Staff Awards: Picking MVPs and Captains

Jake Brown, Steve Hare and Pete Sampson hand out National Signing Day hardware, including MVP, future captain, most to prove, top recruiter and what we’ll be watching in 2018.

MVP

Darnell Ewell
How about Darnell Ewell? Not much has been written about Ewell since he committed, mostly owing to the fact that he doesn’t often do interviews. But if there’s a more important piece to this class it’s hard to find. Ewell is a big, bullish defensive lineman that can make an impact right away. – Jake Brown

Brock Wright
Wright isn’t just the highest ranked Irish signee, he’s also the most college ready. Physically, Wright has the size the step into the Irish depth chart and play significant minutes. He also has the talent to help upgrade the tight end position. – Steve Hare

Brock Wright
Everything about Wright screams success, from the personality to the talent to the football IQ. It’s hard to imagine him not having a successful career in South Bend and beyond. In the end, Wright will be remembered as underrated at No. 76 overall and No. 3 among tight ends nationally. He’s that good. – Pete Sampson

Future Captain

Brock Wright
I’ll take Brock Wright as a future captain. Wright wasn’t committed first (that goes to Dillan Gibbons) but he was among those considered the bedrock of this class, not to mention one of its best prospects. Wright strikes me as a kid that will set a tremendous example for others in the program over the next four years. – Jake Brown

Josh Lugg
Lugg was one of the first to commit and has been active in speaking with other Notre Dame recruiting targets throughout the process. He’s a guy that leads by example but he’s also confident enough to step up and take charge when necessary. – Steve Hare

Josh Lugg
Notre Dame’s offensive line is a captaincy producing position and Lugg’s personality fits that bill as a player who’s not only tough but also out-going enough to handle leadership. Check back in three years, but odds are Lugg will make a run at captain, especially if Harry Hiestand is still coaching here. – Pete Sampson

Most Underrated

Drew White
Drew White is the most underrated prospect in this class for me. Super productive linebacker, played top competition with St. Thomas Aquinas in Fort Lauderdale and will fit the scheme pretty well. He moves way better than people seem to think. He’s a guy who will rack up a bunch of tackles in his career. – Jake Brown

Kurt Hinish
After seeing Hinish several times the past two seasons I always felt a rankings bump was in order. He chews up double teams and often saw triple teams just to slow him down. He’s big, strong and active with his hands. His non-stop motor also gives him an edge against offensive linemen. – Steve Hare

Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah
He’s a three-star prospect on Scout and that ranking makes sense if you’re projecting him at safety only. But as a fit in Notre Dame’s defense under Mike Elko, this is a four-star fit. Late flips usually need time to settle, but if Owusu-Koramoah does I think this is a multi-year starter under Elko. – Pete Sampson

Top Recruiter

Harry Hiestand
Does it get much more consistent than Harry Hiestand hauling in top offensive linemen? I’d say not. Hiestand didn’t wrap things up as early as usual, but still finished off a four-man class with all prospects being rated in the four-star range. That’s stellar work. Even better, Aaron Banks and Robert Hainsey are already enrolled. – Jake Brown

C.J. Holmes
This one is a toss-up between C.J. Holmes, Josh Lugg and Kurt Hinish as all three were active in reaching out to other prospects and in keeping the group message system hopping. Brian Kelly even complimented Holmes for his recruiting work. – Steve Hare

Mike Elston
While all the returning assistants deserve mention, full credit to Elston for holding this class together with help. He admitted that in mid-January it wasn’t clear if the Irish would even get another commitment. Instead, Notre Dame got six, including a couple at his position group. – Pete Sampson

The One That Got Away

Paulson Adebo
Losing Adebo to Stanford is going to sting, especially after he performed so well at the Under Armour All-America Game in Orlando last January. Adebo was a true two-way threat and could have provided the Irish with help at either cornerback or wide receiver. – Steve Hare

Robert Beal
Plenty of names to consider coming off a 4-8 season. I’ll hit the way back machine and say Robert Beal. Notre Dame always needs top pass rushers. Beal was one. Connections to South Bend netted an early commitment but it didn’t hold. One of these days, an elite pass rusher will come on down. – Jake Brown

Robert Beal
The Irish needed to hold serve here and couldn’t do it, with in-state Georgia winning out for the pure edge rusher. You could throw Josh Kaindoh and Donovan Jeter in for good measure. But Beal was a potential foundational prospect for this class. – Pete Sampson

Most To Prove

Michael Young
Young’s offer list is all over the board, primarily filled with lower level schools and absent is the in-state powerhouse. On film, Young shows he has talent but it doesn’t exactly scream, “Elite Talent.” – Steve Hare

January Moves
As always in a class like this, it’s the late takes. Notre Dame did well to haul in some talent down the stretch. Ultimately, the success of this class overall might depend on developing some of the three-star prospects beyond expectations.  – Jake Brown

Kofi Wardlow
I want to dig up more tape on Wardlow because his highlights are a series of plays were he goes unblocked by low-tech offenses. How does he take on blocks? Can he beat a tackle with a swim move? Hopefully the Irish can put him on the shelf for a year to build him up. I’m intrigued, I just want to see more. – Pete Sampson

Big Picture Storyline

Going 4-8
It’s pretty obvious, but how much the season impacted recruiting. Overall, this is a solid class given the circumstances and that’s a credit to most of it being assembled before the season. Everything in the offseason has been a made scramble — making up for de-commitments, digging up new prospects to – Jake Brown

Work in Progress
Aside from a few prospects, most of Notre Dame’s signees are two to three years away from stepping into productive roles. The good news is the Irish aren’t exactly in a position to fill many holes with true freshmen. Brock Wright is probably the only real home run commitment but the Irish did land several others with early playing time potential including Kurt Hinish, Josh Lugg, Robert Hainsey and Darnell Ewell. – Steve Hare

Staff Rebuild
Going into National Signing Day I thought the biggest hurdle Notre Dame faced was its record. So I asked Mike Elston about it. He said the bigger issue was the staff turnover because so many relationships exited the program during the dead period. Letting Brian Polian, Chip Long, etc., get a full year to rebuild in recruiting will be what I’m watching. – Pete Sampson

Most Improved: Offense

Tight End
No question here. Getting production out of that position the last couple seasons has been more difficult than expected. Adding Brock Wright and Cole Kmet to the mix is an automatic influx of elite talent. I’m expecting both to be very good in their college careers, especially if offensive coordinator Chip Long emphasizes that position like expected. – Jake Brown

Tight End
Brock Wright has future star written all over him and that was enough for me to highlight tight end over a solid offensive line haul. With Alizé Jones expected back in 2017, Wright’s role might be limited to spell Jones, but he’s ready to step in and play. His blocking and receiving skills are elite in every way. – Steve Hare

Tight End
I could talk myself into offensive line because the Irish got a high-end tackle (Josh Lugg) and a poor man’s Quenton Nelson (Robert Hainsey) to go with Aaron Banks and Dillan Gibbons. But c’mon, it’s tight end. The Irish signed the nation’s best class at the position by a long shot. Brock Wright and Cole Kmet are nearly can’t-miss kids. – Pete Sampson

Most Improved: Defense

Defensive Line
I like what Notre Dame is getting in Darnell Ewell and Kurt Hinish. Jonathon MacCollister is a bit of an unknown. Closing with Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa and Kofi Wardlow is a big boost. But frankly, defensive recruiting was such a struggle this cycle it’s hard to point to a real area of major positive improvement. – Jake Brown

Defensive Line
Kurt Hinish has the potential to be a very good interior guy and Darnell Ewell is the type of talent the Irish have struggled to recruit at the position. Maybe the Irish could have used a couple more front four players, but they got good depth. Add Kofi Wardlow, a prospect with potential, and the Irish certainly bolstered their future. – Steve Hare

Safety/Rover
OK, now I will talk myself into being different because I like the three-man haul of Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, Jordan Genmark-Heath and Isaiah Robertson, whose value rises with early enrollment. Even after signing five safeties last cycle, Mike Elko’s change in defensive scheme required another load up under difficult circumstances. – Pete Sampson

What’s The Key For 2018?

Winning, Period
Notre Dame will get some recruiting juice from new assistant coaches and coordinators. That’s a given. Plus there’s already a good base in place with six solid commitments. Putting a better product on the field this season is necessary to get recruits believing the program is back on the upswing after a fluke down season rather than in a rut. – Jake Brown

Defensive Line
The defensive line has been an ongoing issue dating back to the late 1990s and although the Irish added some quality in 2017, they’re going to need to focus on adding more talent and depth to the position moving forward. Maybe the change in defensive philosophy will help recruit more blue chip talent up front. –  Steve Hare

Five-Star Talent
Five-star prospects signed in the past four years: Alabama (21), USC (15), Florida State (13), Ohio State (9), Michigan (5) and Notre Dame (2). The Irish didn’t sign one in either of the past two classes on Scout, with Alizé Jones the most recent. Say what you want about star rankings, but the teams with the best players usually win the most games. – Pete Sampson


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