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Notre Dame lands 21 recruits in 2017 class

| Thursday, February 2, 2017

When Irish head coach Brian Kelly stepped to the podium a little after 1:30 p.m. Wednesday, Notre Dame had received National Letters of Intent from 19 recruits in the class of 2017.

Then, around the midway point of the presser, Kelly’s cell phone rang. “Rover” recruit Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah was on the other end of the line.

“I need to take this call,” Kelly said, walking out of the auditorium. “Jeremiah, how you doing? That’s great news. Great to hear it. Go Irish. Awesome. Congratulations. I’m going to go announce it right now at the press conference. I’ll talk to you in a little bit. Talk to you later.”

Irish head coach Brian Kelly addresses the media on National Signing Day in Isban Auditorium on Wednesday.Alex Carson | The Observer
Irish head coach Brian Kelly addresses the media on National Signing Day in Isban Auditorium on Wednesday.

Around 10 minutes later, a Notre Dame staffer interrupted the press conference to give Kelly a little bit more news.

“A new guy has come in. Kofi Wardlow, defensive end,” Kelly announced to the crowd, amid cheers from the back of the room.

And thus, when Kelly left the podium after nine more questions from the press, Notre Dame had its full allotment of 21 commits, wrapping up a successful close to the recruiting season for the Irish staff.


Keeping the class together

When Notre Dame entered its season-opening contest with Texas in September, there were rumblings around South Bend that the Irish could be headed for a class that rivaled the 2013 one, when Kelly recruited the Rivals.com No. 3 class in the country after a 12-1 season and a trip to the BCS National Championship Game. But instead of strengthening the class as the year went on, it got weaker, with Notre Dame dealing with decommitments as the team struggled to a 4-8 mark. Early offseason coaching changes didn’t help, as all in all, six players stepped away from their Irish ties between Oct. 19 and Jan. 10.

Those de-commitments were likely why Kelly opened his press conference in a bit of an orthodox way: by thanking the 15 incoming recruits that stuck with the program.

“We couldn’t be where we are today unless we had 15 student-athletes that were committed to Notre Dame from the start to the finish,” Kelly said. “Really during a very difficult season, this group of 15 really had to endure the things that would occur out there in recruiting during a very difficult season; other schools reminding them about a very difficult season that we had.”

Kelly said the recruiting “dead period” — which ran from Dec. 12 through Jan. 11 — gave him an assist on the trail, letting him get a new coaching staff in place to reassure recruits about Notre Dame.

“I think this class, I guess what I’m saying, is about the 15 that really stuck together, giving myself an opportunity to reconstitute our staff, put our staff together, get back out on the road after the dead period, and finish it out really strong,” Kelly said.

Kelly noted that, for these 15 recruits, it was the school, not the staff, that brought them to Notre Dame.

“We had really good coaches that left us, but Notre Dame did not change,” he said. “Notre Dame is still the number one reason why they choose to come here. Those 15 guys chose Notre Dame.”


Notre Dame’s late adds

The commitment of those 15 recruits allowed Kelly and the Irish staff to focus their efforts elsewhere down the stretch, efforts that were rewarded with six commitments in the final week of recruiting.

Safety Jordan Genmark-Heath was the first new addition to the class Jan. 26, when he flipped from California to the Irish, before wide receiver Jafar Armstrong switched from Missouri and kicker Jonathan Doerer changed his pledge from Maryland to Notre Dame two days later.

“Coming at it late where you’re presenting Notre Dame for the first time from a fresh perspective, and they’ve been committed somewhere else, it’s kind of exciting in a sense,” Kelly said. “I mean, you hate to pull somebody from another school. [But] you know what, it works pretty good. I don’t mean it to slight the other schools, but when you can show Notre Dame unvarnished without the negative criticism of Notre Dame, you can show it for who we truly are. It’s a pretty easy decision to come to Notre Dame instead of having to carry all that baggage of negative recruiting for such a long period of time.”

Around noon, well before Kelly stepped to the podium, the Irish picked up commit No. 19 — defensive lineman Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa — before finishing out the day just after 2 p.m. with the gets of Owusu-Koramoah and Wardlow, who switched on National Signing Day from Maryland to Notre Dame.


Potential first-year impacts

A majority of Notre Dame’s class of 2016 played as freshmen — something Kelly would prefer to avoid in 2017.

“Last year 13 of the 24 players that we recruited in this class got on the field,” Kelly said. “Nearly 60 percent of last year’s class played for us. I hope it’s not that high this year, that number. There’s a lot of really good football players in this class, but we’re hopeful that it’s not at 60 percent.”

One of the guys Kelly does want to see in his first year on campus, however, is C.J. Holmes. An early enrollee, Holmes could see the field for the Irish at two positions in 2017: running back and wide receiver.

“Versatility I think is what comes to mind. I look at him as a guy like a Theo Riddick, C.J. Prosise,” Kelly said. “He’s going to play both running back and wide receiver for us. We think we have a nice package for him right away. We’re going to ask him to compete right away. He’s going to be one of those guys that we’re going to force feed him a little bit and get him involved.”

Four-star defensive lineman Darnell Ewell is another guy who could see the field as a freshman, Kelly said.

“He’s a guy that is prepared and wants to play immediately,” he said. “We’re not going to tell him anything different. Come over here and compete right away. He’s got the physical traits and he’s got the mindset. That’s what we really like about Darnell.”

When Doerer pledged to the Irish on Saturday, it probably didn’t stick out as a key commitment. However, the kicker could see the field in year one, with the Irish staff seeing him as capable taking over kickoff duties — which would help keep junior Justin Yoon “in his comfort zone” by just place-kicking in 2017.

“Given the fact we have a guy that can score points for us, let’s find a specialist that can kick that thing out of the end zone,” Kelly said. “Jonathan can do that. We don’t have to worry about anything. Wind conditions shouldn’t be an issue. We’re going to get that ball down there. We’ll do anything to make [special teams coordinator Brian] Polian look good, too.

“He was banging on the table on this kid. I got to agree with him. When we were able to look at his numbers, the way he kicked the football, he was as good if not the best in the country.”


Top tight ends

The highlight of Notre Dame’s class is at a position the school traditional excels at: tight end. Between Brock Wright, who enrolled early as the No. 1-rated tight end by Rivals.com, and Cole Kmet, the No. 3 player at the position; the Irish could be set to become “Tight End U” once more.

“We don’t think there can be a better tandem at the tight end position in a signing day today,” Kelly said. “We think we’ve got two tight ends coming in to obviously a very good situation already.”

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About Alex Carson

Alex Carson graduated from Notre Dame in 2017 after majoring in Applied and Computational Mathematics and Statistics and living in O’Neill Hall. Hailing from the Indianapolis area, but born in Youngstown, Ohio, Carson is a Cleveland sports fan convinced that he’s already lived the “best day of his life.” At The Observer, Carson was first a Sports Writer, then served as an Associate Sports Editor (2015/16) and an Assistant Managing Editor (2016/17), before finishing his tenure as a Senior Sports Writer. A man of strong convictions, he ardently believes that Carly Rae Jepsen's 2015 release E•MO•TION is the greatest album of his generation, and wakes up early on Saturday mornings to listen, or occasionally watch, his favorite least-favorite sports team, Aston Villa. When he isn’t writing, Carson spends his time counting down the days to the next running of the Indianapolis 500 and reminding people that the Victory March starts with the lyric, “Rally sons of Notre Dame,” not “Cheer, cheer for Old Notre Dame.”

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