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Football

Kelly recaps decommit-free National Signing Day

| Thursday, February 4, 2016

When Irish coaches woke up Wednesday morning, they expected to officially add 22 players to their 2016 recruiting class.

But by the end of the day, they had 24 — including each in the original 22-player group.

In a time when decommitments, especially close to or even on National Signing Day, have become more and more prevalent, this year was the first in head coach Brian Kelly’s seven-year tenure in which every player who originally committed to the Irish ended up following through on that commitment by sending his National Letter of Intent to Notre Dame.

“It’s awesome,” Kelly said. “I think that everybody should try it once in their career.”

All jokes aside, Kelly credited that stability in commitments to new approaches in recruiting by him and his staff.

“I think first and foremost, all coaches, the entire staff having a consistent message, and that message being one of who we are and what we’re about and never swaying from that,” Kelly said. “So for example, if you have three different coaches that go to recruit you and you get three different messages, there’s some uncertainty as to what I’m getting myself into. But if all three coaches come in and you hear the same thing, you know what you’re getting. That lessens the wavering of a student-athlete.

“ … I think number two is that we vetted out better than we ever have because we were further out on our recruits in terms of time. We had more time with them to make sure that they were kids that would fit here at Notre Dame. I think those two things stood out for me that we didn’t have the kind of back and forth.”

After losing cornerbacks KeiVarae Russell and Matthias Farley and safety Elijah Shumate to graduation and the NFL Draft, the Irish reloaded in the secondary with seven new players: Jalen Elliott, Julian Love, D.J. Morgan, Spencer Perry, Troy Pride Jr., Devin Studstill and Donte’ Vaughn. Perry and Studstill are already on campus as early enrollees.

Kelly said the defense as a whole, but specifically the defensive backs, was targeted this recruiting cycle.

“Certainly the safety, corner, third corner position on our defense,” Kelly named as the class of 2016’s biggest needs. “You know, the potential of some third-down specialists, the potential for guys to rush the passer, certainly the nickel position and safety.”

With the large number of defensive backs joining the Irish, along with the openings on the depth chart from last season’s departures, Kelly said they have the best chance to earn playing time out of this year’s signing class.

However, Kelly said he would also look to the class of 2016’s receivers to earn reps as well. Notre Dame inked three receivers: Canada’s Chase Claypool, U.S. Army All-American Javon McKinley and early enrollee Kevin Stepherson, while another target, Demetris Robertson, will not announce his college decision until after signing day.

“If you’re really that good, you may not be here very long, and we hope that you’re here for four years and you stay, but you’ve got to be ready to compete,” Kelly said. “So our expectation in the recruiting process is for the wide receiver group to come in and compete to get on the field and be a player for us immediately, so that’s the mindset.”

The class as a whole is ranked ninth in the country by both Rivals and 247Sports, 11th by Scout and 13th by ESPN, as of Wednesday afternoon. The state of Florida yielded a class-high six signees, most recruited by running backs coach and Florida native Autry Denson, while three came from each California, Michigan and Illinois. One, long snapper John Shannon, is a third-generation Irish player, as both his father and grandfather played football for Notre Dame, while two, linebacker Jamir Jones and defensive lineman Julian Okwara, follow the footsteps of their brothers, current defensive lineman Jarron Jones and former defensive lineman Romeo Okwara.

“I think it’s great,” Kelly said of continuing the Jones and Okwara families’ representation on the roster. “We recruited them the right way. We didn’t recruit them because their brothers were here. We recruited them because we thought they were players that fit here at Notre Dame that would be very successful.

“But obviously it helps when their brothers have a great experience here and really enjoy their Notre Dame experience as a student and as an athlete, so that helps you in the recruiting.”

Another new push in recruiting that helped Notre Dame this year was the Showtime television series “A Season with Notre Dame Football,” according to Kelly. Several players highlighted the show as a positive factor in their decision to come to South Bend.

“We didn’t do it to try to change those that don’t like Notre Dame or are not fans of Notre Dame. We wanted them to respect who we are and what our student-athletes do on a day-to-day basis,” Kelly said. “So I think more than anything else, I think it gave them insight as to what their day is like and who they are, and I think if anything, we were able to gain a lot of respect from those that saw what the student-athletes do on a day-to-day basis.”

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About Mary Green

Current Assistant Managing Editor, former Sports Editor of The Observer | Follow Mary on Twitter: @maryegreen15

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