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Football Recruiting Commentary: Thankfully, NSD has almost arrived

Matt Gamber | Wednesday, January 27, 2010

National Signing Day is only a week away, and while that doesn’t leave much time for Irish coach Brian Kelly and his staff to close in on many more high school seniors, I can’t help but be relieved this recruiting cycle is almost over.

I can’t remember a year when recruiting dragged on like it has this year. Perhaps it’s because I’ve followed this recruiting season more closely than any in the past, but I feel like we’ve been talking about this class forever.

The Class-of-2010 talk began way back on National Signing Day 2009, when U.S. Army All-American defensive end Chris Martin verbally committed to the Irish, a year before most players his age declare their college choice. Ten months later, he withdrew his Notre Dame pledge after the firing of former Irish coach Charlie Weis, though, in truth, Martin seemed to have been wavering long before that.

Of course, verbal commitments and subsequent de-commitments are a part of every recruiting cycle, and that is especially true with the type of coaching turnover that occurred at Notre Dame this year. Kelly and his staff have done a solid job of securing Weis’ verbal commits, but this year’s class took a major hit over the weekend when running back Giovanni Bernard and defensive end/linebacker Blake Leuders both withdrew their pledges.

Even with the de-commitments, Notre Dame’s recruiting class will still be solid, all things considered. Irish fans don’t want to hear it — they believe every top recruit with the grades to qualify should dream of donning blue and gold — but the truth is Notre Dame has been barely mediocre recently, and with a coaching change, the window of opportunity with top high school seniors tends to close rather quickly.

I’ve been impressed that Kelly has kept most of Weis’ class intact, and the fact that Notre Dame still has a shot with top national prospects like offensive tackles Seantrel Henderson and Matt James, linebacker Christian Jones and defensive lineman Ego Ferguson is somewhat remarkable.

Again, Irish fans don’t want to hear it, but landing any of these guys is going to be tough.

Not only do they have offers from some of the nation’s top programs which are led by some of the nation’s top coaches, but it also wouldn’t take a mastermind to negatively recruit against Notre Dame right now. New coaching staff, new offensive and defensive systems, one bowl game in three years — the Urban Meyers of the recruiting world have fresh ammunition, in addition to tried-and-true (well, tried) techniques that criticize the South Bend weather and social scene.

I want this recruiting cycle to end so the Notre Dame staff can get these verbal commitments in writing, make them official and then move onto the players who will make or break the 2010 season. Those guys are already on the roster and in the weight room.

As college football fans, we love to obsess over recruiting rankings because there’s not much else to do in these winter months, and hauling in a good class is important to sustaining a program’s success.

But whether this becomes a “good class” will be determined not by so-called experts on National Signing Day, but by the results the players deliver during their Irish careers. And, even more importantly, whether Kelly will be a successful recruiter and head coach at Notre Dame certainly won’t be determined by this class.

It’s important to finish strong and build for the future, but I’m more interested to see what Kelly can do next year, both on the field during the fall and on the recruiting trail during the winter.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

Contact Matt Gamber at mgamber@nd.edu