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Football Recruiting Commentary: Early returns point to future recruiting wins

Michael Bryan | Wednesday, February 3, 2010

It was one of the few reasonable questions surrounding Brian Kelly when he arrived in South Bend.

There was no arguing his winning record and championship history, and no doubting his ability to develop and motivate players. One of the only question marks was this: Can he recruit at Notre Dame?

While the final verdict shouldn’t be known until at least a year from today, when Kelly signs his first full class, all indications are affirmative so far.

Coaching transition always leads to miniature crises in recruiting, and this one was no different. The Irish lost some very talented players they could badly use, for the most part recruits that had committed in large part due to relationships built with former coach Charlie Weis and his staff.

But despite those losses, today Brian Kelly will sign the most talented group of his career.

The effort and success Kelly and his new staff have shown in such a short time frame have been incredibly encouraging signs, and despite everything — particularly a regime change and 16-21 record the past three seasons — it looks like Notre Dame will again have a top-20 class.

Kelly has been able to fill out this class with recruits that never had a Notre Dame offer from Weis, but nonetheless show considerable promise. To be able to sign players like four-star athlete Danny Spond and Army All-American Austin Collinsworth in just two months of work certainly makes me hopeful at the classes that Kelly will sign with more than a year of recruiting work.

The myth that Kelly and his staff can’t recruit on a national scale is quickly being disproved, as is the theory they can’t sign elite recruits. Today four elite, four- or five-star players — offensive linemen Seantrel Henderson and Matt James, defensive end Ego Ferguson and linebacker Christian Jones — could decide to sign a letter of intent to play for the Irish.

Maybe most encouraging is that early on Kelly seems to have all the fundamentals that make for a great recruiter. The effort and commitment is certainly there, and it appears Kelly has been successful building relationships both over long and short time periods with these high school players.

One of the players he’s recruited the longest, quarterback Luke Massa, switched his commitment from Cincinnati back to Kelly again this past weekend, and Notre Dame looks to be the favorite to sign his high school teammate James today.

Of all Weis’ faults and mistakes, recruiting was never one of them. In consistently signing top classes Weis dispelled the legend that Notre Dame no longer appealed to recruits in a new era, and that academics would prevent the Irish from reaching the talent levels of its biggest rivals.

While Notre Dame has obstacles in recruiting other schools don’t have to deal with, its biggest hurdles in recent years have been on the field. For all the things schools like USC can offer like early playing time, weather, women and money, if Notre Dame can start winning again, the recruits will come.

Early on it looks like Kelly is beginning to prove he knows how to recruit and work a living room. If he can continue his history success on the field, he should have Notre Dame back near the top of the recruiting rankings in no time.

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

Contact Michael Bryan at mbryan@nd.edu