The Back Corner Fade
February 16, 2017
And from these ashes, Notre Dame will rise again.Ok, maybe the current state of affairs isn’t as bad as they were in the last days of Gerry Faust, but in some ways, it sure feels like Notre Dame is that many light years away from the pinnacle of college football; ready to compete against the Alabama’s, Clemson’s, and Ohio States of the world on a yearly basis. Let’s face it, the few times that the Irish have played in big boy bowl games since the turn of the century have been colossal failures.
Looking back on the 2016 when all was said and done, there really were no bright spots at all. Sure, some of the younger kids played and showed some promise, but come on, when the highlight of your season is beating an average at best Miami team, it’s awfully tough to polish that dung.
Then came the recruiting season with coaches leaving, recruits flipping, and the staff’s inability to out recruit Oregon St for a 3-star, it looked like the end of Irish Football and/or life as we know it. Then something funny happened…….February 1st turned out to be one hell of a day. Like a bad, B-movie when the star flat lines and the doctor says “we did the best we could, sorry” leaving the guy for dead, what happens……….there is a beep, then another beep (at this point the hero’s lady usually picks her head up from sobbing and begins to believe again!) Not into that scenario? Ok, think Hulk Hogan back in the 80’s when he was on the verge of getting choked out (basically, every week) and the ref counts to two, then just as the Hulkster’s arm was dropping for the final time, he begins to come out of it. Either way you look at it, Notre Dame Football has not flat lined and hasn’t been counted out just yet.
The fact that the Irish coaching staff was able to pull out three defensive players in the 11th hour is a testament to the work that the staff put in, namely Mike Elko and Clark Lea. For coming in new, not really knowing anything about the school, and not even having the chance to put their suitcases down from getting hired, I’d say that was fairly impressive. No, the class will never be mentioned in the same breath as the haul that ND brought in back in 1989, but for all the circumstances that the coaching staff faced, they saved what could have been a disaster and made it respectable.
This brings us to this past weekend and Junior Day. It was a small gathering of potential Domers, but an impressive lot to be sure headlined by Phil Jurkovec and maybe our best recruiter since Vinny Cerrato, Markese Stepp (if Kelly is still around when this kid graduates, he really should give him his first job working on the recruiting side of the football operations.) I never really know what to make of these Junior Days. Obviously, it’s a great opportunity for the recruit and his family to get on campus, see the facilities, meet the coaches and players, and get a feel for the academic side of things. It’s a great “1st step” for the young man and his family. The flip side of it, is that so many things can happen from when they leave campus when they’re gung-ho about ND to two weeks later and the same thing happens when they visit another school. In a nutshell, they’re kids and still trying to figure out which end is up. When Jamie, Christian, and Matt reported about how things went with each recruit, I, like probably many of you, felt good that ND made a solid impression on them. What I didn’t expect was to land two 4-star defensive backs, and in the process of writing this article, land an offensive tackle. It’s Valentine’s Day and the Irish are looking at nine recruits coming (1 5-Star, 5 4-star’s, and 3 3-star’s) and the offer list that we have out is very impressive. Elko was not known as a great recruiter at Wake Forest or Bowling Green. I certainly can understand the issue…….it’s Wake and BGSU. So far, this guy has been outstanding. It’s refreshing to see a DC come in, evaluate the players on ND’s radar, figure out who would fit best in what he does, then goes out and tries to get them. I won’t bust on BVG, wait, yes I will, and say the guy simply wasn’t a recruiter as we all know. I hope, and from the evidence we’ve seen so far, Elko pounds the pavement and the phone and is pretty damn good at it.
Now we wait for Spring Ball to begin after a few months of getting thick, quick, and nasty (where have you gone, Coach Mendoza.) I’m not expecting to all of a sudden see these guys pop out of the tunnel for the spring game looking like man-beasts (It’s three months, it’s not going to be that obvious) that will come in September. What I do hope happens in the winter months, when nobody is watching and it’s just the boys, a pile of iron, and a coach screaming for “one more rep.” This builds and forges a team. This time of year sucks for an ND football player. It’s cold (for the freshman, this might be the first northern winter they’ve ever experienced,) they have a full boat of classes, and the only thing football wise going on is trying to get stronger. It can’t be that much fun. The good news is they all are going through it together. One would hope this would be the foundation for a fall to remember. So far, the winter has looked pretty damned good.
Yes, the main focus of these articles is usually to talk about the rest of the college football world and how it relates to ND and we’ll get back to that. It’s not only the dog days of winter for football players, but writing about it as well! The good news is spring break is right around the corner and I fully expect a group of offensive linemen from an SEC school to take on an entire fraternity in Panama City or maybe a Pac-12 cornerback who’s pet cobra got loose at the freshman honors banquet. In any case, we’ll have some laughs.
Ballou Balances Science, Hard Work & Respect To Earn Respect
by Christian McCollum