Under Construction

A detailed look at how the 2012 Irish were built, who might join the ranks over the next three weeks, and what the program needs to build a championship roster entering 2013.

Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly looks to finish strong with his second Irish recruiting class over the next two-and-a-half weeks. Including his "on-the-fly class" of 2010 – one started by the former coaching regime – Kelly has signed 51 players (including this year's three early enrollees and a total of two transfers into the program) with 14 current verbal commitments ready to send their letters of intent on National Signing Day (February 1).

Below is a look at the entire lot of competitors available for 2012 including those already on campus upon Kelly's arrival now more than two years ago. Included are transfers (both in and out), the tragic passing of one class member, and a trio of early enrollees that hit campus this week.

Ready and Waiting: The 2009 Freshmen

Kelly inherited eight true freshmen that exhausted a year of eligibility prior to his arrival, though one of the group transferred: wide receiver Shaquelle Evans in August 2010 prior to playing for the new head coach.

With the exception of kicker Nick Tausch, who did not play last fall, each member of the group will conclude his playing career at ND at the end of the 2012 season (next year).

True seniors entering 2012 (7): Zeke Motta (S), Jordan Cowart (LS), Theo Riddick (RB/WR), Manti Te'o (MLB), Robby Toma (WR), Ben Turk (P), Nick Tausch (K).

Also entering their senior seasons are eight players who'd yet to play a collegiate down when Kelly arrived (December 2009), but each had spent a season in the football program under former Coach Charlie Weis. Included in the group are five current starters and key reserve/former starter for Kelly. Three among the group rank as the best players on the team, and have since midway through the 2010 season. All debuted under Kelly and each can apply for a fifth-season of eligibility in 2013.

Redshirt-juniors (seniors in class designation) entering 2012 (8): Carlo Calabrese (WLB), Tyler Eifert (TE), Dan Fox (WLB), Jake Golic (TE), Zack Martin (OT), Tyler Stockton (NG), Chris Watt (OG), Cierre Wood (RB).

Cornerback E.J. Banks was a member of the 2009 recruiting class but never played for the program, transferring in August 2011 after sitting out the 2010 season due to academic suspension. Classmate Alex Bullard (OT) played three snaps for Kelly in 2010 before transferring to Tennessee to be closer to his family.

Recruited Twice: Class of 2010

Kelly was announced as Notre Dame's 29th head coach on December 10, 2009. 15 freshmen had verbally committed to the University upon his arrival, with Kelly then bringing in eight more.

The class endured the tragic death of Matt James in April 2010 and two members have since transferred: Derek Roback (Ohio) and Spencer Boyd (to USF, a second transfer pending).

Of the 20 that remain, three have yet to play: OT Tate Nichols (redshirt 2010; injury fall 2011), RB Cameron Roberson (redshirt 2010, injury spring 2011), and S Chris Badger (two-year religious mission from which he will return and enroll at the University this summer).

Nine of the group played under Kelly as true freshmen and again last fall, leaving them with eligibility through the 2013 season.

2010 Immediate Contributors (9): Austin Collinsworth (S), Bennett Jackson (CB), T.J. Jones (WR), Tommy Rees (QB), Kona Schwenke (DL), Prince Shembo (OLB), Daniel Smith (WR), Danny Spond (OLB), Lo Wood (CB).

The group has produced 43 starts (from Rees, Jones, and Shembo) and won four post-season team awards: Next Man In (Rees 2010), Defensive Newcomer of the Year (Shembo 2010), and Special Teams Player of the Year (Jackson 2010, Collinsworth 2011).

Of those that didn't play as freshmen in '10 (listed below), one earned a starting role last fall (Louis Nix), another played a key role late (Andrew Hendrix) and two more starred on special teams (Kendall Moore and Justin Utupo). There were two position changes (Heggie and Massa) and two other members firmly entrenched on the two-deep depth chart (Alex Welch and Christian Lombard).

2010 freshmen Eligible through 2014 (12): Andrew Hendrix (QB), Bruce Heggie (C), Christian Lombard (OT), Luke Massa (WR), Kendall Moore (ILB), Kendall Moore (ILB), Tate Nichols (OT), Louis Nix (NG), Cameron Roberson (RB), Justin Utupo (ILB), Alex Welch (TE). Chris Badger (S) begins his four seasons of football eligibility this fall (eligible through 2015).

First Full Class: 2011 Frosh

Ten of Kelly's first full recruiting class members saw the field last fall with 14 others serving on the Scout Team. The class added another member this week with transfer Amir Carlisle (USC), bringing the 2011 freshmen total to 25 competitors.

True Freshmen debuts last season – Eligible through 2014 (10 +*1): George Atkinson (RB/KR), Josh Atkinson (CB), Kyle Brindza (K), Chase Hounshell (DL), Ben Koyack (TE), Aaron Lynch (DE), Cam McDaniel (RB), Troy Niklas (LB/DL), Stephon Tuitt (DL), Ishaq Williams (OLB).

Lynch (6), Tuitt (3), Niklas (1), and Koyack (1) each earned starts; Brindza was the kickoff specialist for all 13 games and Atkinson emerged as the lead kick returner by Game Three. Hounshell and Atkinson both joined the fray in Week Six while McDaniel played in eight of the last nine, primarily on special teams. Williams appeared in 11 games and was technically the first freshman to take the field as a blocker on the kick return unit vs. South Florida.

The aforementioned Carlisle (*1) played eight games for USC last season and is therefore eligible to play three more years for the Irish beginning in 2013 (he'll sit out 2012 per NCAA transfer rules). Carlisle is the second player to transfer into the school from the 2011 recruiting class – Florida State's Jordan Prestwood joined Kelly & Co. last summer.

Frosh in Waiting (14) – The following competitors were withheld from action last fall and are therefore eligible through 2015: Jalen Brown (CB), Brad Carrico (OG), Ben Councell (OLB), DaVaris Daniels (WR), Matthias Farley (WR), Jarrett Grace (ILB), Everett Golson (QB), Connor Hanratty (OG), Eilar Hardy (S), Matt Hegarty (OL), Nick Martin (OL), Anthony Rabasa (ILB), Tony Springmann (NG), Jordan Prestwood (OT).

Of note: Golson was named the 2011 Offensive Scout Team Player of the Year (Farley was the official runner-up). The 2012 recruiting class already has three members signed, sealed, and enrolled at the University: Sheldon Day (DL), Gunner Kiel (QB), and Tee Shepard (CB).

Note: Including 14 pending verbal commitments, but not including yet-to-be-named 5th-year players returning (part of the 2008 recruiting class), Kelly's roster unofficially holds 78 members for 2012.

Part II will examine the 5th-year returnees and a pair of their classmates still waiting official word. Part III will break down the 2012 roster including current commitments with a review of remaining prospects presumed still to be on the Irish recruiting board.

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