Though one, perhaps two laments and/or reasons to rejoice remain for Notre Dame fans and head coach Brian Kelly to conclude the 2016 recruiting cycle, the overall compilation of the class has been set.
For Kelly, his 23-player group might lack flash, but it makes up for it in cohesion.
“It’s a close group of guys. They know each other. They've stayed in contact with each other,” Kelly said. “And the great thing about that is that that will be a strong pull in the locker room. This will be a close group that will stick together and that will fight through adversity, which you're always going to have in a team sport.”
“Each and every year, you hope that this group is the best group you've ever recruited. I'm hoping for that again. I think we all know that there are some players in here that could help immediately, some that we'll develop, and some that are in here for specific needs. I think it touches upon everything that you would need in your program six years into it.
“It's not an immediate fix, it's not just for the future. I think it covers all the areas that you would expect it to cover, and that's why it doesn't kind of have that flashiness.”
ONE MESSAGE, TWO DISPARATE DRAWS
Kelly’s sixth full recruiting cycle in South Bend did not include the loss of a previously committed player (conversely, the Irish flipped seven among their 23 signed today). The veteran head coach attributes his program’s 2016 pledge retention to consistency in the process.
“I think first and foremost, we had a unified staff, a clear message,” Kelly offered. “If you have three different coaches that go to recruit you and you get three different messages, there's some uncertainty as to ‘What I'm getting myself into?’ But if all three coaches come in and you hear the same thing, you know what you're getting.
“That lessens the wavering of a student-athlete. So (recruiting coordinator) Mike Elston did a great job of taking my message and reinforcing it every single day.”
Kelly added that the staff likewise better vetted prospective recruits in terms of each’s fit at the University. Ironically, the reality of Notre Dame’s “4 for 40” message, while a draw for the class of 2016, could also have been buoyed by recent evidence of instant gratification.
“Our player development is well-chronicled,” Kelly said. “We don't pound our chests about that, but I think it's pretty evident if you want to get into that conversation, if, for example, one school wants to say Notre Dame can't do that or doesn't do it, we can have a really, really good conversation about how we have done that (put talent in the NFL).
“We'd prefer not to. We think we've got other things that are higher on the list, but when we do get to that, and we do, further down the line, we will highlight the guys that have developed and succeeded in the NFL and developed in this program in particular over the last six years.”
CENTRALLY LOCATED…RELATIVELY SPEAKING
While Kelly and his staff tout Notre Dame’s national brand and recruitment of athletes nationwide, the 2016 crop was heavy on a particular handful of states, with 17 of the 23 signed hailing from neighboring Ohio, Illinois, and Michigan, plus talent rich prep programs in Florida and California:
- Florida (7): DBs Devon Studstill and Spencer Perry (hometown of Newnan, Ga.), RBs Tony Jones and Deon McIntosh, LB Jonathan Jones, OL Parker Boudreaux, WR Kevin Stepherson
- California (3): QB Ian Book, WR Javon McKinely, DB D.J. Morgan
- Michigan (3): Defensive Linemen Daelin Hayes, Khalid Kareem, and Adetokunbo (“Ade”) Ogundeji
- Ohio (2): Offensive Linemen Tommy Kraemer and Liam Eichenberg
- Illinois (2): DB Julian Love and LS John Shannon
Others pledged include New York defensive athlete Jamir Jones (brother of Jarron), North Carolina pass rusher Julian Okwara (brother of Romeo), Virginia wide receiver and future Irish defensive back Jalen Elliott, South Carolina cornerback Troy Pride, Jr., Memphis defensive back Donte Vaughn, and intriguing wide receiver/tight end prospect Chase Claypool – of Abbotsford, British Columbia.
“When we got a chance to see him play, we were just drawn to his pure physical ability, and then we loved him in person,” said Kelly of the six-foot-four-inch Claypool. “We just loved his want-to, his…he's a blank slate. He's so raw that we're going to be able to create a player that can play so many different positions for us.”
ENTERTAINING…BUT NOT SURPRISING
Deontay Greenberry we hardly knew ‘ye.
Asked today about his honest-to-goodness “drama-free” National Signing Day event, Kelly deadpanned, “It's awesome. I think that everybody should try it once in their career.”
Two five star prospects remain in play with Fresno, Calif., linebacker Caleb Kelly choosing between Oklahoma and Notre Dame tonight and Georgia athlete Demetris Roberston picking (it appears) among Georgia, Stanford, and Notre Dame sometime near the end of next week…ish.
But other than those known unknowns, everything proceeded according to plan at the Gug Wednesday morning.
“There's no drama because I think we did a great job of knowing and really getting to know our guys, who we were signing, why they were coming to Notre Dame,” offered Kelly.
“Really asking the questions. You know: ‘Is this the right place for you?’ We don't want you to commit unless you're totally invested, and we say this to them. ‘If you want to keep taking visits, go take visits.’ Then you're not committed to Notre Dame. Then keep taking visits. If you're committed, shut down the recruiting process, and then if you're ready to commit, make a commitment…
“I think that's important in this process,” he continued. “You know, we have this word ‘commitment’ but I don't know that we hit it hard enough, so we hit it pretty hard with those kids, and I think it's served us well on days like today.”
IN WITH AN OLD?
Notre Dame’s 2016 recruiting class will be completed only after Kelly and Robertson make their final choices, but should one not choose to align his future lot in life with the Irish, Brian Kelly will likely assign one more scholarship to a player five years their senior.
Kelly told Irish Illustrated’s Pete Sampson today that there are two scholarships being held (presumably Robertson and Kelly own those should they so choose to grace the program with their presence) but that, as with both of the previous two seasons, Notre Dame was in the market for a potential graduate transfer a la Cody Riggs in 2014 and Avery Sebastian last season.
Kelly offered that said transfer possibility – one eligible to play upon arrival due to his graduation from another college – was from the “Skill” position group. (Kelly defines “Skill” as WR, RB, or DB.)