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Mazurek: Notre Dame hits ‘home run’ with this year’s recruiting class

| Thursday, February 8, 2018

It’s called National Signing Day, but that’s not entirely accurate.

While Wednesday was the official day where high school prospects around the country announced where they would attend college, the events of National Signing Day are shaped by more than just one day.

It’s important to note the action on Signing Day doesn’t happen in a vacuum and it’s equally important not to evaluate Signing Day in a vacuum either.

Because in a vacuum, Notre Dame’s newest class of student-athletes looks extremely solid. The buzz around Pennsylvania quarterback Phil Jurkovec is significant, the defensive side of the ball looks like one of the best in Brian Kelly’s tenure and Notre Dame even snagged a solid group of secondary players to shore up a major team need.

But beyond the numbers, National Signing Day was a much-needed win for Notre Dame in what has been a mostly muddled offseason.

The thrill of an exciting Citrus Bowl victory was quickly diminished by defensive coordinator Mike Elko’s departure to Texas A&M, offensive line coach Harry Hiestand’s departure for the NFL and a slew of players getting dismissed from the team.

The promotion of Clark Lea to defensive coordinator and the hires of Jeff Quinn and Terry Joseph seemed fine at the time, but a good deal of uncertainty remained, given the shoes they had to fill.

But with the additions of six players — five of whom were not previously committed to Notre Dame — Kelly scored a huge program win.

The addition of three-star defensive back DJ Brown and the surprise signing of four-star cornerback Noah Boykin should put doubts to rest about Joseph’s effectiveness as a recruiter. The talent the Irish add in the secondary with Boykin, Houston Griffith and Derrik Allen should give Irish fans hope after a lackluster season of safety play.

Likewise, National Signing Day saw the Irish seal the deal with offensive lineman Luke Evans from Arkansas, who had previously verbally committed to the Irish. But opinion was split on whether California four-star Jarrett Patterson would end up in South Bend.

The fact that Quinn was able to keep Evans happy, while simultaneously nabbing Patterson should quell skepticism from fans who weren’t a fan of the hire.

The other two commits who signed with the Irish on Wednesday — three-star running back C’Borious Flemister and three-star wide receiver Lawrence Keys — shore up Notre Dame’s depth chart at key offensive positions, especially running back.

By any measure, Kelly and his staff hit a home run, if not a grand slam.

Notre Dame finished the 2018 recruiting cycle with the 10th best class in the nation according to both Rivals.com and 247sports. Based on the sheer number (27 signees total), the high-end rankings on the offensive side of the ball and the depth on defense, 2018 ranks as Kelly’s best class at Notre Dame, second at the worst.

Of course, a top-10 class — or even a No. 1 recruiting class — doesn’t guarantee any wins when the season rolls around, but Irish fans should be satisfied for now.

In many ways, Signing Day was an extension of the extensive changes Kelly made at the end of 2016. Kelly reinvented himself and brought in the right people to reach the 10-win threshold. And though some of those people have since left, the results from Signing Day show recruits believe Kelly’s newest hires are still the right people — they believe in the transformation Kelly promised at the start of last year’s offseason.

At the end of day, it’s the recruits whom Kelly has to convince, not the armchair critics or the media.

And whether it was Kelly, Quinn, Joseph or recruiting coordinator Brian Polian, the Irish coaching staff succeeded.

If Signing Day is a process, so is Kelly’s rebuild of Notre Dame football. Wednesday was a big step for both.

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

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About Marek Mazurek

Marek is a senior history major and is a former resident of Carroll Hall. He has lived in Mishawaka or South Bend for all 21 years of his life and covers Notre Dame football and men's basketball. He has loads of hand-eye coordination but lacks the height to be any good. Marek is also a proud esports supporter.

Contact Marek