The biggest story for Notre Dame this offseason surprisingly didn’t involve the ongoing battle between Everett Golson and Malik Zaire for the starting quarterback position, nor was it the decision of star offensive lineman Ronnie Stanley to forego the NFL Draft to stay another year. Such headlines have been brushed aside by the unexpected reshuffling of Notre Dame’s staff after the loss of top recruiters Tony Alford, running backs coach, and Kerry Cooks, defensive backs coach. Their departures were filled by legacies Todd Lyght, former All-American cornerback, and Autry Denson, Notre Dame’s all-time leading rusher, but both former players arrived with little recruiting experience. The question on the minds of most Notre Dame fans is whether or not the new hires can continue the recruiting momentum provided by the previous regime.
Notre Dame’s Junior Day is this Saturday and head coach Brian Kelly and staff will have a number of top recruiting targets for the Class of 2016 on campus, providing the Fighting Irish coaches a chance to showcase the university and what it has to offer. Though many recruits will be on hand, several in attendance are the perfect test cases to measure how the new Irish assistants are handling their recruiting responsibilities.
- 4-star defensive end from Farmington Hills, MI
- Notable Offers: Alabama, Michigan and Ohio State
New defensive line coach Keith Gilmore has a reputation as a solid recruiter, a reputation he backed up while the defensive line coach at North Carolina. Before departing Chapel Hill for South Bend, Gilmore managed to land the signature of 4-star defensive end Jalen Dalton, a Rivals 100 recruit with offers from the likes of Florida, Florida State and Texas. Gilmore, a Detroit native, has vowed to increase Notre Dame’s presence in his home state of Michigan, and Kareem is his first opportunity.
Khalid is a highly sought after recruit with offers from some of the nation’s very best programs, and Michigan State is currently leading for his services. How Kareem connects with Gilmore during Notre Dame’s Junior Day will provide the first glimpse of what kind of recruiter Kelly has poached from the Tar Heels.
- 4-star safety from Pittsburgh, PA
- Notable Offers: Auburn, Ohio State and UCLA
Hamlin’s recruitment will be worth keeping an eye on for a myriad of reasons. New defensive backs coach Todd Lyght is the most inexperienced recruiter on the staff, having been responsible for only minuscule recruiting duties as an intern under then-head coach Chip Kelly at Oregon. Lyght’s recruiting talents will be tested right out of the gate, as Hamlin is currently considered to be a Penn State lean.
Notre Dame has done well against the Nittany Lions in recent years by swooping in and signing one-time Penn State commitments Will Fuller, Josh Barajas and Brandon Wimbush, but the half man, half Lion that is James Franklin, head coach of Penn State, is widely regarded as one of the best recruiters in the nation. Not only will Lyght be involved in one of his first recruiting responsibilities but he’ll be going against one of the best in Franklin. Additionally, safety is a position of need for Notre Dame after failing to sign a replacement upon the departure of one-time safety commitment Prentice McKinney last month.
How Hamlin rates his experience with Todd Lyght at Notre Dame’s Junior Day will be worth tracking moving forward.
- 4-star wide receiver from Corona, CA
- Notable Offers: Oregon, UCLA and USC
Notre Dame has done an excellent job recruiting the wide receiver position in recent years and managed to sign another elite haul in the Class of 2015, so Irish fans might wonder why McKinley is a player to keep an eye on. In this particular case Irish fans should be more interested in the recruiter instead of the recruited.
Up-and-coming offensive coordinator Mike Sanford has been placed in charge of recruiting California, and Sanford arrived in South Bend heralded as one of the best young recruiters in the nation. The recruitment of McKinley, who just recently agreed to visit Notre Dame one month after Junior Day in April, will be worth watching due to McKinley’s status as a heavy Pac-12 lean, and it will be interesting to see what kind of impact Sanford can have on the Corona native during his spring visit. If Notre Dame is going to mitigate the damage caused by the losses of Tony Alford and Kerry Cooks – who were elite recruiters below the Mason-Dixon Line – the Fighting Irish have to win recruiting battles in California until Denson and Lyght became acclimated to their new Southern recruiting territories.
The recruits mentioned are not necessarily the most important prospects on Notre Dame’s recruiting board, but simply serve as excellent test cases to evaluate how Kelly’s new assistant coaches are handling their acquired recruiting duties. There has been lots of speculation that the current assembled staff may in fact be the best under Brian Kelly to date. Notre Dame’s impending Junior Day will serve as the first test to see if the staff’s recruiting prowess can match its coaching ability.
Scott Janssen is a blogger for the Huffington Post and has authored several nationally-featured articles, including an appearance on MSNBC as a sports contributor. He talks football 24 hours a day, much to the chagrin of his wife and those around him.. Scott can be reached at email@example.com or follow him on twitter.