Photo by Rick Kimball/ISD

Notre Dame Finishes Strong on National Signing Day

February 1, 2017
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It’s been a long six months for the Notre Dame football program, but on Wednesday it seemed the Irish might have been seeing luck turn in their favor. Notre Dame landed commitments from four-star prospects Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah and Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa to go with three-star Kofi Wardlow.

Head coach Brian Kelly gave credit to his recruiting staff and assistant coaches but thanked the 15 commitments that stuck it out first.

“We couldn't be where we are today unless we had 15 student-athletes that were committed to Notre Dame from the start to the finish,” Kelly stated. “Really during a very difficult season, this group of 15 really had to endure the things that would occur out there in recruiting during a very difficult season. Other schools reminding them about a very difficult season that we had. Then there was them sticking together because of why they wanted to come to Notre Dame.”

We couldn't be where we are today unless we had 15 student-athletes that were committed to Notre Dame from the start to the finish. - Brian Kelly
The 15 prospects did more than just stick together over the last couple months, but they took it upon themselves to recruit and build relationships with prospects. They also made sure to give the new Notre Dame coaches a chance to do their job.

“I think this class, I guess is what I'm saying, is about the 15 that really stuck together, giving myself an opportunity to reconstitute our staff, put our staff together, get back out on the road after the dead period, and finish it out really strong,” explained Kelly. “We feel good about the way we finished really well, putting new coaches out on the road, and in some instances with a really different philosophical look at how we're playing defense, and looking for a different type of player.”

Kelly also made sure to Notre Dame Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick for his efforts on the recruiting trail. Swarbrick made himself available to the football program on each recruiting weekend and it paid off.

“I don't think you get here without an investment from everybody,” said Kelly. “Every weekend, Jack Swarbrick, our athletic director, met with our recruits. That's unusual. I don't think that happens everywhere that your athletic director makes himself able to meet with recruits.

“In a lot of instances, he had to be there to support our football program and talk to recruits about where this program is and where it's going. There are questions when a family comes on campus. He reminded them about the investment we were making in staff and what we were doing for the present and for the future. So having Jack's involvement in this was absolutely crucial to get to where we are.”

A year ago, Notre Dame signed 24 players and 13 played last fall. Kelly is hoping he doesn’t have to play 13 freshmen in 2017 but feels this recruiting class gives the program depth and quality talent.

“We think this class gives us great balance,” Kelly stated. “Last year 13 of the 24 players that we recruited in this class got on the field. Nearly 60% of last year's class played for us. I hope it's not that high this year, that number. There's a lot of really good football players in this class, but we're hopeful that it's not at 60%.

“We had six early enrollees last year. This year we have five that are already in our class.”

We're used to having some of these guys recruited and committed for a year and a half. - Brian Kelly
Notre Dame ended up flipping Jordan Genmark Heath, Kofi Wardlow, Jon Doerer, Jafar Armstrong and Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah in the last week and a half of the signing period. That’s a positive sign moving into the 2018 class, as the staff went to work and had success in uphill battles.

“Yeah, it was a little different for us, right,” said Kelly. “We're used to having some of these guys recruited and committed for a year and a half. Coming at it late where you're presenting Notre Dame for the first time from a fresh perspective, and they've been committed somewhere else, it's kind of exciting in a sense.

“I mean, you hate to pull somebody from another school. You know what, it works pretty good. I don't mean it to slight the other schools, but when you can show Notre Dame unvarnished without the negative criticism of Notre Dame, you can show it for who we truly are. It's a pretty easy decision to come to Notre Dame instead of having to carry all that baggage of negative recruiting for such a long period of time.”

Don’t expect the staff to wait and move in for the flip at the end of each cycle, but there is some satisfaction in identifying talent that fits at Notre Dame.

“I'm not saying we're going to wait till the last week and try to cherry pick everybody's commits, but it was a bit of a different perspective for us,” Kelly explained. “I don't necessarily want to make a habit of pulling our commits. We'd like to do our own work. But these were the right fits for us, as well. We went after guys that we felt fit at Notre Dame, and it worked out pretty good for us.”

Looking ahead to 2018, Notre Dame will go hard at the cornerback position, as they failed to sign one in 2017.

“The corner position will be a point of emphasis for us,” stated Kelly. “I think elite speed on offense will be a primary goal for us. Guys that can change the game on one possession. I think we'll see that. I think we've got very good size. I think we've got guys that can run.

“We want a couple of home run hitters. We don't care if they're Darren Sproles' size. We're going to come off the board in terms of profile. We want some guys that can change the game on offense with elite speed.

“On the defensive side of the ball, we continue to move towards the needs that Mike needs defensively relative to the positions, and continue to develop the back end of the defense, especially at the cornerback position.”

One change next year Kelly and his staff will face is the potential of an early signing period. Kelly doesn’t think much will change, as they will be fighting until the last day for prospects across the country.

“Even the 15, I'm not sure that all 15 of them would be early signees,” said Kelly. “I think some will, some won't. You have to understand that sometimes it's about how the school is reacting to this as well. Some get the news, the memos, quicker than others in terms of how they change and react to it with other sports.

“I think the factors are going to be different. I think each kid is going to have to react to it based upon also how their school is going to be dealing with it. I think some will come off the board at that time. I think we're kind of getting our hands around it a little bit. We're expecting some to sign early. But I think our mindset is we're going into it business as usual. We're all going to have to fight till February.”

Notes

- Kelly stated Justin Yoon has not had surgery, as some reports have indicated. Yoon will need rest.

- Hunter Bivin was asked back for a fifth season and he will be back.

- Jacob Matuska will finish his degree, but will not play football.
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