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International exposure entices Irish recruits

Chris Allen | Thursday, August 30, 2012

The Irish enter the 2012 season having already assembled a competitive 2013 recruiting class of 19 players, including five ESPNU 150 talents. Though National Signing Day is still nearly a half-year away, Irish coach Brian Kelly and his staff have built a class that ranks No. 8 nationally in ESPN’s latest class rankings. Irish recruiting expert Mike Frank said the Irish recruiters outperformed expectations in the summer signing period.

“[Recruiting] has gone even better than I had expected it would,” said Frank, who runs the ESPN-affiliated Irish Sports Daily. “Where they’re at, with so many top-ranked players already committed, they’ve done an excellent job in getting some of the best players on campus. It doesn’t even stop with 2013, but they’ve even gotten some 2014 prospects on campus. They’ve surpassed many expectations.”

Highlighting the class is the June 2 commitment of super-prospect outside linebacker Jaylon Smith, who chose the Irish over Ohio State. Smith, ranked No. 14 in the ESPNU 150 and a five-star prospect on some recruiting services, is the highest-ranked Irish recruit at linebacker since current senior and captain Manti Te’o. The Fort Wayne, Ind., product is the centerpiece of a linebacking class that includes ESPN’s No. 63 prospect Alex Anzalone. Frank said he loves the versatility Smith will bring to the future Irish defensive corps.

“I absolutely love Jaylon Smith,” Frank said. “The reason he’s so good is he is versatile across all four linebacking positions in a 3-4. Its about his flexibility. If you bring in somebody like [current Irish commit] Michael Deeb and put him at inside linebacker, Smith can help you outside.

“He has that size that you look for in an elite linebacker, but what makes him so versatile is his quickness. He’s as good as they’re going to find at that position.”

Beyond the trio of Smith, Anzalone and Deeb, Frank said the Irish have taken steps through recruiting to prepare for several graduations on the offensive line. With multiple starters on the offensive line in their final years of eligibility, Kelly’s staff has lined up commitments from five offensive linemen in an effort to restock talent. Tackles Colin McGovern and Hunter Bivin are the only members of the group in the ESPNU 150, but Frank said the group represents a commitment by Kelly to continuing physical football.

“I’m most excited about the offensive line class that Kelly is bringing in,” Frank said. “With these players, Brian Kelly can get back to where Notre Dame needs to be consistently in terms of playing physical football and building a winner.”

The Irish also welcomed the commitments of several players Frank believe to be under-the-radar gems, among them tight end Danny Mattingly and defensive end Isaac Rochell.
“Danny Mattingly is somebody who most recruiting services have as a three-star player, but I don’t see it that way,” Frank said. “To me he is someone who is a four-star if not a high-four star player. Isaac Rochell committed early in June so people forget about him, but at the defensive end position he is also going to be a top-notch player for this coaching staff.”

Having already built a stellar class, the Irish now turn to Dublin and the season opener. The Emerald Isle Classic will feature a handful of high school football games in advance of the clash between Notre Dame and Navy. While there are several top players playing in those lead-up games who may lean Irish after the event, Frank said the real recruiting event would come from recruits who see the program’s international exposure.

“What will be evident to recruits who are over there and those who are watching on television is just how strong the fan base is,” he said. “There are going to be 40,000 Notre Dame fans over in a foreign country, and there are very few teams that could pull that off. I can only think of a couple that have that kind of fan support.

So for recruits across the country, Notre Dame has a big interest in showing the kind of international exposure that the program has, and the kinds of events a player participates in at Notre Dame.”

Frank said the opportunity to experience a major event in a foreign country would be an attractive opportunity to a recruit despite the grueling travel and unfamiliar surroundings.

“Ultimately, everybody wants these kinds of opportunities, to have the chance to see a world that is completely different than their own,” Frank said. “I think some of them would probably rather play in front of their friends and family in a familiar environment, but they will sacrifice one game for the incredible experience.”

For more on Notre Dame recruiting, check out Mike Frank’s irishsportsdaily.com

Email Mike at [email protected] and tell him The Observer sent you.