New head coach Brian Kelly hasn’t even reached the May evaluation period in his first year in South Bend yet he and his staff have already collected nine verbal commitments with all signs pointing to a strong first class.
One of the biggest concerns expressed regarding the hiring of Kelly back in December revolved around recruiting and whether or not Kelly and his staff, comprised mainly of coaches without much experience at big time programs, could recruit nationally and win head to head battle’s with the nation’s elite.
Less than four months after officially announcing all of the members of his first staff at Notre Dame, Kelly and company have secured nine verbal commitments for the class of 2011. Those nine verbals include seven 4-star recruits (according to Scout.com) and represent eight different stats.
To quote the legendary Ron Burgundy, “Don’t act like you’re not impressed.”
While it’s still very early, and I have tried to remain as skeptical as possible after the last two coaching changes, it’s hard not to be impressed with what Kelly has been able to accomplish in such a short time despite taking over a team coming off of back to back 6-6 regular seasons.
The fact that recruiting was one of the biggest knocks on Kelly coming in makes this staff’s quick success all the more impressive. Brian Kelly’s head coaching gigs at Grand Valley State, Central Michigan, and Cincinnati didn’t give him much experience recruiting on a national level. So far he and his staff have collected commitments from recruits from Florida, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New Mexico, North Carolina, Michigan, and Connecticut.
Kelly still needs to show that he can go head to head for the elite, difference-making skill position players – something his predecessor did a very good job of – but for now it’s clear that he and his staff have recruiting in the trenches down pretty well. Of the nine commitments, five of them are along the lines.
On the offensive side of the line, Notre Dame has added three 4-star linemen in Conor Hanratty, Matt Hegarty, and Jordan Prestwood – all of which had impressive offer lists. For Hanratty Notre Dame beat out Boston College, Florida State, and Penn State; for Hegarty they took out Florida State, LSU, Michigan, Oklahoma, Texas, and USC; and for Prestwood they battled Alabama, Auburn, Florida, Tennessee, and USC.
So much for not being able to recruit with the big boys, huh?
On the defensive side of the ball, the Irish have picked up commitments from Brad Carrico and local product Tony Springmann. Both have large frames and fall into the “power” category and are slated to play defensive end in Notre Dame’s 3-4 alignment.
The incoming line recruits add some versatility to the Irish roster as well. All three of the offensive linemen have the ability to play tackle on the college level, but Hanratty will most likely shift inside to guard to the Irish. Both defensive line recruits meanwhile, could also move over to the offensive line if need be. In fact, Springmann is listed as an offensive lineman on most recruiting sites. The plan for now though, is for him to start off on the defensive side of the ball.
Make no mistake, there is still a lot of work left to be done with this class. Kelly needs to add a play making linebacker or two, a safety that can play pretty early, an elite quarterback that fits his system, a game breaking running back, and fill a few other holes. For now though, the start Kelly and staff have gotten off to is about as good as could have been expected.
At the same time, it shouldn’t be forgotten that Charlie Weis and his staff got off to a quick start with their first class as well so this early success by Kelly doesn’t by any means guarantee that Kelly will end up faring any better than his predecessor.
As we learned with the previous regime, strong recruiting alone doesn’t guarantee on field success either. Weis was also able to recruit well until the wheels started to fall off in his final season, but that didn’t result in a win-loss record strong enough to grant him a 6th season on the sidelines in Notre Dame Stadium.
Unlike with Weis, however, the biggest question mark with Kelly coming in was his ability to recruit bigger fish in a bigger pond. Most felt that Weis would be at least OK on the recruiting front coming in due to his NFL success and the staff he built, but questioned whether his style and system would work on the college level due to his lack of experience coaching college kids.
It will be interesting to see how the rest of the class fills out now that Notre Dame has gotten off to a quick start. This year’s class will have limited spots with Notre Dame finally pushing up against the 85 scholarship limit so Kelly and staff will be able to focus on a smaller group of recruits at the remaining positions of need.
A lot can change between now and February, but at least for now, things seems to be shaping up quite nicely on the recruiting front.