Army All-American bowl heavy on Irish intrigue

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A trio of Notre Dame commitments played in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl yesterday, with defensive end Stephon Tuitt’s East team beating George Atkinson and Matt Hegarty’s West team 13-10.

Of the three Irish commitments, Tuitt probably flashed the most immediate promise, as the jumbo defensive end showed incredible power and great promise for his future in Bob Diaco’s defense. While Hegarty battled through nagging injuries to play during the game and Atkinson spent his time in the secondary instead of at wide receiver (where he’ll line up at Notre Dame), two players that are still considering the Irish stole much of the show on Saturday.

Whether Aaron Lynch ends up at Notre Dame or not, Saturday’s performance was enough to show recruitniks that this kid is the absolute real deal. With speed unnatural for a guy of his size, Lynch terrorized the West offensive line, spending much of the day in the backfield and notching 2.5 sacks. If recruiting stars are your thing, expect Lynch to get upgraded to a five-star ranking in short order.

Another Notre Dame target, Brooklyn’s Ishaq Williams, was supposed to announce his commitment during the game. But the defensive end/outside linebacker made waves for the decision he didn’t make — leaving Penn State, Syracuse and Irish fans waiting a few more days while the talented defender decides what school he’ll enroll at in before the spring semester.

“We went through the reasons that he was making this choice and the reasons didn’t quite add up to what we thought they should,” William’s father told

It seems as if Williams’ recruitment is a true three-way heat, with all schools involved feeling they have an ace in the hole. For Syracuse, home-staters feel confident that the upstart program led by Doug Marrone will land its biggest commitment since the head coach took over. Penn State has the legendary recruiter, defensive line coach Larry Johnson, Sr. on the case, helping to nullify the news that defensive coordinator, the de facto head coach, is likely leaving for a head coaching job. And the Irish have continued their dogged recruiting of Williams all the way down to San Antonio, while Irish fans cling to the hint that Williams’ father was wearing a Notre Dame hat down in San Antonio.

If Williams’ recruitment seems heated, the battle between the Irish and the Seminoles for Lynch’s signature has to be one of the best I can remember. Both coaching staffs descended on San Antonio last night, with Tony Alford taking the lead as he has throughout the entire recruiting process for Notre Dame.

After the game, Lynch shed some light on the recruiting process, including some of the internal battles he’s struggling with.

“I can be a fit anywhere I go because I’m going to work hard to do it, but I think a 4-3 defense is a better fit for me because of my speed coming on the outside,” Lynch said. “I’m more of a speed guy than a strength guy.”

While Lynch seems to have taken a familiar schematic choice as bible instead of realizing the Irish played more four-down fronts than three-man throughout the season’s final month, this quote encapsulates what a crazy time it is for a teenager trying to make a lifetime decision with the clock ticking.

“Excuse my language, but I don’t want to get bull-crapped,” Lynch said. “I want to clear up the current situation with Florida State because I want to know I can trust my coaching staff. That’s really the main issues we will talk about. I know (Florida State defensive ends) coach (D.J.) Elliot will be here today and I think (head) coach (Jimbo) Fisher, too, but I’m not sure.”

“I want to get out there and I want to play. I don’t want them to be lying to me. I want to be able to trust these people that I’m going to play for.”

Even if the Irish don’t end up with Lynch, that quote by itself is eye-popping, basically proof that somebody — likely someone inside the Florida State football program — has been telling Lynch some things that don’t quite check out, a strategy that doesn’t seem too promising when trying to talk young men into pledging their future to you.

Also consider that quote came before a reportedly eventful Saturday evening, one that saw Lynch meet with a large contingency of Florida State coaches and then meet with a large contingency of Notre Dame coaches. The meetings resulted in Lynch officially de-committing from Florida State, a move that likely means very good things for Notre Dame’s chances.

It was hard not to notice Notre Dame’s presence down in San Antonio, whether it was Atkinson, Hegarty and Tuitt on the field or the intrigue surrounding Williams and Lynch, with the spectacle ultimately much better than the actual football on the field. It’ll be an eventful final few weeks leading up to National Signing Day.


Hegarty named Sports Illustrated Player of the Week

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Looking for an incoming recruit to get excited about? Try New Mexico’s Matt Hegarty, who Sports Illustrated recently named their High School Player of the Week.

Hailed as the nation’s top offensive lineman, the 6-5, 270-pound tackle has 27 offers spanning from Texas to Harvard, a testament to both his athleticism and intellect. He committed to the Irish back in April and has held strong throughout the season, understanding the process that comes with a coaching transition.

“If you look at a lot of great programs around the country, they didn’t have spectacular seasons with some of the first-year coaches,” Hegarty said back in early November, when the Irish were in the midst of a midseason swoon.

Here’s more from from’s write up:

His freakish athleticism allows him keep pace with most linebackers and defensive ends, and his textbook footwork has been crucial on passing downs. He didn’t surrender a sack his entire senior year, recording 81 pancakes. He’s widely regarded as one of the top offensive linemen in the nation.

Even with his success, the recruiting process started slowly. He was initially targeted by just New Mexico and Oregon, but drew more attention after a standout performance at the National Underclassmen Combine in Norman, Okla., where he earned offensive line MVP honors.

“It really started rolling after that,” he said.

Hegarty committed to Notre Dame last April, selecting the Irish for the combination of academics and tradition. His presence should immediately upgrade Brian Kelly’s porous line, as the Irish gave up 20 sacks this season. Despite the Irish’s recent struggles (they’ve gone just 23-26 since 2007), Hegarty remains optimistic.

“I think that there was a lot of progression that went on this year, a lot of development in the team,” he said. “I’m excited to see where that program will go.”

Here’s the video SI shot of Hegarty when they visited him in Aztec, New Mexico, which gives you a better idea of just how good of a kid Hegarty really is.
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Irish take momentum onto recruiting trail


After an undefeated November, the Irish coaching staff hit the recruiting trail, and it isn’t hard to see the difference between spending the season’s final month building momentum versus the tailspin of the last two years. The commitments of Cam McDaniel and Everett Golson this week help illustrate how important stability at the top of a football program — and more importantly, winning football games — helps down the stretch in closing a recruiting class.

While Rich Rodriguez is fighting for his job and playing Josh Groban songs, Brian Kelly and his staff are canvasing the country, as the coaching staff have a recruiting class to finalize and a young roster to build upon.

(For those of you that think all 7-5 records are equal, the Michigan and Notre Dame situations show that to be quite untrue.)

While it’ll hardly be as comprehensive as some of the premium websites, here’s a look at where the coaches have been, who they might be targeting, and what’s left to accomplish.


Notre Dame currently has 18 verbal commitments for the 2011 recruiting class:

Josh Atkinson — DB
George Atkinson — WR
Kyle Brindza — K
Jalen Brown — DB
Brad Carrico — DE
Ben Councell — DE
Davaris Daniels — WR
Matthias Farley — DB/WR
Everett Golson — QB
Jarett Grace — LB
Conor Hanratty — OL
Eilar Hardy — DB
Matthew Hegarty — OL
Ben Koyack — TE
Cam McDaniel — RB
Anthony Rabasa — DE
Tony Springmann — DE
Stephon Tuitt — DE

As we’ve seen in the past with “commitments,” these are in no way binding, and Kelly and his staff have been out visiting all of their commitments this month as they come down the home stretch of the recruiting cycle.

Losing both Aaron Lynch and Clay Burton at defensive end certainly hurts the Irish, but they’ve done a very good job filling some holes on the depth chart there in this current class. The Irish’s lack of depth at safety was a huge issue this year as well, but all four safeties in the two-deep return and the Irish have a few guys that profile for the position and a few offers outstanding as well.


Pete Sampson of reports that Brian Kelly spent much of the day yesterday visiting touted Iowa recruit Christian French and his family, offering the athlete the ability to come into Notre Dame as an offensive player and not an outside linebacker like many project French to be.

In addition to long-standing targets like French, the Irish continue to pursue New York’s Ishaq Williams, and recently had defensive coordinator Bob Diaco visit in advance of Williams’s official visit to campus next week. The Irish have a legitimate chance of landing Williams, something many thought was a long shot when the recruitment began.

The Irish are also still targeting running back Savon Huggins, who welcomed Diaco and running backs coach Tim Hinton into his home. Huggins has other official visits set up, but the Irish are a favorite here, and Huggins would be a great addition to a running back depth chart that loses two of its top performers in Armando Allen and Robert Hughes.

Tight ends coach Mike Denbrock swung by Anaheim to visit with defensive end target Troy Niklas, who has the Irish among his top three schools, with USC and Stanford also in the mix. Niklas is a 6-foot-7 athlete that also has a chance to be a tight end, but fits the developmental mode for a 3-4 defensive end in the Irish system. Servite high school and Orange county are traditional Trojan territories, but USC’s struggles and Stanford’s annual Jim Harbaugh departure questions give the Irish a shot at adding more depth along the edges of the defense.

Denbrock also headed to the Pacific Northwest to visit Oregon’s Brennan Scarlett, a top defensive end/outside linebacker prospect that compares favorably to current Irish defensive end (and Oregon native) Ethan Johnson. Scarlett has a national offer list, but he was in South Bend for the victory over Utah and adds another intriguing athlete and high-character kid to the fray.


One thing that seems different from the Kelly regime to the previous coaching staff under Charlie Weis is that the Irish seem to be in less “high-leverage” positions. Too often, the Irish put their eggs in the baskets of high profile athletes that changed their mind, leaving Notre Dame scrambling for other options. No doubt, defections hurt any recruiting class, but under Kelly and recruiting coordinator Chuck Martin, the Irish seem to have left themselves with plenty of options as signing day arrives, and now it’s a matter of filling up the remaining seats on the bus as more than enough passengers standing by, swinging the supply and demand power in the Irish’s favor.

The recruitment of Golson and McDaniel this week show just how nimble this recruiting staff is, and the addition of an early-entry national quarterback recruit like Golson this late in the game is pretty unparalleled for Notre Dame. Likewise, the Irish have a chance to add a few more wildcards to the fold before players ink their letters of intent.

Kansas native Shane Ray is a new target on the Irish board that has a lot of similarities to another outside linebacker that’s from the same area. It wasn’t long ago that Brian Smith walked away from a commitment to Missouri to come to Notre Dame, and Ray, who is coached by former Irish lineman Tim Grunhard and also committed to Mizzou, will be visiting South Bend this weekend.

When Randy Shannon was fired at Miami, the Irish dispatched Tony Alford to check on one-time target Anthony Chickillo, a high-motor defensive end whose father and grandfather played football for the Hurricanes. It’s likely that whatever coach is hired at Miami will have every shot to get Chickillo back in the fold, but with Alford on the scene, who knows what could happen.

With the Irish coaching staff’s connections to Ohio, don’t count them out on their pursuit of Doran Grant, a Buckeye target from Akron. Having just offered his teammate Cam McDaniel, Bennett Okotcha, currently a Wisconsin commit, could consider the Irish as well. Guys like Miles Shuler and the Stanford commit Amir Carlisle also stay in touch with the Irish, making the next few months an exciting time to follow the craziness that is college recruiting.



Hegarty not enrolling early, but commitment solid


Interesting update on recruiting from the guys at

Resident ISD coach Bryan Driskell has a report on blue-chip offensive tackle Matt Hegarty from New Mexico, who received a visit from head coach Brian Kelly, offensive line coach Ed Warinner, and outside linebackers coach Kerry Cooks on Sunday after the Irish’s big win in Southern California.

“I was honored to have him drive into our little town of 700 people,” Hegarty told ISD of the coaches pilgrimage to Aztec, New Mexico. “He was sitting at our table eating cheese and crackers. It was a good experience.”

While Hegarty and the coaches caught up, he also broke a bit of bad news to the staff: Hegarty won’t be enrolling early.

While many Irish fans might see that as reason to worry, Hegarty assured the coaching staff and Driskell that he’s still committed to Notre Dame.

“It wasn’t so much about being worried to get there,” Hegarty told Driskell. “By no means was it me pulling back at all. What I really wanted to convey to them, especially with all the recent decommits, was that it was not me pulling back at all. I am definitely still committed.”

While an extra six months with Paul Longo’s strength team and 15 spring practices would kick-start Hegarty’s development, it really isn’t that big of a blow, considering the only starter on the offensive line that needs replacing is Chris Stewart. Hegarty doesn’t profile as a guard, and Chris Watt is already waiting in the wings at the position.

If all goes to plan, and Hegarty’s as good as the recruiting websites and his offer list believe, you could see Hegarty sliding into Taylor Dever’s right tackle position after next season and book-ending with Zack Martin, one of the better (hypothetical) one-two tackle punches at ND in a while.

Hegarty’s a big-time basketball player for his high school and a lot of people don’t consider that these kids are sometimes cutting away from their senior year of high school to get a jump-start on a college career that’ll likely not get started in 2011 anyway. While the move paid dividends for a guy like Tommy Rees who immediately worked his way into the two-deep depth chart, the Irish can hopefully bring Hegarty along a bit slower, and save a year of eligibility at the same time.