a higher peak.

Of course, Rees spurned Brian Kelly’s invite to join him at LSU last winter, instead memorably telling the Irish offensive players, “I’m [bleepin’] staying,” setting the tone for the first week of Marcus Freeman‘s tenure as Notre dame head coach.

RELATED READING: Tommy Rees turns down Brian Kelly’s LSU overture and will remain at Notre Dame
Jack Swarbrick, Marcus Freeman and Tommy Rees brought stability to Notre Dame long before and obviously after Brian Kelly sowed chaos

Alabama made an offer Rees could not refuse, even if a year ago he said, “I love this place (Notre Dame). I believe that we can win a national championship here, and I’m committed to doing everything we can to get to that point.”

Going to Tuscaloosa does not render those words empty. Rees is going to work for the greatest college football coach in history in a role that has repeatedly springboarded coaches to better opportunities. Since Saban arrived at Alabama in 2007, his offensive coordinators have gone on to be, in chronological order, the assistant head coach at Texas (Major Applewhite), head coach at Colorado State (Jim McElwain), offensive coordinator at Michigan (Doug Nussmeier), head coach at Florida Atlantic (Lane Kiffin), head coach at Texas (Steve Sarkisian) and offensive coordinator for the New England Patriots (Bill O’Brien).

Thus, Rees is bettering both his chances at a national title in the short term and his presumed path to whatever gig he wants next in the long term.

He leaves Notre Dame after three seasons as the Irish offensive coordinator, which came after three years as the quarterbacks coach. The Irish have ranked No. 41, No. 19 and No. 30 in scoring offense the last three seasons, peaking with 35.2 points per game in 2021, the second-highest total in Brian Kelly’s tenure.

But perhaps Rees’s finest moment as a Notre Dame assistant came when he finessed a mid-season quarterback switch to Ian Book from Brandon Wimbush despite the Irish remaining unbeaten throughout 2018. In some respects, Rees threaded a similar needle in 2021, incorporating Wisconsin graduate transfer Jack Coan, then-freshman Tyler Buchner and spot-reliever Drew Pyne; each quarterback could be credited as responsible for at least one win as the Irish made a Playoff push.

Then this past season, Rees responded to Buchner’s shoulder sprain that cost him 10 games by working with Pyne to piecemeal an offense.

From December of 2021:

Rees has considered leaving his alma mater before, reportedly interviewing to be Miami’s offensive coordinator in recent years, not to mention weighing Kelly’s offer from LSU 14 months ago, as well as a previous brief dalliance with Alabama a few years ago.

After leading Notre Dame’s offense in one way or another for 10 of the last 13 years, Rees has finally opted to do so elsewhere. It just so happens to be as part of the team that twice turned back the Irish and now faces Kelly every fall.

Opportunities abound for Tommy Rees, earned recognition after a decade at Notre Dame

Clemson v Notre Dame
Getty Images
3 Comments

A lot of people go to college for seven years. For Tommy Rees, it has been 10 years at Notre Dame, so to speak.

Whether or not Rees leaves his alma mater this week, as multiple Thursday reports indicated Rees is the frontrunner to be Alabama’s next offensive coordinator, there is no bad choice in front of him. Either Rees returns as the Irish offensive coordinator for a fourth season, continues his pursuit of winning a national championship at Notre Dame after three postseason trips already in his career, or he learns under the best college football coach in history in a position that has springboarded coaches to greener pastures for about a decade now.

Irish fans may spend most of their falls criticizing Rees’s play calls, but he is clearly someone well-respected in the coaching community. Seen as a future coach when he was a player and then navigating multiple delicate quarterback situations at Notre Dame, this is not the first time Nick Saban has chased Rees. He reportedly did so following the 2019 season, when Rees had not even spent a day as an offensive coordinator.

Instead, Rees took over that gig in South Bend, losing to Alabama in the 2020 College Football Playoff, albeit a more competitive showing than when Rees and the Irish fell to the Tide in the 2012 title game. Miami sought Rees in recent years, and whispers of vague NFL interest have popped up more offseasons than not.

If most of those people who go to college for seven years are called doctors, then Rees has put together a doctorate-level intellect evidenced by who wants to hire him. Alabama publicly sending a branded plane to South Bend to ferry Rees for a visit on Thursday underscored that reputation.

Set aside the forced references to “Tommy Boy” — though the similarities do go past the first name and to a Catholic university in the Midwest — and realize Rees will leave Notre Dame at some point, probably sooner than later.

Maybe he joins Saban this weekend. Alabama needs to navigate a first-year starter at quarterback next year in a conference that quickly seemed to catch up to the Tide last season, with both LSU and Tennessee staking claims as competitors with Georgia already clearly out in front and Mississippi in the mix. Competing with former Irish head coach Brian Kelly every year would make for juicy headlines, but what speaks louder to Rees’s credit is that this is the time Saban wants to snag him, when Alabama’s footing may be less secure than at any point since the ‘00s.

Maybe Rees returns to Notre Dame, teams with Wake Forest graduate transfer quarterback Sam Hartman to ready for three top-10 matchups in 2023, and gets the Irish into the College Football Playoff for a third time in six years with the only constant quite literally being Rees.

Oh, and both scenarios should come with plenty of money.

Rees has no bad choice in front of him. That is a credit to him, even if fans would rather lampoon him than step back and acknowledge the intricacies of playcalling.

If he heads to Alabama, the annual matchups with LSU will become delightful fodder from afar. His Notre Dame legacy will include “Call duo until you can’t speak,” his emphatic play call when he left the coaches’ booth early as the Irish upset Clemson this past November, and “I’m [bleepin’] staying,” Rees’s declaration to the offensive players last December amid a week of tumult.

If he stays in South Bend, the next matchup with anyone in the SEC, most likely a 2023 bowl game, will drip with an on-field chance at validation. That legacy will include spurning college football’s best not once, but twice.

For a quarterback who lost his starting job at Notre Dame not once (2011 preseason), but twice (2012 preseason), some pride has been earned. Saban’s stamp of approval carries all the weight needed in college football to assure someone of their professional standing.

It may have taken a decade, but Rees can now know he belongs with the best, no matter what decision he makes this weekend.

The lull of National Signing Day underscores need to move the early signing period

Getty Images
45 Comments

The early-morning chaos of today’s National Signing Day did not disappear with the implementation of the December “early” signing period in the 2018 recruiting cycle. It just moved six weeks earlier.

In 2014, waking up at 6:45 a.m. ET to be logged on and publishing at 7 a.m. led to noticing one expected recruit had not yet signed with Notre Dame by 8 a.m. Pointing that out and reminding the world Michigan State was making a late push led to an Irish media relations staffer reaching out to quietly say something to the extent of, “Just letting the young man have his moment at school.”

In 2017, less than two weeks after taking over this gig, waking up at 3 a.m. CT to churn through 2,000 words before signings could begin becoming official eventually led to napping through Brian Kelly’s Signing Day press conference.

Nothing changed 10 months later. That December, the afternoon of Dec. 22, the Friday before Christmas, was spent waiting for receiver Braden Lenzy to officially choose Notre Dame over Oregon. Sitting at your parents’ kitchen table not helping your niece make a gingerbread house because recruiting-obsessed fans harassed a player through two de-commitments is not a strong way to conjure up holiday spirit.

Coaches across the country advocated for the earlier signing period, claiming it would allow high-school seniors to make their collegiate decisions official earlier on in their senior years, particularly when the prospects had already made up their minds on where to play football at the next level. That was all optics, if even that.

These high schoolers now make their decision official just six weeks earlier. In the preps football calendar, those six weeks are meaningless. Both the December signing period and today, the traditional National Signing Day, come well after the high-school seasons have ended.

The truth was, coaches across the country did not want to tend to their solid commitments over Christmas and New Year’s, particularly not amid bowl prep. It was self-serving at best and short-sighted at worst.

First of all, when the December signing period became reality in 2017, one-time transfers were not yet allowed without losing eligibility the following season. Secondly, no one predicted the early signing period would lead to the coaching carousel beginning earlier and earlier in the season. September firings used to be the result of only off-field scandals, not outright expected from half a dozen programs each fall. Athletic directors now want that headstart on hiring a new coach so he can have time before the December signing period commences.

Exhibit A: Notre Dame may have ended up with Marcus Freeman as its head coach after Brian Kelly’s abrupt departure following the 2021 season, but if the primary signing date had not been lingering just a few weeks away, Kelly likely would not have jumped to LSU before the College Football Playoff field was set, and Irish director of athletics Jack Swarbrick would have taken more time in choosing his next head coach, more than the 48 hours he used last December. After all, Swarbrick took 10 days in hiring Kelly in 2009.

Lastly, with a 12-team Playoff coming in 2025, December will become only more hectic.

Those head coaches who wanted a little less stress over the holidays will then have to deal with, in chronological order:

— Keeping their own jobs.
— Securing their recruiting classes in the days immediately preceding Christmas.
— Preparing their teams for bowl games.
— Preparing their teams for up to four games if in the Playoff.
— Re-recruiting any players considering entering the transfer portal before the winter window closes.
— Winning a bowl game.
— Retaining their coaching staffs.
— Oh, and celebrate the holidays with their families, as was their want when they hollered for the early signing period.

Most of those tasks are immutable and inherent to the sport.

But one can move. It already has once.

The logic is too clear. Nothing was gained in moving up the primary signing date by six weeks. And sanity was lost.

This is, of course, a sport that prefers to ignore logic, but usually that is charming. A mustard bottle on the field is quirky; lacking a worthwhile voice of authority is stubbornly stupid.

So the early signing period may not move as soon as it should (now), but it will move. There are no anti-trust worries tied to it, fortunately.

And aside from the logic, cramming more content into December costs the media, too. Spreading out that context through the vacuum of mid-January to mid-March will be much appreciated.

Leftovers & Links: An early look at Notre Dame’s seven commits in the class of 2024, including QB CJ Carr

26 Comments

The traditional National Signing Day is this Wednesday, and for yet another year, Notre Dame has no intentions of inking any high-school recruits on the first Wednesday of February. The recruiting calendar has so changed that the Irish have not signed a recruit in February since 2021, when running back Logan Diggs pondered a late LSU push before doubling down on his Notre Dame commitment. Before that, not since 2019, when defensive end Isaiah Foskey publicly did so in order to be a part of his high school’s ceremonies.

Notre Dame turned its focus entirely onto the class of 2024 following December’s early signing period, when it inked a class of 24 players that ranks No. 9 in the country, per rivals.com.

Now with nearly 10 months to go before the next decision day to influence the narrative around Irish head coach Marcus Freeman’s recruiting focus, he already has pledges from seven players in the class of 2024. Class rankings this early in the cycle are rather meaningless, but for the sake of thoroughness, the Notre Dame class of 2024 is currently ranked No. 2 in the country, behind only Georgia with nine recruits pledged to date.

One player stands out among the early Irish seven. He stands out to such a degree this space broke from usual form when he committed in early June. To pull from that opening,

“This space has a general rule to not report on recruiting developments classes ahead of time. Worrying about the thoughts of high school seniors is enough of an oddity; focusing on juniors and underclassmen is outright absurd.

“But exceptions exist to prove rules, and Notre Dame landing the commitment of the No. 3 quarterback in the class of 2024 — prospects entering their junior years of high school — is such an exception.”

Consensus four-star quarterback CJ Carr is now only the No. 4 pro-style quarterback in the class and the No. 14 recruit overall, but he is the kind of key piece to a recruiting class that the Irish lacked in 2023, despite Freeman’s continued excellence hauling in defensive prospects. Carr has been an active and vocal recruiter on his own for Notre Dame, not an unusual occurrence from an early commit but a habit the Irish have not garnered out of a quarterback in quite some time. Even Tyler Buchner, due to both the pandemic and his own soft-spoken nature, was not the loudest campaigner among his peers.

RELATED READING: Notre Dame beats out Michigan for Lloyd Carr’s grandson, QB CJ Carr

At 6-foot-3, Carr looks the part of a prototypical quarterback, and his arm strength fits in line with that thought. He has downfield touch that would open up Notre Dame’s playbook in a way entirely unseen in 2022.

The other six early commitments to the Irish in the class of 2024 …

Consensus four-star running back Aneyas Williams (Hannibal High School; Mo.), ranked as the No. 1 all-purpose running back and No. 106 recruit in the class, per rivals.com: There will be many comparisons to former Notre Dame running back Kyren Williams when Aneyas Williams arrives on campus, and though they are from the same state, there is no relation. The younger Williams can do a bit of everything while his 5-foot-10 frame carries plenty of punch. He lacks truly elite speed, as Kyren did, but obviously that did not kept the elder Williams from cracking 1,000 yards in back-to-back seasons.

Consensus four-star receiver Cam Williams (Glenbard South H.S.; Glen Ellyn, Ill.), ranked as the No. 11 receiver and No. 102 recruit in the class: The Chicagoland product visited Iowa a handful of times and took looks at Michigan and Wisconsin, seemingly intent on staying in the Midwest. Williams has all the fundamentals wanted of a receiver, 6-foot-2 size combined with a comfort catching the ball. Time will reveal what part of his game, if any, develops into his specialty.

Consensus four-star tight end Jack Larsen (Charlotte Catholic; N.C.), ranked as the No. 7 tight end and No. 187 recruit in the class: Whether Larsen will be the next piece of “Tight End U” or not is a premature thought, but at 6-foot-3 and an ability to snag passes downfield over defenders, Larsen already looks the part. Credit a basketball background for that aerial ability.

Four-star offensive guard Peter Jones (Malvern Prep; Penn.), ranked as the No. 4 offensive guard and No. 99 recruit in the class: Jones plays tackle in high school, nearly an absolute requirement for any offensive line prospect chased by Irish offensive line coach Harry Hiestand, but his playing style suggests a future on the inside of the line.

Consensus four-star defensive tackle Owen Wafle (Hun School; Princeton, N.J.), ranked as the No. 10 defensive tackle in the class: Pronounced like playful, not waffle, Wafle should add weight to his 6-foot-3, 235-pound frame as he grows from a high-school junior into a college player. That may seem obvious, but the quality of that weight he adds in the next 20 months will be what most determines how quickly he can contribute in South Bend.

Consensus three-star cornerback Karson Hobbs (Archbishop Moeller; Cincinnati): Anyone committed right now has made a decision relatively early in the recruiting cycle, yet Hobbs was committed to South Carolina for three months before he flipped to Notre Dame in early November. Seeking out a committed three-star more than a year before he can officially sign may strike one as foolish, but Irish cornerbacks coach Mike Mickens has earned some leeway in his evaluations, given the early impacts of Benjamin Morrison and Jaden Mickey in 2022.

INSIDE THE IRISH
Ohio State, Clemson & Pittsburgh hurt most by early NFL draft entrants among Notre Dame’s opponents
40 Preseason Predictions Revisited, part I: Notre Dame’s rushing offense hid many early struggles
Part II: Notre Dame’s upset losses should have been expected from a first-year head coach
Part III: Notre Dame’s November far from the expected disappointment
Part IV: Notre Dame’s 2022 ended where it was always expected to

OUTSIDE READING
How QB Sam Hartman found trouble with turnovers in 2022
College QB Austin Reed got transfer portal offers comparable to late-round NFL draft picks
I requested my Notre Dame admissions file
Boston College, offensive coordinator John McNulty parting ways after 2022 struggles
Hamlin’s injury highlights precarious position of many young N.F.L. players
On the Broncos’ head-coaching finalists
Bally Sports RSNs headed for bankruptcy
Auditor: LSU overpaid Brian Kelly by more than $1M in 2022