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Expert lauds incoming recruiting class

Chris Allen | Thursday, February 7, 2013

Notre Dame built on its landmark 2012 season Wednesday as it received the National Letters of Intent for 24 recruits making up its 2013 recruiting class. The group includes nine members of the elite ESPN150 and is ranked as the No. 4 class in the country by ESPN, trailing only Florida, Ohio State and Alabama.

Irish recruiting expert Mike Frank lauded the Notre Dame coaching staff for its efforts in landing its best class in recent memory.

“My overall opinion is I think it’s a very, very good class. I think they filled their needs at almost every position with maybe a few exceptions,” said Frank, who runs the ESPN-affiliated Irish Sports Daily. “I love the talent in this class. They did a great job getting some talented guys, some guys who can come in and help right away, which is important. There are some guys who can match talent with the very best teams in the country. You’re starting to land the kind of players that Alabama can get, and when you do that you’re really raising the talent level in the program.”

Headlining the class is linebacker Jaylon Smith, who will come to campus as the most-hyped player Notre Dame has attracted since former linebacker Manti Te’o. A local prospect, Smith hails from Fort Wayne, Ind., and is the No. 7 player in the country according to ESPN’s evaluation team. The widely acclaimed five-star player checks in at 6-foot-3 and 212 pounds with the speed and size to contribute at either of Notre Dame’s outside linebacker positions.

“Certainly Jaylon Smith is a once-in-a-decade, once-in-a-generation type player,” Frank said. “He’s just a guy who can do a lot of things for a guy his size. It’s just very, very rare to have that combination of size and speed. He also has really good instincts.”
Frank said Smith has the potential to contribute as a leader in a similar vein as Te’o.

“I think he’ll have a similar impact to what [former Notre Dame linebacker] Manti Te’o did. When you talk about him as a person, he’s just a truly great kid,” Frank said. “He’s got his head screwed on straight, he’s extremely well-liked and he cares about his community. When you talk about talent, people find this hard to believe but I think Jaylon has more talent than Manti Te’o ever had. He’s easily just as big as Manti but he’s quicker and faster.”

Smith is not the only blue-chip prospect to join the Irish defensive unit next fall. Notre Dame received a late signing from No. 10 overall prospect Eddie Vanderdoes, the nation’s top defensive tackle. Vanderdoes projects to be able to play any position on the defensive line in Notre Dame’s 3-4 defense. Frank said Vanderdoes, who was once committed to USC but warmed up to the Irish after the 12-0 regular season in 2012, is a prospect of top caliber.

“Jaylon Smith is a great player, but to me Eddie Vanderdoes is just the crown jewel of this class,” Frank said. “I know a guy from out where Eddie is from in California who has been covering recruiting out there and he said Eddie is the best guy he’s seen at his position in 10 or 15 years. … I’m really thrilled, to be honest.”

Joining Smith and Vanderdoes in the front seven next fall are a quartet of physical prospects. ESPN150 outside linebacker Doug Randolph, inside linebacker Michael Deeb, defensive end Jacob Matuska and ESPN150 defensive end Isaac Rochell will all suit up for defensive coordinator Bob Diaco’s vaunted unit next season.

After spending the 2012 season with a number of converted players from other positions in the secondary due to recruiting defections and injuries, the Notre Dame staff will be happy to welcome a stellar group of four natural defensive backs to campus in the fall. Highly sought-after safety and former USC commit Max Redfield from Mission Viejo, Calif., is the centerpiece of a group that includes a trio of cornerbacks – Cole Luke, Devin Butler and Rashad Kinlaw.

“You’re welcoming just a bunch of good players in the secondary. I think Max Redfield is a tremendous player,” Frank said. “He allows you to do a lot of things defensively. Notre Dame likes to play with a single safety playing up high in some situations and he allows you to do that. In order to do that you need a guy who can run and run well, and also be physical back there. He can do that. He’s a big safety prospect. They can do things with coverage and confuse opposing quarterbacks.”

On the offensive side of the ball, the immediate impact from the 2013 class could come from the running back position. A pair of ESPN150 running backs from Florida will compete to line up in the Irish backfield next season to replace departed backs Theo Riddick and Cierre Wood.

Frank said both players have the talent to contribute right away.

“I love the two running backs in this class. Greg Bryant’s got as much or more talent than any back they’ve signed in quite some time,” he said. “I’ll say the same for Tarean Folston, he’s got a tremendous amount of talent and potential. He just needs to get a little bit bigger and a little bit stronger, but once he does, he’s a guy who can hit the home run and get some big plays. That’s something Notre Dame has been missing for a while from the running back position for a long time.”

Bryant or Folston may one day line up behind the latest dual-threat quarterback to hit Notre Dame’s campus. Four-star quarterback Malik Zaire brings electricity to the signal-caller spot and, Frank said, possesses some similarities to junior quarterback Everett Golson.

“I think he’s quicker than Everett and maybe a little bit faster in terms of top-end speed. Where Malik is really going to shine is I think he’s a great projected leader. People really gravitate to him, his mentality is one where he can become a great leader for this team.”

Rounding out the offensive class are great numbers at the receiver, tight end and offensive line positions. Though Notre Dame did not ink a five-star prospect at these spots, they will welcome great depth in signing five offensive linemen, four receivers and two tight ends to the 2013 roster.

A pair of famous names will line up at wideout, as among the Irish signees are Corey Robinson and Torii Hunter Jr., sons of Hall of Fame basketball center David Robinson and current Detroit Tigers outfielder Torii Hunter, respectively.

Frank said he is particularly impressed with the group of linemen signed to compete under coach Harry Hiestand in the trenches.

“I think they got five guys who can really pan out and become great players for Notre Dame,” Frank said. “It wouldn’t surprise me if all five end up starting at some point down the road.”

Now that the curtain has fallen on the 2013 recruiting season, Frank said the class of 24 recruits showed Notre Dame’s continued momentum to the top of college football.

“It’s great to see Notre Dame competing with Alabama for some of the top guys and top classes in the country. I think the next step for Brian Kelly and his staff is to capitalize on the 2012 season in recruiting, into the 2014 stretch. They need to get a few more of the five-star guys, guys like Max Redfield, Greg Bryant, Jaylon Smith, those are the difference-makers. Those are the people who make the key plays in the game that decide the outcome of the game. What’s really the difference is if you get a couple more guys who are five-star type players … you have a chance to hang with anybody.”

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.
Contact Chris Allen at  [email protected]