Pending suspended senior Ishaq Williams’ potential reinstatement this fall, of the *23 pledges that inked for Notre Dame on National Signing Day 2011 -- and including a 24th that joined that summer -- only seven are slated to exhaust their collegiate eligibility at the program.
(*The class added three scholarship athletes by various means thereafter: transfer Amir Carlisle, preferred walk-on Joe Schmidt, and standard walk-on Connor Cavalaris, each of whom will finish their playing careers at Notre Dame.)
Five members of Scout.com’s eighth-ranked recruiting class in 2011 were claimed by career-ending injuries while another five transferred from the University. Four more chose to forgo their final seasons for the NFL Draft – two were not drafted.
With six graduate-student-athletes expected to represent the University for a fifth and final season next fall, below is a look at the star-crossed class of 2011, a group that has, in spite of massive attrition, produced either in whole or in part, a 37-15 record and counting pending 2015 results.
(3*) Brad Carrico – A foot injury plagued the offensive guard prospect from the outset. After redshirting as a true freshman, Carrico was placed on a medical scholarship prior to August Camp 2012, his sophomore season.
(5*) Aaron Lynch – A headache for offensive tackles (opposing and otherwise), Lynch’s rookie season in South Bend suggested he’d leave an Irish legend. Instead, he just left.
The five-star pledge transferred back to his home state following the 2011 campaign, sitting out 2012 (as the Irish rode to 12-1) and ultimately playing one sub par season (2013) with the South Florida Bulls. He has since developed into a potential OLB starter for the San Francisco 49ers.
(3*) Tony Springmann – After a freshman-season redshirt, Springmann played a crucial role on the best Notre Dame team of the last two decades, serving as the No. 2 defensive lineman off the bench for the 2012 Irish, a squad that reached 12-0 largely because of its defensive line play. Springmann suffered a torn ACL in August Camp 2013 and was forced to retire prior to 2014 due to a lingering back issue.
(5*) Stephon Tuitt – How would Tuitt have looked as a senior anchoring last year’s youth-filled defensive front? But the half-man, half-mountain had “NFL” written all over him from the outset, it was to no one’s surprise he chose early entry following his true junior season of 2013.
(4*) Troy Niklas – On the other hand…Kelly was a victim of his own vision as the head coach’s move of Niklas from a defensive front seven competitor in his freshman season of 2011 to tight end for 2012 resulted in a breakout 2013 season and subsequent surprise leap to the NFL. The loss of Niklas was not taken well by Kelly who fully expected his senior-to-be to be a focal point of the 2014 attack, both as a blocker and featured target.
(3*) George Atkinson – The man without a position made two handfuls of big plays for the Irish over his three seasons as a rotation member in the backfield and as a kick returner but never earned the trust of former running backs coach Tony Alford or the offensive staff. Atkinson’s decision to leave for the NFL following a 2013 Pinstripe Bowl suspension was the least surprising defection of the Brian Kelly era.
(4*) DaVaris Daniels – A look back at Daniels’ maddening career shows the following:
-- Freshman-season redshirt (on a squad that could have benefitted from a reliable fourth pass-catching option had he been deemed ready)
-- A promising sophomore season as a key reserve (2012)
-- An inconsistent but productive junior season as the unit’s second banana to T.J. Jones -- followed by an academic suspension for spring 2013
-- A fall suspension (academic) that eliminated his senior season
-- A “decision” to forgo a potential fifth year of college ball to pursue his NFL Dream. Daniels signed a free agent contract with the Minnesota Vikings after going undrafted earlier this month.
(4*) Everett Golson – Golson’s career arc is similar to that of his good friend DaVaris Daniels:
-- Freshman-year redshirt
-- A promising sophomore season, in Golson’s case as one of perhaps 10 key players on the team’s march to 12-0
-- A junior season lost to academic suspension
-- A roller coaster senior season marked by Heisman-quality play that was intermittently littered and sullied by a remarkable penchant for turnovers
-- A final spring session of 2014 – notable in that it was his fifth after enrolling early in 2011 -- in which he emerged as a likely starter, part-time or otherwise, only to exit stage left thereafter.
All told, Golson spent five springs in South Bend but played in only two football seasons.
(4*) Matt Hegarty – Played less than three full seasons, losing part of his 2012 campaign to a heart issue. A 2011 freshman redshirt, Hegarty started 13 of the final 15 games during his South Bend stay but chose to seek out a fifth season elsewhere rather than compete with redshirt-freshmen Quenton Nelson and Alex Bars for the open left guard position.
Recruited as a tackle, Hegarty played both guard and center for the Irish.
(3*) Conor Hanratty – Chose to forgo a potential fifth season on the playing field due to multiple concussions. Hanratty started seven games for the Irish and was a fixture with his former line mates at every practice this spring, both with a clipboard in hand and as an aid to offensive line coach Harry Hiestand on the field, a role he will return to next fall as he takes part in the University’s MBA program.
(3*) Ben Councell – Redshirted as a freshman, participated as a key reserve and special teams player as a sophomore, junior, and senior, and purportedly elected to forgo a potential fifth season due largely to concussion issues (2013 and 2014) that bookended a torn knee ligament (2013) after he emerged as a rotation regular.
(3*) Josh Atkinson – Seemed to carve a special teams niche midway through his freshman season of 2011 but it never materialized. A cornerback as a freshman and sophomore (he broke up a pass in a 20-3 upset win at Michigan State in 2012), Atkinson switched to wide receiver in 2013 but was buried on the depth chart. He then moved back to corner for 2014 where he showed well in August Camp before losing his senior season to a hip injury, one that ended his playing career.
(3*) Jalen Brown – Redshirted as a freshman in 2011 and was not invited back, per Brian Kelly, for a potential fifth season in 2015. After earning intermittent playing time in 2012, Brown disappeared from all game action over the final two seasons of his college career.
(3*) Anthony Rabasa – Redshirted as a freshman and made a minimal impact thereafter, bouncing among miscast position fits such as inside ‘backer and 3-4 DE (come on!) under former coordinator Bob Diaco before ultimately settling back on the edge as a Rush End last fall. Rabasa contacted quarterback Jameis Winston to break up a pass last October as a notable career highlight.
(4*) Eilar Hardy – Redshirted as a freshman due to an ACL tear suffered in August camp and lost the bulk of his sophomore season trying to recover from the injury. Hardy emerged as a rotation member as a junior in 2013 – a massive improvement from his early-spring 2013 standing – but was suspended for violation of team rules on two different occasions, first vs. Purdue in late September and at Stanford to conclude the season, the latter for which he had earned a starting nod.
Hardy was withheld from action for the first two-thirds of the 2014 season due to the infamous academic misconduct situation but returned to play in the final five contests.
A May 2015 Notre Dame graduate, Hardy will conclude his playing career at Bowling Green – staying as a member of the Irish for 2015 was not an option per terms of his delayed suspension.
(5*) Ishaq Williams (?) – Earned intermittent playing time as a true freshman in 2011 and served as Prince Shembo’s oft-used backup in both 2012 and 2013 at Cat linebacker. Williams was suspended for the 2014 season for academic misconduct and awaits potential reinstatement to A.) The University and B.) The football team.
(3*) Matthias Farley – Poised to serve in a crucial part-time/starting role for the fourth straight season after redshirting as a freshman in 2011.
(4*) Jarrett Grace – Has a legitimate argument to play two more seasons in South Bend but as of now, Grace’s fifth season in 2015 serves as an inspiration after losing more than a year-and-a-half to a gruesome leg injury.
(3*) Chase Hounshell – Pleaded with Kelly for a chance to help the program in spring ball 2015 and it appears the injury-plagued defensive end has carved a niche as a blocking tight end. Hounshell missed 2012 and 2013 due to shoulder surgeries after earning playing time as a true freshman in 2011.
(3*) Nick Martin – Starting center is slated to become a two-time team captain. Martin has started 24 of Notre Dame’s last 26 games, missing a pair to conclude the 2013 season due to a knee injury.
(4*) Amir Carlisle – Transferred into the program following a freshman season spent at USC in 2011. Is eligible for a fifth year due to a medical redshirt (broken foot) from 2012. Carlisle will start or share a starting role in the slot for the second straight season after doing the same as a running back in 2013.
(NR) Connor Cavalaris – A special teams regular since 2012, Cavalaris earned a scholarship prior to his senior season of 2014 and is expected to be with the team as a fifth-year player in 2015, scholarship or otherwise.
(2*) Joe Schmidt – From under-recruited afterthought to team MVP. Schmidt earned a scholarship prior to the 2013 season after showing well as a preferred walk-on in 2011 (scout team) and 2012 (special teams).
Better Never Than Late? (4*) Jordan Prestwood – De-committed from Notre Dame during the 2011 recruiting cycle and chose to attend Florida State where he enrolled early in the spring of 2011. Prestwood transferred to Notre Dame that summer but left the team prior to the 2012 season without playing a down. He later enrolled at Arizona Western Community College and Central Florida.
(3*) Kyle Brindza – Holds the program record for most field goals made (23) and attempted (31) in a season (2012) and ranked as a potential all-time program great among specialists prior to his prohibitive fall from grace in November 2014. For 2.5 of his three seasons as a starter, Brindza was Mr. Clutch for Kelly’s Irish. Brindza inked a free agent deal with the Detroit Lions.
(5*) Ben Koyack – Earned minimal playing time as a freshman but improved his game incrementally thereafter, ultimately leading the 2014 Irish in total snaps. Koyack was the program’s lone draft pick earlier this month and will begin his professional career as a member of the Jacksonville Jaguars.
(3*) Cam McDaniel – A four-year contributor and three-season member of the backfield rotation, McDaniel earned co-captaincy for 2014 after leading the Irish in rushing as a junior the season prior. He signed a free agent contract with his home state Dallas Cowboys after going undrafted.
-- The class was comprised of six four-star and four five-star prospects. Three of those 10 have a chance to exhaust their eligibility in South Bend: Ben Koyack has, while fifth-year senior Jarrett Grace is likely to and currently suspended senior Ishaq Williams could.
-- A matter of opinion, but it’s arguable that each of the five best football players from Notre Dame’s class of 2011 did not complete their expected tenures at the program: Stephon Tuitt, Aaron Lynch, Troy Niklas, Everett Golson, and DaVaris Daniels.
The quintet played an aggregate 11 seasons for the Irish.
Note: Tomorrow we’ll review the seniors-to-be, the recruiting class of 2012, a group that has thrived despite a dearth of numbers, both on Signing Day and since.