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Football Recruiting Commentary: First class shows Kelly’s potential

Matt Gamber | Thursday, February 4, 2010

This is the best recruiting class of Brian Kelly’s 19-year head coaching career.

Of course, it should have been. He’d never had the opportunity to deliver the Notre Dame pitch until the past few weeks, and despite the team’s recent struggles, the University and the program still have an incredible package to offer high school football stars.

There are many ways to judge the merits of this group of 23 recruits. Some will consider the circumstances of the coaching transition that certainly played a role in this recruiting cycle. Others will bemoan the two late de-commitments and the near misses of blue-chippers who signed elsewhere Wednesday.

It’s hard enough to judge a class based on its individual players, considering these guys are 18-year-olds who have yet to strap on the pads at the college level. But that is the only way to judge Kelly’s class today.

Seven months from now, the recruiting circumstances, the de-commitments and the near misses won’t have any impact on Notre Dame’s opening week game plan against Purdue. In truth, most of these 23 committed players won’t either, but they’ll be on the roster and in the conversation.

The point I’m making is that it is meaningless to judge this class by anything other than the players who compose it. It’s hard enough to break down the guys Notre Dame signed, so why waste time evaluating and complaining about those the Irish didn’t?

Fans who complain about holes in Kelly’s class clearly have a short memory of the Charlie Weis era.

Realize there is only one returning scholarship quarterback on campus right now — Kelly signed three Wednesday to correct it. There is an obvious lack of quality depth along both lines — Kelly began to remedy that by signing three bigs on each side of the ball, including enticing last-minute, Signing Day commitments from offensive lineman Matt James and defensive end Kona Schwenke.

Say what you will about the players the Irish couldn’t quite sign, but you have to acknowledge that Kelly saw holes on his roster and plugged them with guys that, in some cases, were never on Weis’ radar. And in the case of Schwenke and athlete Danny Spond, to cite two examples, these weren’t low-rated recruits nobody else wanted, but rather guys Kelly went after aggressively and sold on Notre Dame in an incredibly short amount of time.

It remains to be seen how Kelly recruits in a full year, but after this abbreviated cycle, I can say I have much more confidence in Kelly than I did in Weis.

Weis drew some studs to Notre Dame, no doubt about it, and some of those guys will be assets to Kelly’s team next year. He also missed on a lot of others, but all coaches do.

That’s recruiting, and it happens when you go after the biggest fish on a national scale.

Weis’ problem was he didn’t have backup plans when he missed, and when he missed consistently on offensive and defensive linemen, there were glaring holes in the roster.

Kelly has shown that he can not only land the studs (like James), but he can also land talented athletes when the likes of Seantrel Henderson, J.R. Ferguson and Christian Jones choose to go elsewhere (like Schwenke and Spond, among others).

Notre Dame hasn’t had enough of these types of player over the last five years. Make no mistake — these guys aren’t consolation prizes. The Irish added some incredible athletes, many of whom have the frame and ability to play multiple positions on either side of the ball. And, in my opinion, Notre Dame also has the coaching staff to utilize these abilities.

So yes, this is the best recruiting class of Kelly’s career. But his real test is to make us say the same thing about next year’s haul, and to develop these players to plug in around some of the talent already on campus.

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