Kelly introduces 23-player recruiting haul
Jack Hefferon | Thursday, February 6, 2014
Irish head coach Brian Kelly introduced the 23-member class of 2014 during a press conference Wednesday, highlighting the talents of the incoming group ranked 11th in the country by both ESPN and Rivals.com.
After the departure of stars like Zack Martin, Chris Watt, Louis Nix and Stephon Tuitt, Kelly said the biggest focus of this class was in the trenches. The Irish reeled in four offensive linemen — all ranked within the top 240 recruits by CBS and Scouts, Inc. — along with six defensive linemen and five linebackers.
“I think if you really boil it down, it’s about the [defensive] front seven and the offensive line,” Kelly said. “Yeah, there’s some great skill players that I’ll talk about, but you’re winning up front, and building that depth in the front seven and the offensive line really stands out in this class, and then having some really good players across the board for us.”
Kelly credited the strength of the class to excellent work by his entire coaching staff, with a couple of exceptional performances. Schools in Texas are notorious for recruiting the top talent within the state’s borders, but Irish assistant coach Kerry Cooks landed three highly-ranked defensive players from the Lone Star State. Additionally, Kelly credited the work of Notre Dame’s director of player personnel, Dave Peloquin, who worked through the late departures of offensive coordinator Chuck Martin and defensive coordinator Bob Diaco to keep recruits on board.
“[Peloquin] did an incredible job this year,” Kelly said. “He was short-staffed this year in the recruiting office. We had some departures within that office at a very untimely time in a sense during the recruiting process, and he held that together.”
With Nix and Tuitt — as well as running back George Atkinson and tight end Troy Niklas — forgoing additional years of eligibility to enter the NFL Draft this off-season, Kelly also emphasized the program’s commitment to four-year players, and said that expectation is communicated early in the recruiting process.
“When we have the opportunity to recruit a young man, they have to have a passion for wanting to get a degree from Notre Dame and winning a National Championship,” he said. “If they want to come here just to hang their hat to play football and go to the NFL … we passed on some pretty good players, because I don’t want guys to come here and not finish their degree.”
With signing day over, Kelly and his staff can now focus on working with the team they have on campus, which includes two members of the incoming class who enrolled in January. One early enrollee is Justin Brent, a wide receiver from Speedway, Ind., whom Kelly praised for having a college-ready body and plenty of speed. The other is 6-foot-3, 260-pound defensive lineman Andrew Trumbetti, a freak athlete who played running back and returned kicks in high school when he wasn’t on the d-line.
After having several freshmen step into big roles last season, Kelly said he is interested to see the learning curve for each new player once they arrive on campus, and determine their impact from there.
“Physically, if you look at a number of these guys, you could say they could play right now,” Kelly said. “It’s developing them mentally to find out whether they’re going to play. It’s not physical. And you really can’t tell that until they get into camp and how they pick up the grind of going through double sessions and the grind of school and balancing all those things.”