Running back depth is a hot topic for Notre Dame fans heading into the 2013 season. With the work Brian Kelly and his staff have done at the position though, it won’t be a concern Notre Dame fans will be having at the position very much in the future.
With the commitment of North Carolina native Elijah Hood, Notre Dame has recruited 5-star running backs in back to back classes for the first time since star ratings became all the rage over the last 10 years. Hood joins 2013 signee Greg Bryant as a 5-star back mate on the Irish roster.
Throw in 4-star back Tarean Folston and Notre Dame has three backs brimming with so much potential that most years any one of them by themselves would have Notre Dame giddy.
Remember when Notre Dame used to sign backs like Junior Jabbie and Travis Thomas? No disrespect to either as both played important roles at Notre Dame over the years – and in the case of Thomas played woefully out of position since some previous staffs couldn’t recruit defensive players to save their lives, or jobs for that matter – but it has been a long time since Notre Dame has had this type of success recruiting at the running back position.
When Hood reports to campus next year, the Irish stable of backs will look something like this:
- Seniors: George Atkinson, Amir Carlisle
- Juniors: Will Mahone
- Sophomores: Greg Bryant, Tarean Folston
- Freshman: Elijah Hood
That is 6 running backs, all of whom were at least 4-star prospects coming out of high school. All with different skillsets and the ability to hurt defense in different ways.
That, ladies and gentlemen, is how you build championship caliber depth at a position.
Kelly and his staff still have some work to do at a few positions, but you would be hard pressed to find a position that is not deeper and more talented than it was when Kelly inherited it 4 years ago. In fact, some positions are so much better off four years later that any comparison is laughable.
Defensive line? A completely different world. Offensive line? Injuries really hurt depth last year, but 5 incoming freshmen and 2 commitments for next year already as the OL deeper than it’s been in years.
Notre Dame suddenly landing 5-star recruits with frequency is not too coincidentally aligning with the success Kelly and his staff have had on the field. Even with the rough loss to Alabama in the National Championship game, the Irish are seeing the benefits from last year’s 12-0 regular season. Since completing the regular season perfect last year, Notre Dame has received commitments from four 5-star recruits – three last year in Eddie Vanderdoes, Max Redfield, and Bryant and now a fourth this year with Hood’s commitment.
In years past Notre Dame could routinely go four years without landing that many 5-star talents. They hauled in that impressive quartet in just under five months.
At running back, Kelly and staff have been able to continue to bring in elite talent, even with other elite players on the depth chart. That too is a sign of a championship caliber team. In years past Notre Dame would have a hard time landing elite players in back to back years at many positions because playing time was the main selling point for previous coaching regimes.
Notre Dame fans often wondered how other schools would stock pile elite players year after year. Well, the answer is becoming abundantly clear. Win. It seems easy enough but as Notre Dame struggled to win consistently over the last two decades it has been a difficult concept to accept for many Notre Dame fans who became accustomed to the Irish struggling on the field.
For Kelly to keep this level of recruiting success going, he will need to continue to produce the results we saw in the regular season on a consistent basis. Charlie Weis had a couple nice seasons and subsequently a few really good classes but when the on field results stopped coming, the Super Bowl rings, the NFL connections, and everything else that helped secure some strong classes for him weren’t enough to allure the top talent anymore.
Even with bringing in two great backs last year though, Notre Dame was able to add another 5-star talent at the position already this year.
The next position I hope to this staff establish the same level of success is wide receiver. I love the class that Notre Dame brought in at wide receiver last year – specifically Corey Robinson and Torii Hunter, Jr. If Hunter recovers completely I think Notre Dame got a couple of stud receivers there. Receiver on the whole, however, has been the one area where this staff has not had as much success as they’ve had in other areas.
An unsettled quarterback through the first few years under Kelly may have played a role in elite wide receivers flocking to Notre Dame just yet, but given this staff’s ability to recruit against the big boys and the maturation of Everett Golson and the Notre Dame passing game, the day elite wide receivers are knocking down Notre Dame’s door might not no too far off into the future.
For now though, it is really hard to be anything but thoroughly happy with the results this staff has been producing on the recruiting front.