Barnett sets prospect bar with Elite 11 invite


Notre Dame’s 2015  recruit Blake Barnett was the first quarterback selected to the Elite 11 camp, the premiere offseason camp in the country.

Barnett, who committed to the Irish this fall and will join a depth chart that should include a fifth-year Everett Golson, a junior year Malik Zaire, and sophomore Deshone Kizer. The Orange County native punched his ticket at the first Elite 11 regional camp in Santa Monica, an event that featured five-star Alabama commit Ricky Town and Josh Rosen, the No. 1 ranked QB in the 2015 class. (Rosen didn’t compete due to injury.)

Barnett caught up with Irish Illustrated ($) to talk about the camp and what the invitation means to him.

“I’m very excited,” Barnett told Irish Illustrated. “I know I’ll get to compete with all the good quarterbacks. That’s mostly what I’m excited about because I know the top level of athletes, not just quarterbacks but receivers and (defensive backs), will be out there and I’ll get to compete with them.”

Barnett is an early Top 100 recruit in the 2015 class, a group that’s still in the middle of the evaluation process. But after seeing recent Irish commits Barnett, Zaire, and Gunner Kiel at recent Elite 11 camps, I caught up with instructor Elite 11 instructor Yogi Roth to discuss Notre Dame’s most recent quarterback commitment.

Roth played college football at Pitt, was the quarterback coach at USC under Pete Carroll, and has worked Elite 11 the past few years in between calling football games for the Pac-12 Network. He was really impressed with the athleticism Barnett brings to the table, and has a great frame of reference after seeing just about every elite QB in the country the past few years.

“He’s totally different than past Notre Dame Elite 11 QBs,” Roth told me. “A combination of the size and arm of Gunner and the athletic blend of Malik.”

That type of quote is one that should raise some eyebrows, with Irish fans likely salivating at that skill set. While far from a finished product, Roth called Barnett the perfect blend of a new-age QB, who played the game at a different speed than the other quarterbacks they’ve seen in this class.

That Barnett was the first quarterback to punch his Elite 11 ticket certainly means something to Roth and the staff.

“This is a huge invite. He will set the tempo for the rest of the evaluation, as well as have a giant bullseye on his back when we arrive on the Nike campus for finals,” Roth said.

There’s work to do for Barnett in these offseason months. Roth said Barnett didn’t necessarily throw the ball exceptionally, and the “lonely work” that he puts in this offseason will determine the type of player he can become. But if he can polish his work as a passer and understand the science of quarterbacking and what defenses are trying to achieve, he’s got the opportunity to be a great one.

“I’d expect their staff to be salivating over the opportunity to develop him and get him to play where he can maximize his potential,” Roth said.  

Irish add linebacker Nyles Morgan to recruiting class


Notre Dame received a key recruiting pledge when inside linebacker Nyles Morgan committed to the Irish during the US Army All-American Bowl Saturday afternoon. The Chicagoland product is an elite, four-star player anchoring a position group that the Irish coaching staff targeted this cycle.

Morgan chose the Irish over Ole Miss and Vanderbilt, a hard fought recruiting victory for a player that for a long time looked headed elsewhere. The consensus top five inside linebacker in the country should step onto campus and fight for a starting job.

“They do need a mike linebacker, so I’m going to come in and fill that role,” Morgan said live on NBC during his announcement.

Starring at Crete-Monee, Morgan was a first-team All-State player. He’s joined on the Chicago Tribune’s All-State first team by fellow linebacker Nile Sykes of Montini and Nic Weishar of Marist. Weishar was playing alongside Morgan on the West squad.

Notre Dame pushes their recruiting class to 23 official members with Morgan’s commitment, though Isaiah McKenzie could make that 24 as soon as he clears up some final academic work.

With the Irish roster turning over Carlo Calabrese, Dan Fox, Prince Shembo and Danny Spond, all linebackers with starting experience, it was crucial to fill those holes in this recruiting class. After a slow start, the Irish will bring in Greer Martini, Morgan, Sykes, and Richard Yeargin, not to mention combination edge players like Jonathan Bonner, Andrew Trumbetti and Jhonathan Williams.

National Signing Day is February 5.


Pot of Gold pushes Notre Dame recruiting to the forefront


Take the U.S. Postal Service, add to it Notre Dame football and the holiday season, and you expect a punchline.

But this week, the Irish football program has received a lot of attention on the internet for its “Pot of Gold,” a recruiting tactic that has seen the Notre Dame football office presumably blow through their postage budget in a few short weeks.

The Irish’s first Pot of Gold was sent to blue-chip defensive tackle Matt Elam, one of the targets to fill Louis Nix’s shoes on the interior of the Irish defensive line. It’s rumored that as many as 11 others have gone out, with now Irish commit Kolin Hill receiving one, as well as linebacker target Nyles Morgan and tight end Dalton Schultz, who chronicled it on his YouTube channel.

For those still not sure what exactly a Pot of Gold is, the Irish recruiting office essentially mail-bombs a recruit, sending hundreds of letters timed to arrive on the same day. While it might sound ridiculous to those of us not picking between dozens of college scholarships, here’s Elam’s reaction:

And here’s Schultz’s YouTube response, which has gotten over 28,000 viewings in less than 48 hours:


The new recruiting initiative is the collective work of the Irish support and coaching staff, with J.R. Sandlin, the first-year recruiting analyst hired by Brian Kelly and Dave Peloquin, Notre Dame’s director of player personnel, spearheading the process. Sandlin cut his teeth in college football in the SEC, leaving a job as Tennessee’s recruiting coordinator to join the Irish staff. Before that he spent three seasons running the day-to-day operations of the Alabama recruiting office, seeing behind the curtain of Nick Saban’s juggernaut.

The Irish coaching staff has bought all in on the #PotofGold, using a hashtag on Twitter to push the idea viral. Kelly has mentioned it on his Twitter feed. So has co-defensive coordinator Kerry Cooks and recruiting coordinator Tony Alford.

While it feels a little over-the-top to some ND football traditionalists, this is the era of football that we live in. Kevin Sumlin created a stir taking a helicopter to high school football games, creating a buzz with a showtime arrival. Other schools have showed up in limos, announcing their presence that way. That Notre Dame was able to create a national buzz during a recruiting quiet period, keeping momentum up as the home stretch approaches, was impressive.

As the Irish try to finish out their recruiting class with an elite group of national targets, drawing buzz for the amount of attention you throw at a recruit isn’t the worst idea in the world. And the early returns from the recruiting targets — the only measurement that counts — are impressive.

OL Tristen Hoge pledges to ’15 class


After visiting Notre Dame multiple times, 2015 offensive lineman Tristen Hoge gave his commitment to the Irish coaching staff over the weekend, adding another key building block for the future. The six-foot-4, 285-pound Idaho native chose Notre Dame over an elite set of early offers, giving Harry Hiestand another top lineman prospect.

Hoge already had offers from Florida, LSU, Stanford, UCLA and a dozen more before choosing Notre Dame. By whatever rating system you follow, he’s one of the top linemen in the 2015 class, and projects as a guard or center at the next level.

If early success is any indication, Harry Hiestand’s third offensive line recruiting class is stacking up to be just as good as his other two. Hoge will join Jerry Tillery in the junior group. The 2014 class includes elite prospects Alex Bars and Quenton Nelson, along with Jimmy Byrne and Sam Mustipher.

Hoge is the third commitment to the 2015 class. Quarterback Blake Barnett committed to the Irish after the BYU game.

OLB Jhonny Williams commits to Notre Dame


It took one visit to convince outside linebacker Jhonny Williams that Notre Dame was the place for him. Even amidst the wind and snow of last weekend, Williams knew the best option for him was the school just 30 minutes away from his home in Berrian Springs, Michigan. He made that decision official Wednesday morning, joining the 2014 recruiting class.

The 6-foot-6, 237-pound outside linebacker’s commitment to Notre Dame wraps up a whirlwind recruitment, as Williams is the ultimate late bloomer on the scene. Williams entered his senior season thinking he was going to play football at Toledo. That all changed when Missouri offered Williams his first BCS offer. That changed again when Notre Dame offered two weeks ago, just a day before Michigan called.

Williams’ breakout senior season at Berrian Springs brings the Irish a three-sport athlete that piled up impressive stats (69 tackles, 15 TFLs, 12.5 sacks) to go along with a unique athletic skill-set. When talking with the South Bend Tribune’s Tyler James, Berrian Springs head coach Bill Bergan described a guy that could wreak havoc off the edge of Notre Dame’s defense.

With coaching staffs evaluating senior film in November in search of more targets, Williams jumped off the screen.

“The numbers he had strength-wise, speed-wise, basically the combine numbers, are pretty impressive,” Bergan said. “Once you saw what he did on film, it was like ‘Oh boy, this is going to get crazy.’”

The craziness began in earnest last week when Notre Dame offered on Wednesday and Michigan followed suit on Thursday. The two winningest programs in college football wanted a shot at the lengthy defensive end that claims a 4.5 time in the 40-yard dash.

“I’ll remember those days for a long time, especially the Notre Dame offer,” Williams said this week.

With the Irish saying goodbye to Prince Shembo and Ishaq Williams in his senior season next year, finding another Cat linebacker was a necessity in this recruiting cycle. That Notre Dame’s gain came at the expense of Missouri, putting together an elite season in the SEC, goes to show you that the Irish’s star hasn’t necessarily fallen.

Williams is the 20th recruit in the Irish class, and joins Grant Blankenship, Jonathan Bonner, Matt Dickerson and Andrew Trumbetti as edge players in this defense. Richard Yeargin could also be a Cat linebacker.

Ultimately, geography played in the Irish’s favor, with Williams wanting to stay close to home ($), where he’s helped his mother take care of his younger brother.

“I really loved the team atmosphere and the family environment,” Williams told Pete Sampson of Irish Illustrated. “I have the utmost respect for Missouri and appreciate everything they’ve done. I didn’t wish that it worked out this way, but it’s just not the best decision for me to leave my family.”