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Kelly, Polian discuss class of 2019

| Thursday, February 7, 2019

It wasn’t the Signing Day of old. The ones where Irish head coach Brian Kelly’s press conference is interrupted by someone whispering in his ear that he’s signed another player for the incoming class. Where coaches spend the day in a makeshift war room on the phone, attempting to gauge whether a recruit is planning on signing with the Irish or not.

As recruiting coordinator Brian Polian said, it was “anticlimactic.”

Or, as anticlimactic as a signing day can be when you win a national battle for a four-star, No. 15-ranked defensive end in the nation as your lone signee, the 22nd signee in the class of 2019.

Ann Curtis | The Observer
Irish head coach Brian Kelly watches on during Notre Dame’s 30-3 loss to Clemson in the Cotton Bowl at AT&T Stadium.

Notre Dame signed Isaiah Foskey on Wednesday afternoon in an announcement that was televised on ESPN. The defensive end, who was deciding between Washington, Notre Dame, Michigan, Ohio State and Cal, grabbed a green Irish cap and donned it with a grin, before telling ESPN that Notre Dame felt “just like De La Salle,” where Foskey goes to high school.

“We were looking for a pass rusher. Certainly, any time that you finish up your recruiting, you want to finish up with somebody that can make an impact and we think with Isaiah comes from obviously a great program, De La Salle; he’s a strong student,” Kelly said. “But more importantly, I think we needed that guy who can make a presence in our defense. If you’re looking at it from an NFL perspective, those guys who get paid a lot of money are those cornerbacks and guys who can rush the quarterback and he certainly can do that.”

Polian added the 6-foot-5 weak side defensive lineman brings an element of length to the Irish defense, something the coaching staff has made an intentional effort to recruit.

“[He has] length and versatility. He’s a terrific-looking kid. There’s going to be major upside for him as a defensive end because he played tight end and D-end in high school, so we know there’s going to be great development for him,” Polian said of Foskey. “I think it’s also important to recognize the fact that we’re getting one of the top players in the West, out of a program that is one of the most storied in the country from Concord De La Salle. A really fit school in terms of its academic profile and its culture and really a school that has produced excellent football players. … This is a national recruiting battle that our program won.

“ … I think we got longer. There was a dedicated effort to try and increase our length, our speed.”


Class of 2019

The class of 2019 now totals 22 players, eight on the offensive side of the ball, 13 defensive players and one special teams player, in addition to two preferred walk-ons. Kelly said he thinks the class as a whole fills Notre Dame’s needs well.

“I think you’ve got to look at it in its totality. There’s going to be some developmental guys, guys that are going to take some time. I think there’s going to be some guys that are going to push for some time, and I think there are going to be some guys who could start for us,” Kelly said of the balance of the class. “So, I think every class has those guys in it. I think you recruit that way, not all these guys are ready to play. I think there’s balance. I think you’re always looking to fill in the needs you have in a class.”

Kelly feels Notre Dame sets itself apart as an institution because of its upper caliber in football and academics and different style of community. Because of this, in looking for recruits, the coaching staff has to seek out both very talented players, and a specific type of person.

“Like any good operation, you have to have the skills, so certainly they have the skills to play national championship-quality football. They have to have the skill set to compete in one of the premiere academic institutions. That’s easier to define,” he said. “But they also have to fit culturally here. They have to understand this is the preeminent Catholic institution in the world. They have to understand, you’re coming in to get a wholistic education where you’re going to develop in all manners.

“You’re going to develop spiritually, you’re going to develop intellectually, socially. You’re going to be part of this campus. You’re not going to be isolated in a football dorm. You’re going to be part of this community. So, understanding what that means. Being part of what’s going on. Being in the dorms, being active and being a part of community service. We have to find young men who understand what our community is about and when you do that and couple it with the skills, you find the right fit.”

Polian discussed the importance of not only the nationally regarded recruits Notre Dame was able to sign, but also the lesser-known recruits who the staff were able to discover.

“While we did win some high-profile national recruiting battles and those are good talking points, there’s guys like Jack Kiser who’s just been phenomenal in his short time here, who was a small-school guy from Indiana that probably not a whole lot of people knew about and I think we’re going to look up in two or three years and say boy, what a great get that was,” he said. “From top to bottom, I think this is an exciting group and I think our staff did a great job of winning those high-profile battles, but also turning over some rocks and finding guys.”


Early signing date

With 21 of 22 signees coming in December, the recruiting landscape has changed over the last two years. Polian said he feels the early signing date works in Notre Dame’s favor because it allows the recruiters to get a jump on recruiting the classes of 2020 and 2021.

“I think for schools like ours, the early signing date is good. The guys that want to be at Notre Dame want to get it done,” he said. “We don’t have very many prospects who are going to take the thing all the way out because they like the recruiting process so much or like to be a part of the drama. I think the guys that pick Notre Dame know exactly what they’re looking for, know exactly what they’re getting into and they fact that they can make that decision official before Christmas and go on about their senior year is very valuable.”

The early signing date also allows student-athletes to enroll early in the University. This season, the Irish had 10 early enrollees.

“I think this class has a very strong presence as mid-years and I think that’s a trend that will continue. We like getting them in here in January. The transition academically here at Notre Dame, it helps them quite a bit,” Kelly said. “We get them in the weight room, we get them into spring ball and it helps them in maturing them and getting them to play.”

Kelly also added that in order to be an early enrollee at Notre Dame, you need to be a special type of student — one who is motivated both in the classroom and on the field.

“I think first and foremost, they’re all able to handle the transition. And I don’t think you graduate early from high school if you’re not organized, detailed, have put in the time and effort,” he said. “All of these guys do things that were more than the average student. They had to take an extra class, they had to do some summer work. So they’re all highly motivated young men and that works well here, obviously. So they’ve gotten off to a good start. They’ve been indoctrinated into a way of life here at Notre Dame which requires a great attention to detail. And they get an opportunity to be a part of our weight training program, and I think that program is crucial as well.”

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About Elizabeth Greason

Elizabeth is a senior studying civil engineering from New York, NY (yes, the actual city). She is a proud resident assistant in McGlinn Hall and is a die-hard Mets and Giants fan. She is currently serving as assistant managing editor of The Observer and she also has an obsession with golf that is bordering on unhealthy.

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