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Football Recruiting: Kelly, staff could get pleasant surprises from top prospects

Matt Gamber | Wednesday, February 3, 2010

National Signing Day marks the end of one hectic period and the beginning of another for coaches, recruits and fans everywhere who, for the most part, will be glad to set the 2010 recruiting class in stone — or, more appropriately, in ink.

Brian Kelly will reveal his first recruiting haul as Irish coach at 4 p.m. today in the Guglielmino Complex Auditorium in a press conference set to be broadcast live on UND.com.

Heading into Wednesday, the Irish class stood at 21: five early enrollees, who are currently on campus and working out with the team, and 16 verbal commits set to officially sign National Letters of Intent today. Those 16 verbals will not officially become committed to Notre Dame until those letters are signed, but all 16 are expected to do.

Additionally, Irish fans are hoping Kelly’s staff can secure commitments from a few of the top prospects still considering Notre Dame. Former coach Charlie Weis reeled in linebacker Manti Te’o in a Signing Day shocker last year, and the Irish could be in position to pull a similar coup with a few players this year as well.

Included below is a quick breakdown of those players, along with Notre Dame’s verbal commits and early enrollees. Player ratings and other information was gathered from ESPN’s Scouts, Inc., with analysis of Irish recruiting expert Mike Frank. Frank runs the ESPN-affiliated Notre Dame Web site irishsportsdaily.com.

Still in the hunt

Entering Wednesday, Notre Dame remained in contention for four four- or five-star prospects who initially held offers and showed interest when Weis was still at Notre Dame. Defensive end J.R. Ferguson, offensive tackles Seantrel Henderson and Matt James, and linebacker Christian Jones all included the Irish among their finalists.

Two other prospects — safety Jeremy Ioane and defensive end Kona Schwenke — only recently picked up Irish offers from Kelly, and after visiting campus this past weekend could commit to Notre Dame.

“I think getting three would be a victory,” Frank said. “You’ve got to hope you can land one of James or Henderson. James is the most likely at this point, but it’s going to be close, real close. I could see it going other way.

“What hurts is he’s met [offensive line coach Ed] Warinner and knows him, but when you have a whole year or longer with Ohio State to get to know some people, that makes it hard [for Notre Dame] to overcome.”

u Four-star defensive end J.R. Ferguson, 6-foot-4, 255 pounds (Frederick, Md./ Hargrave Military Academy)

u Five-star offensive tackle Seantrel Henderson, 6-8, 300 (St. Paul, Minn/Cretin-Derham)

u Four-star offensive tackle Matt James, 6-7, 285 (Cincinnati, Ohio/St. Xavier)

u Four-star linebacker Christian Jones, 6-4, 215 (Oviedo, Fla./Lake Howell)

u Three-star defensive end Kona Schwenke, 6-4, 217 (Kahuku, Hawaii/Kahuku)

u Safety Jeremy Ioane, 5-11, 190 (Honolulu, Hawaii/ Punahou)

Current verbals

The following players are verbally committed to Kelly and the Irish. It would be a major upset if any of the 16 withdrew their pledge and didn’t sign a letter of intent to play for Notre Dame, Frank said.

“Stranger things have happened, and lord knows we’ve seen it many years in a row,” Frank said. “But I don’t anticipate anybody [not signing]. Usually if I think somebody’s wavering I have a fairly good feeling for it.”

u Four-star quarterback Andrew Hendrix, 6-2, 215 (Cincinnati, Ohio/Moeller)

u Four-star defensive tackle Louis Nix, 6-3, 315 (Jacksonville, Fla./Raines)

u Three-star wide receiver Bennett Jackson, 6-1, 175 (Hazlet, N.J./Raritan)

u Three-star offensive tackle Christian Lombard, 6-5, 290 (Palatine, Ill./Fremd)

u Three-star linebacker Kendall Moore, 6-3, 230 (Raleigh, N.C./Southeast Raleigh)

u Three-star offensive tackle Tate Nichols, 6-7, 270 (Union, Ky./Ryle)

u Three-star running back Cameron Roberson, 6-1, 215 (Newbury Park, Calif./Newbury Park)

u Three-star linebacker Prince Shembo, 6-2, 236 (Charlotte, N.C./Ardrey Kell)

u Three-star wide receiver Daniel Smith, 6-4, 205 (South Bend, Ind./Clay)

u Three-star athlete Danny Spond, 6-2, 221 (Littleton, Colo./Columbine)

u Three-star defensive lineman Justin Utupo, 6-2, 245 (Lakewood, Calif./Lakewood)

u Three-star tight end Alex Welch, 6-5, 225 (Cincinnati, Ohio/Elder)

u Two-star wide receiver/ safety Austin Collinsworth, 6-2, 184 (Fort Thomas, Ky./Highlands)

u Two-star quarterback Luke Massa, 6-4, 205 (Cincinnati, Ohio/St. Xavier)

u Two-star H-back/athlete Derek Roback, 6-3, 221 (Waverly, Ohio/Waverly)

u Defensive end Bruce Heggie, 6-6, 240 (Mount Dora, Fla./Mount Dora)

u Note: Nichols, Spond, Collinsworth, Massa, Roback and Heggie all accepted offers from Kelly at Notre Dame and were not heavily recruited by the previous staff. Nix was recruited by Weis and verbally committed after his firing but before Kelly’s hiring.

Early enrollees

Though the following five early enrollees have been on campus since the start of the spring semester, Wednesday marks the first day Kelly will have the opportunity to speak about them with the media, alongside their fellow 2010 classmates.

“They’re signed, they’re in,” Frank said. “Coach Kelly will talk about them because it’ll be the first time he has the chance to, and I’m sure there will be a lot of of questions about how they’re doing.”

u Four-star wide receiver Tai-ler Jones, 6-0, 175 (Gainesville, Ga./Gainesville)

u Three-star safety Chris Badger, 6-1, 184 (Provo, Utah/Timpview)

u Three-star cornerback Spencer Boyd, 5-10, 175 (Cape Coral, Fla./Cape Coral)

u Three-star quarterback Tommy Rees, 6-3, 190 (Lake Forest, Ill./Lake Forest)

u Three-star cornerback Lo Wood, 5-11, 165 (Apopka, Fla./Apopka)