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Mazurek: Class of 2017 offers plenty of potential

| Thursday, February 2, 2017

There are a lot of ways to look at Notre Dame’s 2017 recruiting class.

You could look at it as a disappointing end to what at one point had the makings of a top-five haul. After an impressive zero decommitments last year, the Irish lost six different high school prospects during or after the 2016 season who had verbally committed to Notre Dame.

Had linebacker Donovan Jeter, wide receiver Jordan Pouncey and cornerbacks Paulson Adebo and Elijah Hicks signed with the Irish today, Brian Kelly would be a much happier man.

But that’s what a 4-8 season, no bowl game and a lot of coaching turnover does. It’s hard to compete with schools like Michigan, Ohio State or Alabama for recruits when you lose to Duke and Navy.

Which brings us to the other way to look at the 2017 recruiting class: Despite all the coaching changes and the poor season, Notre Dame still managed to sign 21 scholarship athletes and keep the core of its class together.

Irish head coach Brian Kelly deserves a lot of credit for this. I have always maintained that recruiting is one of Kelly’s biggest strengths, and his staff pulled off some key late flips for a team looking to get back to the top of college football.

The 2017 class alone will not accomplish this, but the message it sends to the college football world is a strong one: Don’t count Notre Dame out.

Think about this: last year, Notre Dame went 10-3, played in the Fiesta Bowl and finished with the 13th-best recruiting class in the country, according to Rivals.com. At the moment, Rivals.com has this year’s Irish class at No. 13. The same exact spot, despite everything that has happened.

Because while all the attention was focused on who left, who stayed will cement the future of Notre Dame football.

Kelly and new offensive coordinator Chip Long have all the tools they need to bring back “Tight-end U” with Brock Wright and Cole Kmet — the No. 1 and No. 3-ranked tight end prospects, respectively. And that’s not to mention junior Alize Jones coming back from a suspension next season. The Irish will be loaded at the tight end spot.

On the offensive line, Notre Dame picked up four recruits — three of whom are four-star prospects — to add to what has traditionally been the strongest unit for the Irish. Aaron Brooks is the name to watch here, and he could very easily become Notre Dame’s next Ronnie Stanley.

One notable weakness to the 2017 class is at cornerback, but Notre Dame flipped four-star safety Jordan Genmark-Heath late in the process and has enough young players with experience to fill that need.

The class is a little bit short at the offensive skill positions, but running back C.J. Holmes is creating a lot of buzz, and we may see him at wide receiver before all is said and done.

The defensive line may not have any five-star standouts, but adding four more bodies is a good sign for a unit that needs to find a way to generate a pass rush in 2017.

And all of this leaves out the remarkable fact that the Irish flipped three of their targets on Signing Day itself. Linebacker/safety Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, defensive lineman Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa and linebacker Kofi Wardlow all turned Notre Dame’s way when it mattered most. 

Obviously, there’s a long way to go before Notre Dame gets back to the glory days, but after a disappointing season, National Signing Day brought momentum to a program which badly needed it.

Kelly has his players. He worked hard to get them. Now he just has to coach them.

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