Todd Lyght stepped to the top of the Gug auditorium on National Signing Day for what could have been a series of brief radio interviews. On paper, Notre Dame’s defensive backs coach didn’t have much material.
The Irish had just signed two safeties while losing both cornerback commitments, meaning a year after rebuilding the secondary with seven in the freshman class that Notre Dame would have to rebuild all over again next cycle.
The positive of using so many freshmen – Julian Love, Donte Vaughn, Devin Studstill and Troy Pride Jr. all started – was the advertisement it created for Notre Dame playing young talent. The fine print negative in there was that Love, Vaughn, Studstill and Pride were going to force the next class to wait its turn.
“It shows that the best players play,” Lyght told Irish Illustrated. “Last year our best guys were our young guys and we played them. But for some competitors coming out of high school, they look at the roster, they see how many defensive backs are on board, they see where will they fit, can they play, can they play early, can they compete.
“The really great ones, they love the competition and it doesn’t matter who’s on the roster. Some guys, who are not so great competitors, look at that roster and think to themselves, ‘I don’t want to go to a school like that because they’re loaded in the secondary.’”
In the end Notre Dame settled for safeties Isaiah Robertson and Jordan Genmark-Heath while striking out at cornerback. Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah could be listed as a safety too, but the Irish project him at Rover linebacker.
“Last year we were secondary heavy in the recruiting class, this year not so much,” Lyght said. “Next year I think it will be very advantageous for us in the secondary moving forward for the 2018 class.”
More like next week.
On Monday, Lyght’s prediction came true as Notre Dame landed four-star cornerback Kalon Gervin out of Cass Tech in Detroit and four-star safety Derrik Allen from Lassiter High School in Marietta, Ga. The commitments moved the Irish to No. 2 in virtually every network’s recruiting ranking and were the first in what needs to be another banner haul in the secondary.
Gervin chose Notre Dame over 30-plus offers that included Michigan, Florida and LSU. Allen’s list was even more impressive, with Alabama, Clemson and Georgia all after a prospect who could go down as the second-highest rated safety to go Irish under Kelly.
Oddly, the Irish were thinking about Alabama and Clemson as they closed on Allen. Not in terms of competition, but in terms of strategy. And that might put the 6-foot-2, 206-pound athlete at the forefront of the secondary’s next youth movement.
“Because you’re looking at college football today, like Clemson-Alabama, where Clemson ran 99 offensive plays against Alabama, which is arguably one of the greatest defenses of all time, right?” Lyght said. “If you have those numbers of plays over a 12-game season, that’s a lot plays.
“You can’t ask six guys to handle that workload. You need 10-to-12 guys to handle that workload in the secondary. I think you have to play a lot of guys to play consistently at a high level. That’s what we’re trying to get our kids to buy into. I think long term it will be beneficial because everybody will get the play, everybody’s invested and can share the workload.”
If all goes to plan, that will include Allen and Gervin in 2018 along with three more defensive backs. Lyght said the Irish had a favorable secondary board before these commitments, and that outlook should only get better now.
“Every high school kid wants to go to a program that has a lot of success,” Lyght said. “Traditionally we always have a lot of success at Notre Dame and last year was kind of an anomaly.
“That was tough, but everybody knows this program is gonna be back on top. Everybody is working hard for that.”
Including on the recruiting trail.