Running back recruiting gets tougher with full house


Notre Dame took its lumps in a few key recruiting battles at running back this week when two top prep backs committed to different schools. The Irish lost out on top target, Tampa’s Ryan Green to Florida State, while Paul Chryst and Pitt picked up South Jersey’s Corey Clement, who ran for 2,500 yards last season and had an impressive offer list.

Don’t expect the Irish to stop their recruitment of either prospect. Green’s commitment won’t stop Notre Dame from pushing the Florida product to take an official visit, and there’s no love lost between the Seminoles and Irish staff after the schools split high profile recruiting battles for Aaron Lynch and Ronald Darby. Tony Alford has developed a terrific relationship with Green and his father Vader, and while family pressure and geography played a major role in Green pledging to Jimbo Fisher, the Irish will chase the Florida speedster until Signing Day and still feel confident that the Tampa native is a great fit both on and off the field.

The Irish also had Clement high on their recruiting board, but Clement’s visit to Pitt and time with new coach Paul Chryst was enough to convince him that he should be a Panther.

“It just felt like it was the right place for me,” Clement told the Philadelphia Inquirer. “It was wearing on me a little bit. I thought I would jump the gun and make this decision, and it feels like I made the right one.”

Again, Clement hasn’t closed the book on recruiting and said he still planned on taking official visits, so this could be just another case of a verbal commitment merely signaling an early leader in the clubhouse.

Still, news like this grinds the teeth of Irish fans. After also missing on Joliet Catholic’s Ty Isaac, the Midwest’s top running back prospect, it’s hard to be optimistic about the Irish picking up a game-breaking back from the top of their recruiting board after missing on three big names (for now). That said, after having William Mahone and KeiVarae Russell pledge to a backfield with nothing but questions behind Cierre Wood, recruits are now looking at the Irish backfield in a vastly different light.

Finding your way onto the field doesn’t seem like such a simple proposition any more. While some don’t expect Wood to play out his eligibility, he does have two seasons remaining, with a potential fifth year set for 2013. While Theo Riddick enters his final season in South Bend, the emergence of George Atkinson has Irish fans excited about a potential power back who just so happens to be one of the fastest players in college football. Add to the mix Amir Carlisle, who had the inside track for the starting running back job at USC as a freshman before injuries got in the way, and you start to understand the type of competition that exists in the Irish backfield.

There’s going to be competition at every school, but after not having enough bodies to take carries last spring, the Irish now look to have a depth chart that stacks up with just about any BCS program:

Running Back Depth Chart (seasons of eligibility remaining)
Cierre Wood (2)
Theo Riddick (1)
George Atkinson (3)
Amir Carlisle (3)
Cam Roberson (3)
William Mahone (4)
KeiVarae Russell (4)

This group could easily feature Cam McDaniel, who switched to cornerback this spring after Tee Shepard left school before practices started. It could also include a guy like Davonte Neal, who has spent a lot of time in the backfield during his record-setting prep career.

With a depth chart that looks unchanged with the exception of Riddick in 2013, the Irish can be incredibly selective when chasing a running back in the upcoming recruiting class. According to, Notre Dame has offers to David Williams of Philadelphia, Taquan Mizzell of Virginia Beach, Craig Lee of Redlands, California, and Tarean Folston of Cocoa, Florida. All four of those backs are highly rated with impressive offers. With James Onwualu already committed — an offensive player that can work as a running back as well — there’s no need to reach simply to fill a spot in a recruiting class that’s already in a place where it can be selective with 14 commitments and around eight spots left.

The Commitments: Running Backs


[A few days ago, a commenter mentioned how little talk there was about wide receiver Chris Brown, a freakishly good athlete that’s joining the Notre Dame recruiting class from South Carolina to little fanfare. Consider these columns a response to a very good comment.]

In the next six days, the recruiting rollercoaster will surely rumble down the tracks one last time, with twists and turns we already know are coming, yet somehow surprise and amaze us every time. For Notre Dame, we’ve already taken a look at who’s left on the board, with the Irish still in the running for almost half a dozen of the top 100 players in the country.

But while most the attention in the media stays focused on those players still openly considering multiple schools, the Irish coaching staff hasn’t forgotten about the fourteen verbal commitments that plan on faxing their letters-of-intent into the Gug on Wednesday morning. While we’ll certainly recap the names when they become official next Wednesday (more info to come on what will be a crazy, sleep-deprived day), here’s a quick look back at what the Irish have done with this recruiting class, and what it means for the football program.


With the depth chart down to Cierre Wood, George Atkinson, Cam McDaniel, and an injured Cam Roberson‘s future unclear, landing two running backs was a priority for Notre Dame. The Irish cast a fairly wide net, offering around a dozen potential running backs that fit two distinct criteria: powerful one-cut runners, and dual-threat backs that can also split out wide.

While the Irish got official visits from blue-chip prospects like Keith Marshall (who eventually committed to Georgia) and Byron Marshall (who will be in Eugene next season), they also landed two of their top targets, running backs that are perfect complementary parts in the 2012 recruiting class.

High School: Mariner High — Everett, Washington
Measureables: Six-foot, 175-pounds
Other major offers: USC, Washington, Stanford, Cal, UCLA, Oregon, Boise State
Fun Fact: Class president at Mariner High.
On choosing Notre Dame: “Once you get a degree from Notre Dame, you’re pretty much set for life. My goals are bigger. I’ll have a chance to go to the NFL. At Notre Dame, you get your degree in 3½ years. And when I graduate – it’s money.”
What he’ll bring to the offense: The ability to make plays in space. Whether or not Theo Riddick stays at running back, Russell will have an opportunity to see the field either in the backfield or the slot. He’s not the biggest of prospects, but he’s an electric open field player, something the Irish clearly missed last year, and will miss even more without Michael Floyd.

High School: Austintown Fitch — Youngstown, Ohio
Measureables: Five-foot-eleven, 210-pounds
Other major offers: Penn State, Tennessee, Pitt, Iowa, Michigan State, West Virginia
Fun Fact: Chuck Martin told him his jumper looks like Ray Allen’s. Be the judge yourself.
On choosing Notre Dame: “They graduate I think 98, maybe it was 99 percent of their players,” Mahone told Irish Illustrated. “After talking with the academic advisors and everything, I felt I could definitely succeed there and there would be no problem getting all the help I need, but I’ll definitely be buckling down and getting my studies done.”
What he’ll bring to the offense: He’s not as physically imposing as Jonas Gray was coming out of high school, but Mahone fits the mold close enough, and shows good power and vision. If Russell has the opportunity to play out on the edge of the offense, Mahone looks like a great fit in the backfield, making one cut and getting up field, which he did incredibly well in high school.

Reeling in RBs a must in this recruiting cycle


If you’re looking at the Irish roster, you’ll notice there’s one particularly important position that could use a little bit of padding. After focusing on quarterbacks and defensive ends in their first two recruiting classes, Brian Kelly and his offensive staff have spent most of this recruiting cycle identifying running backs and casting a wide net, hoping to fill a void on the roster that’s come with the loss of seniors Armando Allen and Robert Hughes.

With Cameron Roberson likely spending most of the season still recovering from ACL surgery, the Irish have Cierre Wood returning and Jonas Gray back for a final season. Behind them — well, it’s anybody’s guess.

Incoming freshman Cam McDaniel was the only running back recruited on the roster. George Atkinson, who was expected to enter as a wide receiver and played safety in the US Army All-American Bowl, will shift to tailback to help add some depth. But as the Irish head into the fall looking to fill some slots on the offensive side of the ball, they’ve targeted some pretty big names to fill the depth chart. Let’s look at a couple that the Irish have their cross-hairs on.


Keith Marshall, Raleigh, NC: Just watching his highlight tape gives you a clue that he’s one of the most explosive backs to come out of the high school ranks in quite some time. Marshall plans on enrolling early, and he’s got the Irish in his top dozen teams.

William Mahone, Austintown, OH: A powerful back with Ohio roots, Mahone had his eyes opened by a recent Notre Dame visit. The Irish will battle Michigan State, Pitt and Penn State among other teams.

KeiVarae Russell, Everett, WA: One of the best offensive players on the West Coast, Russell has legit interest in the Irish and plans on being in South Bend for the Irish’s date with the Trojans. He could slide to the slot as well.

I’Tavious Mathers, Murfreesboro, TN: The Irish have had their sights on Mathers for months, along with programs like Alabama, Tennessee, and Ole Miss. The reigning player of the year in Tennessee rushed for over 2,600 yards during his junior year.

Byron Marshall, San Jose, CA: Marshall has most of the West Coast after him, but he took a summer Spanish course to get his credits up to speed for the Irish, a signal that Mike Denbrock is doing his job. Getting an official visit from Marshall will be next, but the Irish appear to be in great shape.

Chris Mangus, Raleigh, NC: Another North Carolina running back, Mangus looks better suited to play in space as opposed to being an every down back for the Irish. Virginia Tech and Clemson are in the running as well, but the Irish have already gotten Mangus on campus.

Drew Harris, Exton, PA: Another big back, Harris might be tough to pull out of Pennsylvania, especially after a Skype conversation with the ageless Joe Paterno. He’s got offers from Arkansas, Florida State, Miami, and South Carolina among others.

Expect Kelly and the Irish to continue chasing running backs even after they get their first commitment. If they could play it correctly, the Irish would take one pure tailback and add another guy that can play well in space, making a guy like Russell or Mangus great complimentary players as well as running back targets.