I just stumbled across the Providence - UConn game and noticed our old friend Ray Hall lumbering up and down the court. Looking forward to seeing how much his game has improved over his nine years on campus when the Irish play at the DD Center later this month.
With National Signing Day having come and gone, it's time to put a ribbon on the 2011 recruiting class and look forward to the impact that these 23 blue chippers may have on the upcoming season and years to come. In the spirit of Oscars season, we have categories for which our esteemed recruiting panel has evaluated and handed out awards. Our opinions vary, but one thing is for sure: optimism overflows for Irish fans, and this recruiting haul only reconfirms that Coach Kelly has this train headed in the right direction and picking up steam quickly. Spring practice can't get here soon enough.
Jeremy: Aaron Lynch
Brian Kelly identified defensive end as a position of great need for the recruiting class, and boy did he ever deliver. I’m tempted to pick Tuitt here because guys with the body and skill to start right away as a strong-side DE in a 3-4 defense don’t come along every day (especially to South Bend). But I’m going with Aaron Lynch. Not since the days of Justin Tuck have the Irish been able to boast a true pass-rushing terror off the edge. Lynch is still pretty raw, and isn’t ready to become a full-time starter yet at the weak-side DE spot, but he’s sure to see immediate playing time in obvious passing situations. Honorable mention to Ishaq Williams as well, who’s going to be a handful from that OLB spot for years to come.
Jimmy: Anthony Rabasa
I especially love all the recruiting battles won vs. the elite programs - USC , Ohio State, Alabama, LSU, FSU and Florida. Count it a double win as you add an elite player to the mix while depriving a head-to-head opponent or fellow NC contender with an important piece of the puzzle. It’s a testament to Brian Kelly and his staff that they can lure highly touted players away from the cozy environs and proximity of fertile West Coast and Deep South recruiting grounds. ND has always enjoyed a solid Midwest and East Coast base and recruiting presence, something Kelly enhances with his ties to Ohio and Michigan. More often than not, though, the difference-making players come from outside the recruiting “comfort zone,” which makes their successful recruitment all the more significant.
Manti Te’o fits this description as a huge coup, not only because he’s living up to his billing as the top linebacker of his class, but also because he’s become an ideal recruiting tool. Kelly mentioned multiple times how important a role Te’o played in selling recruits, be it worries about religion or Northern Indiana not being an idyllic warm weather spot and the adjustment that comes with that. It takes a helluva lot more work to convince someone like Stephon Tuitt to leave Georgia and its state programs in the lurch, or pluck Aaron Lynch from the Sunshine State to South Bend’s snowy state of emergency. Because of this added responsibility, the “biggest get” shouldn’t be solely which player will be the best on the field, but who could also make the most impact off the field for future recruiting purposes.
The trendy stock answer to the “biggest get” is any one of the anointed triumvirate of impact rush ends, each of whom could have special careers under the Dome. Lynch, Tuitt and Ishaq Williams (who I’ll fondly refer to as Steve Jobs’ blueprint for the “Cat” LB, iShaq 1.0) are all terrific additions, as is the spread offense potential of Everett Golson. By this extrapolated definition of “biggest get,” the most surprising, and possibly most foreboding of more good things to come is Anthony Rabasa.
Apparently he already dislikes Michigan
Stealing Rabasa from under the shadow of The U in Coral Gables was a tremendous achievement. Granted, the state of Miami’s program isn’t exactly a picture of stability, but FSU, LSU and a slew of other ACC/SEC schools didn’t expect this instinctual defensive darkhorse to escape the Mason-Dixie line. Not only does this open in-roads to Rabasa’s high school, Miami powerhouse Christopher Columbus H.S., but it also spawns another potential Te’o Effect with Rabasa spreading the good word of ND’s resurgence to talented South Floridians in classes to come.
I also look forward to Mike Collins having fun with plenty of “Ruh-BAAAHSSS-UH with the tackle” calls.
Matt: Aaron Lynch
I’m a sucker for the SEC area guys. Especially SEC area guys who have SEC level talent. In recent years, guys like Lynch have been scarce on the final commit list in South Bend when the fax machine is done whirring every Signing Day. (Is there any more antiquated process in sports than requiring high school kids to have to fax in their letter? Seriously, it’s 2011, this process is probably singlehandedly keeping fax machine manufacturers in business.) On the ESPNU Signing Day show they showed an incredible graphic that 72 (IIRC) of the top 150 players in the country were from SEC states. And the bulk of those guys were obviously Florida kids. It’s nice to see ND go up against the consensus number one recruiting school this year in Florida State and win this head to head battle.
And of course, it addresses the most critical need of the program. No one has doubted the recruiting of the skill positions on the offensive side of the ball under Charlie Weis. Golden Tate came from Tennessee. Armando Allen from Florida. We’ve plucked big time offensive lineman like Sam Young and Dan Wenger from St. Thomas Aquinas, a big time program that all the big boys hit hard. But the white whale for the Irish that has been talked about ad nauseum, was the lack of SEC level talent along the D line. Brian Kelly talked about having a plan for each recruiting cycle, and it was obvious that building up the talent level on the defensive front seven was the key to the plan this year. Lynch is the biggest get, but I’m excited for Tuitt, Ishaq, Rabasa and Councell as well. And it should hearten every ND fan that three of these five guys came from SEC territory and have extremely impressive cohorts.
Jeremy: Wayne Lyons
ND’s inability to draw elite safety talent to South Bend has been extremely frustrating over the last few recruiting cycles. This year, Wayne Lyons seemed the perfect ND target – a superstar athlete with great grades and all the right answers to the questions about school and his future. I suppose you can’t blame the kid for going to Stanford either. The Midwest doesn’t exactly seem all that hospitable right now.
Jimmy: Offensive Line
I know there’s plenty of movable parts and bodies to evaluate and shuffle around positions, but on paper, there’s only 3 O-linemen in this class and the interior line stable looks a little thin. One of the worst indictments of Willingham was whiffing on big uglies for a couple recruiting cycles. I don’t mean to compare BK to anything Ty ever did (and I’ll never ever put them in the same sentence again). I’m just pointing out that BK’s recruiting philosophy depends more on molding big, athletic bodies into a position instead of getting “x” number of high school tackles, guards and centers with each class to ensure competition and aptitude. I’m confident Kelly’s system will turn out fine interior linemen, but there’s not immediate reward or gut feeling after Signing Day about those important positions.
Matt: Savon Huggins
If Savon Huggins was in this class, it could very well be the perfect recruiting class (ok, maybe a d tackle would have been nice too). I watched the highlight videos of Cam McDaniel, and I know that he was very impressive playing against the top level of Texas high school football, but he just doesn’t strike me as a big time college running back. One of the assistant coaches in UND.com’s signing day coverage said they hoped he could be a Danny Woodhead type back. Personally, and I hate to even write a kid off from a certain position before he steps on campus, but I see McDaniel as more of a slot receiver or maybe change of pace back in BK’s offense. But we’ll see. Two straight years without a dynamite tailback recruit though.
Honorable mention goes to the cornerback position, especially with the last minute defection of Okotcha to Oklahoma. The proven talent starts to get dangerously thin back there after this year, with Gray and D’s in the Dirt Blanton moving on. And cornerback is not traditionally a position where guys can step right in and contribute. Let’s hope Lo Wood can gain some experience as a sophomore and Benett Jackson can quickly learn the position. Jalen Brown, Eilar Hardy and Matthias Farley may all turn out to be answers at CB and S, but let’s just be honest. Brown didn’t get an offer from UT or OU, Farley didn’t get an offer from any SEC school, and Hardy wasn’t offered by Ohio State. The good news is that Kelly has already admitted that this is an area of need and is involved with top juniors.
Jeremy: Josh Atkinson
Before he flipped to the Sooners, Bennett Okotcha seemed like the easy answer here. But I’ll stay in the defensive backfield and go with the lesser ranked of the brothers in this class, Josh Atkinson. Atkinson has good quicks, likes to be physical and has some good genes to play in the secondary (I hear his dad was pretty good back in the day). Honorable mention to Eilar Hardy who, although he’s got some nice rankings, hasn’t been getting much love or pub because he didn’t play
in the “big boy” all-star games. Also Ben Councell, who is the prototypical “Drop” OLB in the 3-4 scheme.
Jimmy: George Atkinson III
Atkinson’s speed and athleticism is legit and was recognized as such by recruiting sites, ranking him as a top “Athlete” in at least two publications. He toted the ball out of the backfield a lot in high school, but Kelly likely envisions the same jitterbugicity and elusiveness in space that Theo Riddick possesses. With Floyd, Riddick, TJ Jones, Eifert, Gray and Wood likely to receive most of the touches, Atkinson may have a quiet freshman season, provided he doesn’t make a splash in special teams. But this is the kind of athlete that fits Kelly’s system beautifully. I think Atkinson will become an indispensable piece of the offense, a guy defenses have to account for every time he’s on the field.
Matt: Matthias Farley
BK raved about how physically impressive Farley is – commenting that he is the most ready to step on the field right away from a physical standpoint. And he’s not kidding, with Farley being 6 foot and nearly 200 pounds already. A 3 star from Charlotte, Farley had offers from mid tier schools – UNC, NC State, Maryland, UCLA and Wisconsin to name a few. He’s listed on Rivals as an athlete, but I think he will carve out a nice niche somewhere in the defensive backfield, most likely as a safety. He could be on the five year plan, although with the lack of depth in the defensive backfield I could see Farley as a special teamer and possibly get his feet wet on defense this coming season.
Most Likely to Make Immediate Contribution
Jeremy: George Atkinson III
Guys like Lynch, Williams and Tuitt are easy answers here. But I’ll go with George Atkinson III, who could become the next special teams ace for the Irish. Wouldn’t be surprised to see him taking the opening kickoff against South Florida. Also, Kyle Brindza, who will unseat the disappointing Ben Turk as the starting punter right out of the gate.
A large, scary man
Jimmy: Stephon Tuitt and Kyle Brindza
Tuitt is a large, scary man. His ability won’t be denied and he’ll be in the DE mix with Ethan Johnson from the get-go. Tuitt’s contribution is two-fold: he becomes a second “1st-stringer” when he’s in, disrupting both the run and pass with aplomb. Meanwhile, Johnson benefits from the relief and maximizes every snap he takes on the field, likely propelling his draft stock.
Brindza comes in as an absolute kicking specimen with probably the strongest leg on the roster. He should take over kickoffs and may push Turk for punting duties. If that’s not immediate contribution, I don’t know what is. Winning the 3rd phase is crucial to program success.
Matt: Kyle Brindza*
I’ll asterisk this one, as I think most ND fans (and I assume my fellow Roundtable writers) would agree that Lynch, Tuitt and Ishaq have an opportunity to make a difference right away in the front seven. To discuss someone different, I’ll go with Brindza, who has a monster leg and figures to give incumbent Ben Turk all he can handle for the punting duties. Turk has been a disappointment for the majority of his career, and it wouldn’t shock me if Brindza was punting and kicking off on September 3rd against USF.
Best Overall Career
Jeremy: Everett Golson
Although he’s slight in stature, Everett Golson is the perfect spread QB for the Kelly offense. Really the only foreseeable limitation (other than his size, of course) is the depth chart ahead of him. But I think Kelly is going to find it extremely difficult to keep him off the field in 2011, and I’d expect him to be starting by the time the Irish head to the Emerald Isle to open the 2012 season.
Matt: Everett Golson
I couldn’t be more impressed with Golson after watching his interview and highlight tape on UND.com. Just a kid that seems to get it and an undeniable talent at QB. Last year, BK inherited a recruiting class, and he admitted yesterday that his recruiting consisted of trying to keep Charlie’s class together. Translation: these weren’t my guys. Not saying that BK would or wouldn’t have recruited them anyway, just that they were Charlie’s guys that BK had to retain.
At QB, Rees has proven an effective game manager, bringing up memories of Matt Lovecchio. Andrew Hendrix has drawn rave reviews while remaining a mystery to ND fans. But Golson is his handpicked QB to run the spread, and received offers from UF, UGA, SC, UNC, Ohio State and Tennessee to name a few. It’s not like he’s just a guy who Kelly sees as a long term project. Don’t let the 3 star ranking or 6 foot height fool you – Golson is a big time QB prospect. Not to go all Beano Cook on you with this prediction, but I believe that when it’s all said and done on his career, Everett Golson will have been the QB that leads ND to a national championship.
Biggest Need for 2012
Jeremy: RB, Interior Line, DB
There are several. Kelly has recruited only two RBs in two classes, neither of whom could be considered perfect fits for what he wants to do on offense. Cierre Wood does have 3 more years of eligibility, and there are rumors that Theo Riddick could be moving back to RB, but its time for Kelly to grab a few elite backs. Also – depending upon how that DE depth chart works out, the Irish probably need to get a few interior offensive lineman, including an elite center. Other needs include defensive backs (including a few corners and at least one elite safety), a stud WR, a stud ILB, and at least one big body for NT. Kelly is going to have to be a bit stingy with his offers because there won’t be many scholarships to go around, but hopefully the on-field performance of the team will allow him to aim high in the 2012 class.
Jimmy: RB, Offensive Line, DB
Optimistically big picture, a handful of impact players who push Notre Dame back into a BCS bowl and NC contention. 2012 boasts a gauntlet of a schedule, but the talent and learning curve should coalesce into a special season. More specifically, absolute team needs will be running back, O-line and defensive secondary. Kelly has stated he’ll always look to add a QB with every class and playmakers are always on the radar, as they should be. Can’t disagree with that. What I appreciate the most out of Kelly’s first full cycle is they started with a plan and executed it quite well. D-Line was the focus and the coaches followed through emphatically. I have confidence Kelly will take stock of what he has, where the parts fit in and address accordingly.
Matt: RB, DB, DT
I talked about this above, but running back and the defensive backfield become alarmingly thin after this year, with a lot of unproven guys on the roster that may or may not be an answer. To his credit, BK has already admitted that these are need areas and has begun to target and offer many of the top juniors at these positions. Barry Sanders Jr. would look good in blue and gold.
The third category that is an absolute must for ND next year is defensive tackle. For whatever reason, this has been the most elusive position for ND to recruit over the years. Think about it, when was the last time ND has someone even in the same ballpark as a Glenn Dorsey, Mount Cody or Nick Fairley? Trevor Laws was a nice interior player and if he got to play with guys like Manti Teo and some of these incoming pass rushers, he may well have been remembered more fondly. But as it turned out he was a bright spot on some of the worst defensive units in ND history. These SEC teams that are holding the crystal ball at the end of the year have had the common denominator of a big ugly that wreaks havoc in the backfield and stuffs the run. ND hasn’t had that kind of guy in forever.
All reports are that Louis Nix (from Jacksonville with offers from the Florida triumvirate) is ready to burst onto the scene, and the position should be in capable hands this year with Hafis Williams and Sean Cwynar in the mix as well. But if ND wants to complement its new cache of pass rushers off the edge, they absolutely need one or two mammoth run stuffers up the middle.
Honorable mention to offensive line, although BK has some options and flexibility to switch several of these defensive lineman to the offensive side of the ball. I’ll withhold judgment on this position until the roster moves are all finished, presumably at the end of spring practice.
For recruitniks, Christmas Day has come and gone. But not without the requisite drama that always seems to accompany the end of the recruiting year. For the Irish, the results were generally positive, with Coach Brian Kelly landing a consensus Top 10 class in his first full recruiting cycle.
Everett Golson Myrtle Beach, SC (Myrtle Beach)
Scout: 4-star, #15 QB ESPN: 4-star, #25 ATH Rivals: 3-star, #16 Dual Threat QB (#12 Player in SC) Offers: UNC, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, Clemson
Golson flipped from North Carolina to the Irish in early December. His HS stats are eye-popping – as a junior he completed almost 63% of his passes for over 3,500 yards with 47 TDs and only 3 INTs. He missed a good chunk of his senior season due to injury, but returned to lead his team to a second straight state title, knocking off Jadeveon Clowney’s Rock Hill squad in the title game. Golson’s highlight videos are amazing, and he gives Brian Kelly the dual-threat weapon behind center that isn’t on the roster at the present moment. The fact that Golson has enrolled early makes the QB derby very interesting this spring.
Ceiling: Golson’s experience in the spread offense and his athleticism make him a near perfect fit in Kelly’s system. An illustrious career with at least one invite to a Heisman ceremony is not out of the question at all. Projection for 2011 and Beyond: The concern with Golson is his size, which explains his low(er) rankings. As much as I would like to see Golson push hard for significant playing time early, I expect that some combination of Crist and Rees will be the starter for the USF game, and beyond. Having said that, I can’t see a redshirt here, and I imagine that Kelly will have some packages for installed for Golson. He’ll be seriously challenging for the starting job in 2012.
McDaniel might not look like much, but he rushed for over 1,000 yards each of the last two seasons (1,906 his senior year) against some of the best competition Texas had to offer. Tough and versatile, he may not stick at RB, but I wouldn’t bet against him making contributions to the Irish at some point during his career.
Ceiling: A jack-of-all trades 3rd down back/slot WR/specials teams stud
Projection for 2011 and Beyond: Likely redshirt, though he could perhaps see some immediate time on special teams. This just seems like one of those guys you can’t keep off the field. He may end up developing into a 4th or 5th WR (ala Roby Toma) late in his career.
Ben Koyack Oil City, PA (Oil City Senior)
Scout: 5-star, #1 TE ESPN: 4-star, #3 TE Rivals: 4-star, #7 TE (#82 in Rivals 100, #1 Player in PA) Offers: USC, LSU, OSU, PSU, Oklahoma
Big kid with great receiving skills, Koyack will probably need some time in the weight room to bulk up, particularly in the lower body. Impressed during the week of practice at the Under Armour All American Game.
Ceiling: He’s not Kyle Rudolph, but Koyack has the raw physical talent to put together a few All-American type seasons.
Projection for 2011 and Beyond: The depth chart at TE is pretty solid right now, with good numbers and talent. Eifert seems to have a pretty solid lock on the starting job for a few years, but the backup spot will be interesting to watch. With Mike Ragone apparently set for a 5th year, Koyack will probably end up as a redshirt. Koyack will battle Welch and others for backup snaps in 2012.
WIDE RECEIVER DaVaris Daniels Vernon Hills, IL (Vernon Hills)
Scout: 4-star, #23 WR ESPN: 4-star, #12 WR Rivals: 4-star, #21 WR (#178 in Rivals 250, #2 Player in IL) Offers: Miami, Oklahoma, Oregon, Nebraska
The son of Washington Redskin DE Phillip Daniels made plays all over the field on both offense and defense for Vernon Hills HS. He’ll be coming to ND as a WR, most likely to serve as the understudy to Michael Floyd in 2011. Played in the UA All American Game.
Ceiling: He might not be able to recreate Michael Floyd’s production on the outside, but he becomes the most explosive big-play threat in the WR corps from 2012 until his graduation.
Projection for 2011 and Beyond: In a perfect world, he redshirts and learns at the knee of Floyd this year. He’ll be in a dogfight for the outside WR role after Floyd’s departure. His main competition would appear to be Daniel Smith, and Daniels will have every opportunity to play quickly and play quite a bit in 2012. George Atkinson III Livermore, CA (Granada)
Scout: 3-star, #30 RB ESPN: 3-star, #40 ATH Rivals: 4-star, #7 ATH (#126 in Rivals 250, #8 Player in CA) Offers: USC, Alabama, Oregon, Miami
GA III and his brother Josh continue the recent “bloodline” trend at ND. The brothers and their father, Raider great George Atkinson, have bought into the ND system, and although George played safety during the Army All American game, he’ll be making his mark at ND on the offensive side of the ball. As a senior, George averaged over 9.5 yards per carry and over 25 yards per catch. He’s a big play waiting to happen every time he puts his hands on the ball.
Ceiling: Special teams ace and a multi-year contributor as the 3rd WR
Projection for 2011 and Beyond: Kelly would probably love to redshirt him next year, but he might be the best kick returner the moment he steps foot on campus. He seems like the ideal fit for the slot, and Theo Riddick’s potential move back to RB could free up some snaps for him.
Matt Hegarty Aztec, NM (Aztec)
Scout: 4-star, #11 OT ESPN: 4-star, #5 OT Rivals: 4-star, #6 OT (#70 Player in Rivals 100, #1 Player in NM) Offers: USC, Texas, Oklahoma, LSU, Oregon, FSU
Perhaps the jewel of the offensive class, Hegarty was one of the most highly sought-after offensive line recruits on the West Coast this year. He disappointed a bit in the Army game this year, partly because of a bum knee, but probably also due to the significant talent on the East team’s defensive line. Hegarty looks great in space and will be the heir apparent to the LT spot.
Ceiling: Even if Hegarty is as good as advertised, its tough to see him displacing Zack Martin on the left side. But the RT position will be wide-open beginning in 2012, and Hegarty will be in a battle with a bunch of others for the starting role. His ceiling is definitely a multi-year starter at the tackle position. Projection for 2011 and Beyond: Almost certain redshirt for 2011. He and Tate Nichols battle for the RT spot in 2012, and he slides over to the left side after Martin graduates following the 2012 season (assuming Martin surrenders his final year of eligibility and heads to the league).
Conor Hanratty New Canaan, CT (New Canaan)
Scout: 3-star, #31 OG ESPN: 3-star, #52 OG Rivals: 3-star, #38 OG (#3 Player in CT) Offers: FSU, Clemson, BC, Stanford, Iowa
Hanratty is the son of former ND great Terry Hanratty and is the only recruit (currently) on the interior line, an area which is becoming somewhat concerning. He’s also a bit of a project, and Paul Longo probably can’t wait to get his hands on him this fall.
Ceiling: There are some more talented guards on the depth chart in front of him, but if Hanratty works hard, he could definitely work his way into a rotation by the end of his career.
Projection for 2011 and Beyond: Redshirt. Some pretty legit programs exhibited some serious interest in Hanratty, including schools like BC and Iowa with the reputation of developing diamond-in-the-rough type guys into NFL talents. I still think Hanratty is a long-shot to start at ND, but if there are any injuries on the interior line in the next 2 years, Hanratty is going to be one of the first in line for PT.
Nick Martin Indianapolis, IN (Bishop Chatard)
Scout: 3-star, #39 OT ESPN: 3-star, #38 OT Rivals: 3-star, #66 OT (#8 Player in IN) Offers: Kentucky, BC, Tennessee, Stanford, South Carolina, Michigan
The long-time Kentucky verbal flipped to the Irish in December when Kelly informed him that his offer was no longer conditional. The brother of current Irish LT Zack Martin has been called a “smoother” version of his brother, but he exhibits a similar mean streak with highlight videos showing him maintaining blocks 20 and 30 yards downfield.
Ceiling: If he’s anywhere near as good as his brother, this is a great pickup for the Irish, and ND could have bookend Martin tackles for years to come.
Projection for 2011 and Beyond: Redshirt, so that Longo can redistribute some of Nick’s baby fat. With Zack Martin, Nichols, Christian Lombard and Hegarty, the Irish are in decent shape at the tackle spot. Nick Martin could be ticketed for an interior spot depending upon need. But here’s guessing he stays outside to take advantage of his solid athleticism.
Brad Carrico Dublin, OH (Dublin Coffman)
Scout: 3-star, #64 OT ESPN: 3-star, #89 DE Rivals: 3-star, #52 SDE (#38 Player in OH) Offers: Illinois, Indiana, Purdue, Cincinnati, WVU
The first commit in the class, Carrico played on both sides of the ball in HS. He represents the versatile “power” type of recruit that Kelly is looking for on the lines. An early enrollee, Carrico is already on campus and will be getting the Longo treatment in short order.
Ceiling: Tough to say, given we’re not entirely sure just where Carrico is going to end up. But based upon the extensive talent surrounding him on the DL, the ceiling seems like a rotation DT or maybe a run-stopping DE. Or perhaps a rotation interior OL towards the tail end of his career. Projection for 2011 and Beyond: Redshirt. After Kelly and Co. figure out the numbers issues, Carrico moves into the mix at either offense or defense, providing the Irish with valuable depth.
Tony Springmann Fort Wayne, IN (Bishop Dwenger)
Scout: 3-star, #65 DE ESPN: 3-star, #42 OT Rivals: 3-star, #39 SDE (#7 Player in IN) Offers: BC, Stanford, Purdue
The second of Kelly’s Midwestern, versatile “power” guys, Springmann hails from Bishop Dwenger of Fort Wayne, also home to current Irish pass-catchers Tyler Eifert and John Goodman. Though he was initially targeted for the DL, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Springmann end up on the offensive line before its all said and done. Ceiling: See – Brad Carrico.
Projection for 2011 and Beyond: Redshirt. Another nice depth piece for either the offensive or defensive line.
Chase Hounshell Kirtland, OH (Lake Catholic)
Scout: 3-star, #97 DE ESPN: 3-star, #84 DT Rivals: 3-star, # 59 OT (#52 Player in OH) Offers: Florida, Wisconsin, MSU, Iowa, BC
The third big body from the Midwest, Hounshell was initially a Florida commit, until the combination of a firm ND scholarship offer and Urban Meyer’s “retirement” led Hounshell to flip to the Irish in January. Though the Gators saw Hounshell as an offensive tackle, the Irish are apparently going to try him out as a big run-stopping DE.
Ceiling: As a big body with a nasty streak, Hounshell has the potential to become a bigger version of Sean Cwynar.
Projection for 2011 and Beyond: Probably another guy that will get a redshirt early. By 2012 or 2013, he should start seeing some chances to make contributions in the DE rotation.
Aaron Lynch Cape Coral, FL (Island Coast)
Scout: 5-star, #2 DE ESPN: 4-star, #3 DE Rivals: 4-star, #3 SDE (#28 in Rivals 100, #19 Player in FL) Offers: FSU, Alabama, Florida, OSU, Auburn
Lynch has been one of the strangest stories of this year’s recruiting cycle. A long-time verbal to ND, particularly after a visit to campus to spread his grandfather’s ashes in ND Stadium, Lynch flipped to Florida St. amid stories that the FSU coaches were telling Lynch that ND was “too hard,” academically, for him. ND stayed in the picture, however, and at the Army All-American weekend in San Antonio, Tony Alford and other staff members worked on Lynch and his family, eventually convincing him to visit ND the following weekend. Lynch decommitted from FSU and ended up as an early enrollee at ND.
A pass rushing dynamo, Lynch brings the type of speed and athleticism to the ND defensive line that’s been lacking since Victor Abiamiri and Justin Tuck took their talents to the NFL.
Ceiling: Not sure that he’s got one. Tim Prister of Irish Illustrated compared Lynch favorably to Irish legend Ross Browner, which is high praise for anyone that puts on the gold helmet. Even if he only stays for 3 years, he’s got a chance to make a run at every sack record in the books. All-American, early-round draft pick-type talent. Projection for 2011 and Beyond: Some analysts have pegged Lynch as a 4-3 DE guy who might be out of place in Diaco’s 3-4 defense. But he’s got the frame to put on some more weight while maintaining his lethal speed. He plays immediately against USF in pass rushing situations and becomes the starting WDE whenever KLM decides he’s ready for the NFL.
Stephon Tuitt Monroe, GA (Monroe Area)
Scout: 5-star, #10 DE ESPN: 4-star, #10 DE Rivals: 5-star, #2 SDE (#22 in Rivals 100, #1 Player in GA) Offers: Georgia Tech, Auburn, Florida, Georgia, LSU
Kelly clearly identified the DE spot as a vital one to target during this recruiting cycle, and with Tuitt and Lynch, he nabbed two of the best in the country. Tuitt is a bigger body who can play on the strong-side of the line right away.
Tuitt’s was another drama-filled recruitment – he shockingly committed to the Irish after an official visit and stayed strong even after taking a visit to Auburn and during the course of the Army All-American weekend. He flipped to Ga Tech briefly after taking a visit in January, but the Irish coaching staff (including Kelly, Diaco and Chuck Martin) were able to get him back into the fold less than 48 hours later.
Ceiling: Similar to Lynch, the possibilities are nearly limitless. His game is more power than speed, and he’s equally effective against both the run and the pass. He’ll have a death grip on that SDE spot until the day he leaves campus. Potential All-American for sure. Projection for 2011 and Beyond: Immediately goes into the SDE rotation with Ethan Johnson and Hafis Williams, and he’s sure to see quite a bit of playing time in 2011. After Johnson’s departure, Tuitt will likely become the starter in 2012.
Troy Niklas Anaheim, CA (Servite)
Scout: 4-star, #8 OT ESPN: 3-star, #19 TE Rivals: 4-star, #24 OT (#221 in Rivals 250, #26 Player in CA) Offers: USC, Stanford, Florida, Oklahoma, Nebraska
I’m throwing Niklas in with the DE group, though there’s certainly a great possibility that he could end up on the offensive line. The recruiting services seem to think that’s his ultimate destination, and both Scout and Rivals think pretty highly of his abilities at OT. ND beat out SC for the Servite star, who remained pretty mum on the process until committing to the Irish on Signing Day.
Ceiling: Again, this depends upon where he ends up – if he sticks at DE, could be a rotation-type guy who plays primarily in run situations, likely towards the end of his career. If he moves to OT, he’s got the feet and the size to become a multi-year starter at tackle. Projection for 2011 and Beyond: Another likely redshirt candidate. This will be a guy to keep an eye on throughout this year once the depth chart on both the offensive and defensive line finally shakes out. I think he probably end up at tackle, and battling guys like Nick Martin, Tate Nichols and Christian Lombard for a starting tackle spot by 2013 or so.
The most likely of the LB commits to end up playing on the inside, Grace had some serious interest from Alabama after giving his verbal commitment to the Irish. A tackling machine at Colerain HS, Grace is a hard-nosed player who will need to improve his lateral movement at the next level.
Ceiling: Multi-year starter at ILB with the potential to become a leading-tackler candidate during his time in South Bend. Projection for 2011 and Beyond: There’s probably enough depth on the current roster to allow Grace to take a redshirt in 2011. Grace’s future depends, in part, upon whether Te’o decides to go to the League after next year. If he does, Grace will likely battle Calabrese, Kendall Moore and others for a starting job in 2012. If Te’o stays, Grace may have to wait until 2013 for some serious PT.
Ben Councell Asheville, NC (AC Reynolds)
Scout: 3-star, #32 OLB ESPN: 4-star, #19 OLB Rivals: 4-star, #5 WDE (#91 in Rivals 100, #19 Player in NC) Offers: Auburn, UNC, South Carolina, Georgia Tech
Councell was flying under the radar a bit until the NC/SC Shrine game where he showed off his outstanding OLB instincts amassing 13 tackles. Many analysts, including Mike Farrell at Rivals, felt Councell should have been the defensive MVP of the game. His performance during that game vaulted him up the Rivals rankings, from way outside the Rivals 250, all the way up to the #91 player in the country.
At ND, Councell will be in the “Dog” or “Drop” LB spot, occupied by Kerry Neal last year. His coverage skills and instincts are outstanding and it wouldn’t be surprising to see him threaten for some playing time right out of the gate.
Ceiling: Multi-year starter at the Dog spot, perhaps even a dark-horse All-American candidate.
Projection for 2011 and Beyond: With Neal graduating, the Dog spot is wide open. Given the intricacies of the position, there should be a good battle. ND fans would love to see guys like Prince Shembo or Steve Filer line up opposite Darius Fleming, but I think its more likely that Dan Fox gets the starting nod. If guys like Shembo and Filer can put it together, Councell probably gets a redshirt. If not, he might see some early playing time, either at OLB, or on special teams.
Anthony Rabasa Miami, FL (Columbus)
Scout: 3-star, #49 DE ESPN: 4-star, #12 DE Rivals: 3-star, #11 WDE (#55 Player in FL) Offers: Miami, Florida St., LSU
A pass-rushing DE in high school, Rabasa is likely heading for Fleming’s “Combo” OLB spot. A Miami legacy who surprisingly committed to Kelly at the end of July, Rabasa has remained firm to ND even after getting some heavy interest from the Hurricanes and the other Florida schools.
Ceiling: Multi-year starter at OLB and a special teams coverage ace.
Projection for 2011 and Beyond: The “Cat” or “Combo” LB is chock full of talent this year, though both Fleming and Filer will be gone after this year. A redshirt wouldn’t be a surprise, but Rabasa seems like a guy who could see some immediate time on coverage units. After 2011, Rabasa will be in a war with the likes of Shembo and Ishaq Williams for playing time in 2012.
Ishaq Williams Brooklyn, NY (Abraham Lincoln)
Scout: 5-star, #4 DE ESPN: 4-star, #6 DE Rivals: 5-star, #2 WDE (#16 in Rivals 100, #1 Player in NY) Offers: Penn St., Florida, Alabama, USC, Miami, Ohio St.
Williams completes the amazing triumvirate of defensive line talent in this class. Ishaq was a pass-rushing monster during the Army All-American week, and his performance bumped him up to the #16 player in the country per Rivals.
The Williams family provided another great story for the 2011 recruiting class. Ishaq was scheduled to announce his commitment during the Army game, but cancelled the announcement because of some apparent concerns relating to a coaching staff. He then set up a visit to Happy Valley, only to have Irish DC Bob Diaco show up at his family’s house at 4:30 AM on the morning of the visit. After that meeting, Williams committed to the Irish and cancelled the PSU visit.
Ceiling: Again, almost unlimited. He loves harassing the QB, and Diaco’s system will likely have him wreaking havoc from the “Cat” LB spot. Just like Lynch and Tuitt, Williams has All-American, NFL-type talent. Projection for 2011 and Beyond: He’s too good to keep off the field, even with a crowded depth chart at the OLB spot. Pass rushing and special teams monster in 2011 and a superstar for years to come.
Scout: 4-star, #12 S ESPN: 3-star, #21 S Rivals: 4-star, #15 S (#217 in Rivals 250, #10 Player in OH) Offers: Wisconsin, WVU, MSU, Iowa
A jack-of-all-trades for his loaded Pickerington Central HS team, Hardy played on both sides of the ball, but is definitely headed for the defensive backfield in South Bend. He’s a natural safety, but the thin CB depth chart might push Hardy outside.
Ceiling: Multi-year starter at either CB or S.
Projection for 2011 and Beyond: Think he’s too good to keep off the field. Special teams coverage guy and possibly the 4th CB in 2011, eventually challenging for a starting safety role in 2013 if he stays at that position.
Matthias Farley Charlotte, NC (Christian)
Scout: 3-star, #83 CB ESPN: 3-star, #90 ATH Rivals: 3-star, NR Offers: UNC, NC St., Wisconsin
Former soccer player who has only played football for a few years. He’s raw as heck, but Kelly loves his athleticism.
Ceiling: It might take a while, but Farley could become a nickel or dime contributor late in his career. His athleticism will probably make him a nice asset on special teams as well.
Projection for 2011 and Beyond: Redshirt. His ultimate position is unknown as well. Chuck Martin’s got a nice pile of clay to mold here. Wouldn’t be surprised to see him become a ball-hawking safety by the end of his time in South Bend.
Brown is the type of tall(er), physical CB that Kelly, Diaco and Martin seem to favor in the secondary. He didn’t draw much attention from the big boys of the Big XII, but he’s got good instincts and seems to break quickly to the ball.
Ceiling: With his experience at the position, and the solid coaching he’ll receive from the likes of Chuck Martin, its not unreasonable to assume that Brown could become a multi-year starter, or at least a multi-year nickel contributor.
Projection for 2011 and Beyond: Unless he makes an immediate impact on special teams, I’d be surprised to see him on the field this year. But after Gray and Blanton move on, the CB depth chart is a bit frightening for 2012. He’ll be in the mix to challenge for PT.
Josh Atkinson Livermore, CA (Granada)
Scout: 3-star, #46 CB ESPN: 3-star, #22 CB Rivals: 3-star, #41 CB (#45 Player in CA) Offers: Oregon, Washington
Brother George might get the bigger accolades, but Josh might have the better chance to see the field immediately. He’s a natural CB and though he might lack some super top end speed that NFL scouts like to see at the position, he’s plenty quick enough to play at a high level.
Ceiling: He’s going to have some competition, but he looks like a solid, multi-year starter/contributor.
Projection for 2011 and Beyond: Behind Gary Gray and Robert Blanton, there’s only Lo Wood. There’s going to be a battle for that 3rd/4th CB and nickel spot, and I wouldn’t bet against Atkinson finding his way onto the field this year.
Kyle Brindza Canton, MI (Plymouth)
Scout: 3-star, #1 K ESPN: 3-star, #6 K Rivals: 2-star, #17 K Offers: Michigan
Brindza is an early entrant with an impressive highlight video. With the recent announcement that David Ruffer will be getting a scholarship next year, that makes 4 scholarship kickers/punters on the roster, which seems a bit excessive. But Brindza definitely has the talent to make an immediate impact on kickoffs and punting.
Ceiling: He’s got the leg to become the guy, both on punts and kicks.
Projection for 2011 and Beyond: Ben Turk hasn’t been consistent enough to be considered an automatic starter, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see Brindza take his job. He should also become the go-to kickoff guy, and will likely become the starting kicker once Ruffer leaves after 2011.
After a slow start with mostly low-star, Midwestern guys, Kelly made his first big splash with Matt Hegarty, who might still be the best offensive prospect in the class. On that side of the ball, the class could be considered a bit light on star potential, although guys like Everett Golson, Atkinson and Daniels could certainly all become big-time contributors later in their respective careers.
The real studs of the class are on defense, specifically in the front seven. Lynch, Tuitt and Williams are 3 of the best defensive recruits since I’ve followed ND recruiting, and guys like Rabasa and Councell are very highly thought-of by at least one of the services.
On the whole, I don’t think it can be considered a “home run” class, but Kelly did get some great guys at big positions of need (DE, OLB, OT). Perhaps more importantly, it was Kelly’s first experience getting down and dirty with the big boys of the SEC, ACC and Pac-10. He didn’t back down a bit, which definitely bodes well for his future classes.