1. Give your team's class a letter grade and a brief analysis of your staff's overall effort in this recruiting cycle.
Mattare: A- for the class, A+ for the staff’s effort.
Brian Kelly has answered a lot of the critics that didn’t believe he could recruit on a national level this off-season by delivering a consensus top ten class. A highly touted group of high schoolers pledging their commitment to ND isn’t something that’s particularly new—Charlie Weis brought in some huge and even higher rated hauls—but what has Irish fans especially excited is the fact that this class is loaded with potential difference makers on the defensive side of the ball.
The three stories that accompany the three commitments of Stephon Tuitt, Aaron Lynch, and Ishaq Williams show exactly why this staff deserves nothing less than an A for this year’s recruiting cycle. All three seemed bound for other schools—in fact, two were well publicized Notre Dame decommitments—but relentless work by Bob Diaco, Chuck Martin, Tony Alford, and the big man BK himself ensured that all three ended up in blue and gold.
With Tuitt, the trio of Diaco, Martin, and Kelly were in his living room within 24 hours of his decommitment from Notre Dame and by the time they left he was back in the fold. Aaron Lynch was ready to enroll in Florida State just days before Tony Alford was able to sway him back to Notre Dame. And perhaps most famously, Bob Diaco paid Ishaq a 4:30am visit the morning he was supposed to visit Penn State and convinced him to head to the Midwest instead of central Pennsylvania.
The class itself is not flawless which is why it’s not an A. There are holes that must be addressed quickly in the next recruiting cycle (CB, RB, NT) and some stinging misses, but this was a serious “mythbusting” class.
The myth that Notre Dame couldn’t recruit top defensive talent was debunked by landing three of the top five defensive ends in the country according to Rivals. The myth that Notre Dame was forever doomed to lose every major defensive line recruit that gave a verbal commitment was busted. And perhaps most importantly (at least in the mind of skeptics among the Irish Faithful), the myth that Brian Kelly was too “small-time” to handle national recruiting was proved completely false thanks to his effort and the staff’s entire body of work.
Things are snowballing in South Bend—and for once the momentum is headed in the right direction.
Too many early missed opportunities. Offers came out slow while the state's top talent took their talents to Oakland, PA and New Brunswick, NJ. The only reason we have a quality speed guy in this class (Bill Belton) is because of the coaching fiasco that took place at Pitt after the season ended.
This was a solid class for offensive and defensive lineman but we whiffed on the elite hogs in Cyrus Kouandjio and Ishaq Williams. Aside from the trenches not much good can be said about the coach's efforts this year. PA had two 4 star defensive backs Terrell Chestnut and Kyshoen Jarrett and we weren't close to getting either. Of the top 10 players in the state Penn State was only able to get commitments from two.
The uncertainty surrounding the coaching staff is coming to a head. Tom Bradley has been pursuing other jobs because it's been made pretty clear the school will go out of house for the next head coaching hire. At this point I hope he gets another job because he's been so loyal and done a great job for us. He's been rumored to be taking as many as 4 assistants with him which will completely decimate the staff. Basically, this has to be Joe's last year. The damage can’t be masked anymore (it's a blog, relax).
A 4:30 am Notre Dame visit to a Brooklyn (Joe's hometown) recruit should not be effective, it should be annoying. The fact that Ishaq was convinced that it's not enough to go to Penn State because of a position coach is unacceptable. The assistants have been holding this ship together with mighty putty for the past few years, and the job they have done is nothing less than astounding, it’s too bad they won't be rewarded for their efforts but it appears they won't.
A change is coming at Penn State, and after seeing what has happened at Michigan I'm afraid that we might have let our program slip to where we end up with the likes of Rick Neuheisel instead of Chris Petersen. This is scary.
2. Who was the most important recruit you got this year?
Mattare: It has to be defensive end Aaron Lynch.
He’s rated the lowest of Notre Dame’s triumvirate of defensive line mega-studs, but in my eyes he’s far and away the most important player to land on-campus this spring. Lynch is equipped with explosiveness and quickness that Irish fans have not seen since Justin Tuck left town. He’s poised to make an immediate impact on pass rushing downs as a true freshman and I fully expect him to make a run at the all-time sack record during his time in blue and gold.
He’s a one-man wrecking crew that Notre Dame has been completely lacking over the past decade. The fact that he is flanked by two other potential superstars only increases the chance he’ll blossom into fulfilling his staggering potential.
Bill: Donovan Smith, OT
Big, big dude. I can see him anchoring our line at left tackle his junior and senior years. He doesn't want to redshirt, he wants to push for playing time right away. That's what I want from our guys…and from what we've seen from the O-line these last two years why not?
3. Which player that you couldn't reel in stings the most?
Mattare: I'm going to go with running back Savon Huggins.
My approach as signing day nears is that I shouldn’t be too greedy because ND has landed three huge studs on the defensive line against unbelievably stacked odds. I’m tempted to go with safety Wayne Lyons, but I’d be lying if I didn’t admit I was more chapped by losing out on a potential four-year starting running back to the State University of Rutgers.
I know he’s from Jersey, but really? What is the appeal other than being able to have family and friends see your games in person (which they’ll need to do unless they have ESPN’s Premium Package where they can catch Scarlet Knight games on ESPN17 in non-HD)?
Rutgers fell flat on its face last season last, stumbling to a 4-8 record in the weakest major conference in college football. After getting their head above water after years of ineptitude and futility, it appears they’ve hit a plateau on the plane of mediocrity. Greg Schiano has gone from the hottest young coach in the business to the guy who seemingly overplayed his hand.
Add on top of that the fact their fan base is without a doubt the one with the biggest gap between their perceived worth (they insist they’re on the verge of being a national power/brand) and their real value (they’re a half step above Temple…if that…and the ceiling isn’t much higher). I just don’t see a single reason an elite prospect would want to sign up to play there.
Huggins wasn’t a “must get” and missing on him doesn’t belittle just how good this class is, but it still stings to lose a major recruit to gnat in the college football world like Rutgers.
Bill: Ben Koyack, TE
Started as the #1 player in PA and finished at #2. And we never even had a chance! He committed to Notre Dame early while we signed two star TE Kyle Carter with offers from Delaware and Bucknell. Tight end is such an underrated position on offense and Penn State utilizes it quite a bit. Koyack could have filled the role Brett Brackett filled this year that netted him 39 receptions.
4. Who do you see making an immediate impact this fall?
Mattare: We’ll go right back to Mr. Aaron Lynch on this one. Many Irish fans will remember the impact that Justin Tuck had during his redshirt freshman season (the 2002 campaign). He only played on clear passing downs, but he was a terror that delivered sacks, quarterback pressures, and offensive holding calls almost every time he stepped on the field. Expect that sort of impact from Lynch this fall.
His fellow five-star recruits Ishaq Williams and Stephon Tuitt will also get some playing time albeit not as impactful as Lynch’s. Ishaq could emerge in a similar way to Lynch but I have a hard time seeing him beat out Darius Fleming for a starting nod. Tuitt is going to require a little more seasoning, is stuck behind a senior on the depth chart, and doesn’t have the pass rushing prowess that makes him completely necessary to have on the field in passing downs (Lynch does).
Bill: No one, but if pressed to make a choice Shyquawn Pullium, DB.
Why? Because he spent the year in JUCO and we seemed more willing to switch up the personnel in the secondary towards the end of last year—Malcom Willis and Andrew Dailey got reps in the Outback Bowl. For some reason we never put athletes at safety, we'd rather be three deep at the cornerback position and convert a second string linebacker to safety.
5. Give us a sleeper or two that may emerge from this class.
Mattare: He’s not necessarily a deep sleeper per se because he’s a 4-star, but I love defensive back Eliar Hardy. He’s a versatile, aggressive athlete that could end up at cornerback, but his early projection is at safety. Hardy is a ferocious hitter and a sound tackler that could be a rock in the secondary for 2-3 years—especially with the lack of depth currently on the roster past 2011.
For a little deeper sleeper I’ll go with our lowest rated offensive lineman Nick Martin. His brother has already shown to be an overachiever and by all accounts Nick is of the same ilk with better athleticism (which will only help him in a spread blocking scheme). His high school coach raved about what a dominant, physical presence he had become over the course of his high school career and he’s got a nasty streak that perfectly fits the attitude Notre Dame is trying to develop in the trenches.
Bill: Matt Zanellato, WR
He was only rated a two-star by Rivals, but he recorded over 1,700 yards and 21 touchdowns receiving his senior year. That's impressive by anyone's standards. Those numbers lead me to believe he didn't have an off game—there are only so many games in a high school season. He's 6'3" and has good hands. He'll find his way on the field.
Pennsylvania is loaded with talent next year; we can't afford this inaction on the recruiting trail that plagued us this year and the never-ending questions with the staff. We need to capitalize and start building for a title run immediately.
ON TO THE RAPID FIRE FINISH!
Bill: So let's not beat around the bush. I finally beat you in season three of our NCAA Football Dynasty in spectacular comeback fashion. How are you coping?
Mattare: Not going to lie, I'm devastated. Not because you beat me, but because you were dead in the water before the game cut out and we had to replay the final quarter. The Deacs will exact serious revenge in 2013.
Mattare: Savon Huggins chose Rutgers over ND and UNC. Give me a good reason that any elite football player would want to go to Rutgers that doesn't involve Macedonians.
Bill: They had Ray Rice, they've got a good coach, and it's close to the best city in the country.
Bill: Why would anyone go to Notre Dame?!?
Mattare: The weather, the opportunity to live in O'Neill Hall, the chance to have Carl Ackermann for finance, and four years of pasta stir-fry in the dining halls. Oh, and because they could be a part of the resurrection of college football's greatest program.
Mattare: I have a two-day work conference in of all places Ocean City, MD. This is a place I swore I'd never set foot in again when we left there 3+ years ago. What are the odds I end up at Seacrets: Jamaica, USA with co-workers and what are the odds I end up back in the bay bar?
Bill: 10-1 for Seacrets, 100:1 for the bay bar. It's only Maryland, that water is freezing and you'd be there alone. Head to the Purple Moose or The Bearded Clam.
Bill: How would you announce your college decision if you were committing to Notre Dame?
Mattare: I'd have a press conference at Yocco's, have Pat Lyons dressed as a leprechaun, and ceremoniously burn a Nittany Lion doll as I did the jig. My father would then murder me.
Mattare: Manny Pacquiao vs John "Literally Death From Above" Yackabonis in trampoline boxing. Who wins?
Bill: Whose trampoline? This matters. Yack would psyche him out during the match by trying to have a conversation.
Bill: Describe your ideal halftime show scenario in the Super Bowl this year. Careful, Fergie is polarizing.
Mattare: Multiple wardrobe malfunctions. And as a sidenote, Fergie looks TERRIBLE in that Dr. Pepper commercial.
Mattare: Some A-Towners are planning another trip to Orlando, but our buddy Tim is on the fence. Here's you chance to publicly state why he should come. GO!
Bill: I think mention in WNG is enough--he's in. But I still don't mind selling him on wearing shorts and paying $3 per beer.
Bill: Drank bourbon with pickle juice last night. You ready for that?
Mattare: I mean...if I need to be.
Mattare: We're headed down to Houston for the Final Four with Austin and Mr. Balls this April. Can you even fathom how insufferable it will be for you if ND finds a way to make it that far?
Bill: For me??? You don't want me around in that scenario. Remember, we all have to get along at your wedding.