With one week until thousands of high school players put pen to paper and officially become committed to their schools of choice, Brian Kelly and his football staff are working furiously to round out their staff. In the last couple of weeks, after a number of de-commitments from the 2017 class (after experiencing none last cycle), the Irish coaches added a slew of new offers, over 20, in an attempt to salvage what was once considered a top 10 class. Will it work?
For the record, I’m not a big class ratings guy. Brian Kelly has proven again and again that he can find talented players that are clearly better than their star ratings would suggest (remember when Will Fuller was the worst player in the 2013 class, ESPN)?
My problems with Kelly the recruiter has never been about the players they get; like I said, they do a really good job evaluating talent. But, they always seem to fall short of the numbers they need, which is great for videos of walk-ons getting scholarships, but not so great in terms of depth of the roster which leads to things like the situation at safety last season.
As it stands right now, Notre Dame is sitting with 15 commitments with the goal of hopefully reaching 22. That’s a lot to do in a week. And Brian Kelly hasn’t shown himself to be a great closer.
National Signing Day Flops And Big Time Misses
I may be forgetting, but perhaps Notre Dame’s greatest signing day moment under Brian Kelly was the announcement and signing of five star defensive tackle Eddie Vanderdoes. It was glorious, and it was the capper on a stellar class that also featured fellow five stars Jaylon Smith and Max Redfield. Of course, as everyone remembers, Vanderdoes didn’t last beyond spring practice before transferring to UCLA under some interesting circumstances. Yes, a five star that eventually never stepped foot as a student on the Notre Dame campus is the high point on signing day for Kelly.
In 2014, following the de-commitment of safety Prentice McKinney, Notre Dame tried to get in late a couple of other safety prospects Justin Reid and Ben Edwards, who incidentally both ended up at Stanford. In both cases the players expressed intrigue toward the Irish, but ultimately felt more comfortable with the longer relationships they built with the staff at Stanford.
Last season, Notre Dame had five stars Ben Davis, Caleb Kelly, and Demetris Robertson all in their sights before ultimately losing out on all three and coming up short on their overall commit numbers for the class. While it’s true it’s hard to land elite players like this, just in general, to miss on all three is an indictment of the way Notre Dame recruits these types of players. Kelly and his staff wanted these guys bad, but they didn’t really put on the full court press till the final couple of months. It wasn’t enough. And since signing Smith and Redfield in 2013, according to 247 sports, Notre Dame hasn’t signed another consensus five star player, and won’t in 2017.
Brian VanGorder Continues To Haunt The Irish
You might have noticed all of the players, with the exception of Robertson, mentioned above have at least one thing in common.
They all play defense.
VanGorder as defensive coordinator was a disaster six ways to Sunday and this fact has been pointed here and every where else for the last two and a half seasons. But, his mistakes on the field were only part of the problem with him. He was also a terrible recruiter. He never cared for it, he wasn’t enthusiastic for it, and when you come in second with Ben Davis and Caleb Kelly, two guys who were legitimate stars, after a 10-3 season and with spots opening up following the departure of Jaylon Smith and Joe Schmidt, a coach who isn’t fired up about selling himself or the program is disastrous.
Notre Dame is left scrambling because they went almost three months without any direction or leader from the defense following VanGorders ouster in October. In the process they lost corners Paulson Adebo and Elijah Hicks, linebacker Peter Werner, and defensive lineman Donovan Jeter. Players understand down seasons to a large extent, but going an extended period of time with uncertainty and without leadership, coupled with a down year, well suffice to say that is not a good recipe for success. There is hope that Mike Elko and co. can try and pull some magic in the final week of recruiting, but the damage has largely been done.
Notre Dame hasn’t looked good on defense for three years now. That just doesn’t go away. Even with a new staff, there is uncertainty there, and even with the type of job Elko did at Wake Forest, he wouldn’t have had the type of contacts with the caliber of player Notre Dame is looking for. So he’s largely starting from scratch as well. Unfortunately, the VanGorder effect is still being felt and it is submarining this class in a big way.
Where Do Things Stand?
Things were pretty optimistic a week ago when it looked like the Irish stood on solid ground with a few of the new offers at positions of need. Things have taken a bit of a turn since then. Receiver Gavin Holmes looked like a promising option before committing to Baylor, defensive back Tre Norwood looked like a virtual lock to Notre Dame after de-committing from Louisville hours after his Notre Dame offer. But he went ahead and committed to Oklahoma Monday night, hours after getting back from his official visit in South Bend, and having never visited Oklahoma. And that my friends is how it goes.
Notre Dame is still seriously in it for Indiana cornerback Russ Yeast and safety Jordan Genmark-Heath who visited last weekend. Outside linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Karamoah visits this weekend after de-committing from Virginia last night. Safety Evan Fields was also a visitor last weekend and reportedly enjoyed himself immensely. The thing with him is he’s also seriously considering Arizona State. ASU and Notre Dame are, shall we say, not very much alike. That sort of situation usually ends poorly.
Wide receiver Mac Hippenhammer appears to be sticking with Penn State and Oliver Martin, the crown jewel of available players left, continues to be uncommitted, which is the good news. The bad news is every Midwest team is hot on his tail as Ohio State, Michigan State, and Michigan are all making big plays. Rumor has it Jim Harbaugh will be doing an in-school/in-home/possible slumber party, s’more making session for tonight, so we’ll see if he’s into that.
As noted above, Kelly and Notre Dame haven’t been winning many of these battles lately, but there is always hope. Luck of the Irish, and all that. Receiver Jafar Armstrong remains very much in play; he’s currently committed to Missouri and isn’t talking much, which I always like in a player, but most of those close to Notre Dame feel good about him.
Defensive end Jalen Harris from Arizona appears to be a long shot, he’s an Arizona legacy who is currently committed there. He’s a guy Notre Dame obviously needs, but never seems to get. Even when they do, they actually don’t (see: Wallace, Bo). Hawaii defensive end Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa has that whole Manti Te’o thing going on, which is obviously a good thing, and the word is his family on board with the Irish, which also obviously a good thing. It’s hard to feel much about him until he visits, but if he ever did I’d think Notre Dame was in good shape.
In all, players I feel good about*:
- Jafar Armstrong
- Jeremiah Owusu-Karamoah
Players I think are toss-ups
- Russ Yeast
- Jordan Genmark-Heath
- Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa
- Evan Fields
Players I consider long shots
- Jalen Harris
- Mac Hippenhammer
- Oliver Martin
*Should note this is all from what I’ve read online and heard on various podcasts, and no premium information.