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Allen: 2012 momentum carries into 2013 (Feb. 7)

Chris Allen | Thursday, February 7, 2013

Recruiting is a college football fan’s most dangerous game.

It doesn’t follow logic or lend itself to certainty. College football fans hope success on the field translates to success on Signing Day. But it doesn’t always work out that way.

For Notre Dame fans, 2012 was a good year. The class of 2013 that came across the fax machines in the Gug offer a perfect capstone – and a sort of perfect symmetry for Irish fans hoping to build on 2012’s success.

The 2013 class, just like the 2012 football team, is built around a star linebacker. Just as former linebacker Manti Te’o anchored the defense at the second level and led the team with a force of personality, so will Jaylon Smith impact future Notre Dame teams.
Smith, the No. 7 prospect in the country according to ESPN, is the kind of player that can change any team’s fortunes. He committed to Notre Dame on June 2 and never wavered in his commitment to the Golden Dome through thick and thin. Irish coach Brian Kelly wants to anchor his program on players who appreciate what it means to play for Notre Dame – and he has one of those players in Smith. It certainly helps Kelly that Smith has the tools to be a ferocious outside linebacker that rushes like a defensive end and runs like a cornerback.

The similarities between the 2012 team and the 2013 class don’t end there. The 2013 group includes a dual-threat quarterback (Malik Zaire), two pass-catching tight ends that can play like wide receivers (Mike Heuerman and Durham Smythe), versatile cornerbacks experienced on the offensive side of the ball as well (Devin Butler and Rashad Kinlaw) and a big, physical defensive end from Georgia (Isaac Rochell). Sound familiar?

But there are also reasons to believe the 2013 class offers an even brighter future than the success 2012 offered. The 2012 team, for all its success, fell four touchdowns short of its ultimate goal. If Notre Dame is to conquer the SEC and hoist the crystal football, it needs game-changers who can impact contests on the same stage that played out Jan. 7 in Miami. On that day, two game-changing running backs ran through Notre Dame’s defense. Today, Brian Kelly locked down two game-changing running backs of his own in Greg Bryant and Tarean Folston – both from Florida. Folston has the speed and elusiveness, but it is the five-star Bryant who will come in and make an impact in the running game from day one. With Theo Riddick and Cierre Wood departing to the NFL Draft, Bryant is the kind of player who can come into fall camp and immediately clear up a muddled running back picture. Add in a late surprise signing from defensive lineman Eddie Vanderdoes, the No. 10 player in the country, and Kelly had stockpiled the kind of difference-makers to stare down Alabama and any other SEC power en route to a title.

Perhaps the most encouraging aspect of the 2013 recruiting class from a Notre Dame perspective is the tight-knit bond between the recruits that has developed over months. The reality of recruiting is such that within two or three years, these young signees will become team leaders. Early on in the recruiting process, wide receiver and current early enrollee James Onwualu brainstormed a name for the class with Zaire and Butler – it became the birth of the “Irish Mob.” As the class grew, the recruits grew closer and welcomed new players to the “Mob” with hospitality and camaraderie. That closeness was put on display recently as Smythe, a Texas de-commit, visited campus. His fellow tight end Heuerman, who had been committed for months, welcomed Smythe with open arms. Smythe committed to Notre Dame in a matter of days. This group has realized what clicked with the 2012 Irish team – a game is won by a team, not individuals.

The “Irish Mob” will only grow closer. On the heels of an all-around great season, it is an all-around great recruiting class.

Just how Kelly wants it.

Contact Chris Allen at  callen10@nd.edu
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.