Brian Kelly paid Mike Elston a great compliment when announcing his move to recruiting coordinator, replacing former running backs coach Tony Alford.
Elston brought a particular skill set to the position and a track record of success in attracting top prospects to South Bend, Kelly said. All people had to do was take a look at the current roster and it would bear out that notion.
“Great recruiters today have to have something to recruit to, first and foremost,” Kelly said, “but they also have to be able to connect. Mike has done a great job since he’s been here. He’s arguably been our best recruiter day in, day out. If you just look at our roster, it’s proven that to be the case.”
Most casual observers of Irish recruiting efforts under Kelly would’ve tabbed Alford as best on the staff, in particular after hauling talented players out of Florida each cycle.
Taking a closer look at Elston’s recruiting track record while at Notre Dame, however, reveals not only a penchant for locking up key contributors down the road but also doing so with tremendous volume on a yearly basis.
Irish Illustrated looks back at his efforts, starting with the Class of 2011.
Elston settled in to his first full class at Notre Dame with a flourish.
Not only did he haul four-star linebacker Ben Councell and future nickel back Matthias Farley out of the Carolinas, one of his territories, he did much of the heavy lifting on five-star defensive end Stephon Tuitt.
Tuitt piled up 12 sacks in 2012 as Notre Dame made a run to the national championship game and finished his three-year stint in South Bend with 21.5 total before going in the second round of the NFL Draft to the Pittsburgh Steelers.
But this cycle marked the first where Elston worked Indiana as one of his primary territories. He struck twice in Indianapolis with linebacker/safety John Turner out of Cathedral and four-star defensive tackle Sheldon Day, a Warren Central product.
Day has been by far the most productive player after debuting in 2012 as a true freshman. He made 40 tackles and had 7.5 tackles-for-loss last season as a junior.
Smaller in terms of number, Elston’s haul in the Class of 2013 was the most probably the most star studded at the top end.
Elston served as primary recruiter for five-star linebacker Jaylon Smith, the highest ranked defensive player to choose Notre Dame in years. Smith led the Irish with 112 tackles in 13 games last season as a sophomore.
Landing four-star quarterback Malik Zaire also proved a feather in Elston’s cap. Zaire served as backup to Everett Golson last season before taking over at times, in particular during the Music City Bowl victory over LSU.
Zaire ran the ball 22 times for 96 yards and a touchdown against LSU while adding another 96 yards and another score through the air. He will compete to start with Golson this spring.
Defensive end Jacob Matuska rounded out the Class of 2013.
Brent played sparingly as a freshman last season while Tranquill made three starts and 33 total tackles before suffering a torn ACL. Elston also signed four-star defensive end Jay Hayes and four-star defensive tackle Daniel Cage, beating out Michigan State on National Signing Day for the latter. Both played as true freshmen.
Elston also unearthed three-star defensive end Jhonny Williams late in the cycle, flipping his commitment from Missouri.
Perhaps the best crop of prospects Elston has brought to South Bend from top to bottom, the Class of 2015 includes seven total.
Four-star linebackers Josh Barajas and Asmar Bilal, both U.S. Army All-Americans, highlight the group. Both hail from Indiana as do defensive tackle Brandon Tiassum and safety Mykelti Williams. Elston grabbed Bilal, Tiassum and Williams out of Indianapolis. Barajas is from nearby Merrillville.
Elston, alongside former defensive backs coach Kerry Cooks, also helped flip four-star cornerback and Under Armour All-American Shaun Crawford from Michigan. He also pulled three-star cornerback Nick Coleman out of Ohio.