Elston’s eye for talent

Included among the coaching staff changes Brian Kelly announced earlier this week were internal shifts, most notably the move of Mike Elston to recruiting coordinator. Elston last served in that role for two seasons at Cincinnati where he helped sign future NFL talent. Irish Illustrated takes a look back at those notable signees.

Brian Kelly unveiled four assistant coaches earlier this week and also changes amongst those continuing to ply their trade on the Notre Dame staff.

Shifting Mike Elston from defensive line to linebackers proved one of the most notable moves along with his ascension to recruiting coordinator. Former running backs coach Tony Alford, now at Ohio State, had previously overseen Irish recruiting efforts.

Kelly made sure to note previous success for Elston atop the recruiting hierarchy.

“He was my recruiting coordinator at Cincinnati,” Kelly said. “He did a terrific job there. You just need to look at the guys that are in the NFL that we recruited at Cincinnati when Mike was our recruiting coordinator there. He’ll do a great job as our recruiting coordinator.”

Elston served in that post at Cincinnati for the 2007 and 2008 seasons. He had previously done the same in 2002 and 2003 while at Eastern Michigan as defensive line coach.

Irish Illustrated took a closer look at the recruiting hauls — class of 2008 and 2009, respectively — Cincinnati managed to sign during Elston’s tenure orchestrating the effort. Turns out both classes featured the standard assortment of future starters and eventual transfers.

But they also had a distinct flavor of under-the-radar turned NFL talent, as Kelly mentioned.

Class of 2008

Cincinnati put together a 24-man class on National Signing Day in 2008, fresh off a 10-3 season and bowl victory.

All but five of those signees came from the Midwest — 12 from Ohio, six out of Michigan and one from Illinois. Florida produced three future Bearcats with New Jersey and Pennsylvania each accounting for one a piece.

Scout.com rated 16 of those signees as two-star prospects. The remaining eight all maintained three-star status.

Rankings bely a group of future professional talent. Below are some notables:

Sean Hooey — Elston signed Hooey, a 6-8 offensive tackle and two-star prospect, out of Hillsdale (Mich.) High School. Hooey spent five years at Cincinnati before making the St. Louis Rams practice squad in 2013 as an undrafted free agent. He rotated some at left tackle for St. Louis last offseason. He’s now part of the Jets organization after signing a reserve/future contract in January.

Travis Kelce Kelce went to Cincinnati a three-star prospect after starring as a quarterback at Cleveland Heights (Ohio) High School. He eventually transitioned to tight end, where the Kansas City Chiefs made him a third round pick in the 2013 NFL Draft. Kelce didn’t factor much as a rookie but broke out in 2014 to the tune of 67 receptions for 862 yards and five touchdowns.

Isaiah Pead — Pead, a three-star running back from Columbus, Ohio, turned in a decorated Cincinnati career. He ran for 3,288 yards and 27 touchdowns as a Bearcat before being named MVP of the Senior Bowl. Pead ran a 4.47-second 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine before the St. Louis Rams selected him in the second round of the 2012 NFL Draft. Professional success has been more elusive: Pead managed just 75 total rushing yards in 2012 and 2013 combined. He then tore his ACL during the 2014 preseason.

George Winn — Winn was a two-star running back coming out of Detroit Jesuit and later took over as Cincinnati’s feature back in 2012 after Pead’s departure. Winn’s final season included 1,334 yards and 13 touchdowns. Houston signed Winn as a free agent in April 2013. He then bounced between the Patriots, Raiders, Steelers and Cowboys before landing in Detroit last offseason. Winn appeared in 12 games for Detroit during the 2014 season with 73 yards on 19 carries.

Class of 2009

Cincinnati stuck to its regional roots the next recruiting cycle with a 25-man class after finishing the 2008 season with an 11-3 record, Big East conference title and loss in the Orange Bowl.

Nineteen hailed from the Midwest, including 12 from Ohio. Another two came from New Jersey and three from the junior college ranks. One signee came from Florida. Cornerbacks Chris Williams and Reuben Johnson both achieved four-star status and spots in the Scout300.

Below are a couple notable pro prospects out of that group.

Blake Annen — Another two-star prospect, Annen made 16 catches for 183 yards and two touchdowns as a senior. Philadelphia signed Annen last May then waived him after three preseason games. Chicago then signed Annen in September to the practice squad before adding him to the active roster in November. He appeared in five games in 2014.

Patrick ODonnell — Elston helped lure O’Donnell to Cincinnati from Wellington, Fla., where he emerged as a two-star kicker. O’Donnell played as a true freshman before injury led to a redshirt then was starting punter from 2010-2012. He was first team all-Big East in 2011 and a semifinalist for the Ray Guy Award. O’Donnell ended his career at Miami as a graduate transfer. He was first team all-ACC in 2013. Chicago selected O’Donnell in the sixth round of the 2014 NFL Draft. He appeared in all 16 games for the Bears in 2014 with a 43.8-yard average.

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