Thursday, February 11, 2010

Team Transition | by Pat

Ok, let's get to breaking down the latest recruiting class. What was shaping up to be a decent class took a big hit when Charlie was fired. Most recruits said they would remain with ND, but over time a few were chipped away. Kelly's recruiting prowess, one of the major unknowns at this point, was put in the spotlight as he tried to keep the current commits intact while closing with a flurry of offers and last minute commits. So how did it all turn out once the dust settled?

First, just the facts. Here are the links to the newest crop of freshmen and Brian Kelly's first public words about them. There is also a nice collection of highlight clips.

• The Official Notre Dame Signing Day Central
• Brian Kelly's Signing Day Press Conference (Transcript /Video)
• 2010 Recruit Bios and Highlight videos

The players will ultimately be judged by their performance on the field, but Kelly as a recruiter will be judged in part by how this class is ranked against his peers. Fair or not, it's one way coaches are judged against one another. The image of being a strong recruiter can help buy a coach another year (Weis) while not measuring up against other national recruiters can help lead to a coach get the axe early (Willingham). With that in mind, here's where the three major recruiting rankers put the Weis/Kelly transition class.

14th - Rivals
19th - Scout
21st - ESPN

Overall, this certainly wasn't a strong class rankings-wise, but considering yet another coaching transition and a sub-.500 record over the past three years, getting inside of the Top 20 on average certainly wasn't a given. Re-mapping the rankings by average star value rather than the results of each website's ranking algorithm, you'll find ND's class doesn't move much at all. It drops one spot on Rivals and doesn't change on Scout.

Here is the breakdown of 23 players who will be suiting up this fall, complete with links back to our original posts on them when they went public with their commitments.

Offense (12)
QB - Andrew Hendrix, Tommy Rees, Luke Massa
RB - Cameron Roberson
WR - Daniel Smith, Bennett Jackson, Tai-ler Jones, Austin Collinsworth
TE - Alex Welch
OL - Christian Lombard, Tate Nichols, Matt James

Defense (9)
DL - Louis Nix, Bruce Heggie, Kona Schwenke
LB - Justin Utupo, Prince Shembo, Kendall Moore
CB - Spencer Boyd, Lo Wood
S - Chris Badger

Athlete (2) - Derek Roback, Danny Spond

Double Up

Every year I like to put the latest class together with last year's class and see if any position has been underrepresented for two straight years. That's usually your first clue where the priority will be in the coming class. Here are the numbers for ND's last two recruiting classes. Note: I left off Danny Spond and Derek Roback because I'm not really sure where to put them yet. The likely case is they split between LB and TE, so you can probably mentally add one to both columns. Then again, they might just wind up at QB.

QB - 3
RB - 3
WR - 6
TE - 3
OL - 6
LS - 1
DL - 4
LB - 7
CB - 3
S - 1
K - 1
P - 1
Safety is the one that really jumps out with only one incoming safety recruit over the past two seasons (and only two over the past three). If you're looking for positions to practice your depth chart engineering, this is the first place to start. The DL numbers are pretty low as well, even if ND is switching to a 3-4. If Tyler Stockton moves to DE, that means only one of those four defensive linemen are a nose tackle (Louis Nix), which is another area of concern for future classes. Offensively, the numbers look pretty balanced although it would have been nice to have the OL count be just a bit higher.

In Early

ND brought in a record number of early enrollees this year with 5 of the 23 recruits well into winter conditioning with the rest of the team at this point. Tommy Rees, Tai-ler Jones, Lo Wood, Spencer Boyd, and Chris Badger mark the first time ND has brought in more than three early enrollees. So far the practice has been a great success with the first class (Aldridge, Stewart, West) all earning their degrees prior to their senior year. Football-wise, it will be a big help to QB and safety depth to have Rees and Badger available for spring practice.


Every year it seems that more and more recruit commit to one school only to change their mind. ND was certainly caught up in the middle of it this year, largely due to the coaching turnover. Four one-time commits changed their mind and wound up signing letters of intent to other programs last week including Chris Martin (Cal), Blake Lueders (Stanford), Toney Hurd, Jr. (Texas A&M), and Giovanni Bernard (North Carolina).

On the flip side, ND had one-third (!) of the class go from being commited to one school to becoming the newest members of the Fighting Irish including Chris Badger (Stanford), Tai-ler Jones (Stanford), Tate Nichols (Stanford), Luke Massa (Cincinnati), Louis Nix (Miami), Kona Schwenke (BYU), Danny Spond (Colorado), and Derek Roback (Toledo). Obviously the change in staff had something to do with this, but it's still a very high number. I'd be pretty surprised if it was this high next year.

Moving Target

I really can't remember a class where so many players had their future position in question. Part of it is a new staff switching offenses and defenses with recruits who committed with Charlie's offense/defense in mind, but part of it Kelly's reputation of taking "big skill" types and moving them around as he sees fit. Danny Spond and Derek Roback might get a shot at QB, but could wind up at tight end, H-back, or linebacker. Outside linebacker Prince Shembo could move to defensive end, or perhaps to an inside LB spot. Ditto Kendall Moore. Justin Utupo is listed as a defensive tackle by recruiting sites, as a linebacker by ND, but looks like a future defensive end. Where will he end up? Daniel Smith and Austin Collinsworth are coming in as receivers, but either one or both could be moved to safety to help out with depth there in the coming years. Finally, Bruce Heggie might be considered a defensive end prospect now, but if he keeps growing he could find himself on the offensive line alongside Lombard, Nichols, and James. It's good to have so much position flexibility, but it also has to make future recruiting a bit more difficult as the coaches don't really know exactly what they have yet and won't have a much better idea until they get the recruits into practice this fall.

Get on up, get on down

Another thing I like to take a look at is where recruits wind up rankings wise from when they publicly commit to ND until Signing Day. Remember that only 1 of 10 recruits from last year rose in Rivals rankings from when went public until they signed on the dotted line. (trivia answer: Zeke Motta). I still don't think there is any conspiracy behind the shifts and there is no useful change for any of the last minute commits, but the info is worth noting nonetheless.

This season, despite what I said about no conspiracies, saw a number of ND players (9) drop again on Rivals. Andrew Hendrix, Bennett Jackson, Tai-ler Jones, Alex Welch, Christian Lombard, Kendall Moore, Lo Wood, Spencer Boyd, and Chris Badger all dropped in the position rankings, although occasionally just by a little amount. There were more risers though this year (5) as Tommy Rees, Cameron Roberson, Louis Nix, Tate Nichols, and Prince Shembo were all bumped up a bit in the time between putting on the ND hat and Signing Day.

The numbers were similar on Scout (11) with Hendrix, Daniel Smith, Jackson, Jones, Austin Collinsworth, Lombard, Justin Utupo, Moore, Boyd, Wood, and Badger dropping while Rees, Roberson, Welch, Nichols, Nix, Shembo, and Bruce Heggie (7) all got a bump up.

Enough with the facts and figures. Time to chew the fat with the fellow BGS members in our annual recruiting roundtable tradition. You all know the drill by now, so feel free to chime in with your own answers in the comment section so we can laugh at your picks in a few years too.

Biggest Get:

Kevin: Louis Nix.

Mike: If Christian Jones had committed to ND, then Kelly's biggest get would have been Tony Alford. Alford had already reeled in Louis Nix when ND didn't have a head coach, and Alford was reportedly responsible for Notre Dame being among Jones's finalists. I'm very happy Kelly decided to retain Alford (and was able to convince Alford to stay). I could make a case for Matt James (dire positional need) and Tai-ler Jones (I think he will be a star in Kelly's system), but ultimately I have to go with my favorite recruit in this class, Louis Nix.

Brian: Louis Nix. Irish fans have grown accustomed to having the rug pulled out from under them in recent years when it comes to top defensive line recruits (see Messrs. McCoy, Trattou, and Hunter), and this year appeared to be no exception, with Chris Martin spontaneously verballing to ND only to slowly back off his commitment in a prolonged soap opera that made "War and Peace" look like a pamphlet in comparison. Enter Nix, who, already rumored to be a silent verbal, decided to pull the trigger and go public after the firing of Charlie Weis, as a symbolic gesture to bring some stability to this recruiting class. Bonus points to Nix for joining the Notre Dame family after decommitting from Miami (FL); though we haven't played the 'Canes in nearly two decades, putting one over on them still tastes delicious.

Pat: I'll be the odd man out and say Matt James only because ND was desperate for offensive tackles in this class. James also added a nice Signing Day surprise for Brian Kelly after rumors that he was leaning towards Ohio State. Landing a Top 100 recruit, even one with as many connections to ND and Kelly as James had, was also a welcome sign as we all are trying to figure out how Kelly will be as a recruiter.

Biggest Miss?

Mike: Tie between Christian Jones and Ego Ferguson, both of whom would have provided much-needed pass-rushing ability in the defensive front seven. It's critical to have a number of pass-rushing threats on defense. Take a look at Michigan to see what I mean. Michigan DE Brandon Graham will likely be a first-round draft choice this spring. Yet he did not record a single sack against the Irish in 2009. Or 2008. Nor did any other Wolverine record a sack in those years. Even if a defense has one dynamic pass-rusher, that guy can be neutralized if the defense doesn't have other threats for the offense to worry about. Outside of Manti Te'o, it's not clear to me who in the last two classes will provide that pass-rushing ability. The quote from Ego's dad in the John Walters article ("We were up until two in the morning last night debating this," Ego Sr. said. "I wanted him to go to Notre Dame but he said, 'Dad, it's too cold'.") is crushing.

Kevin: Anthony Barr.

Pat: Chris Martin. Landing a top-10 caliber player at one of the most important positions in the recruiting class would have been on par with landing Manti Te'o a year earlier. Having Martin commit to ND, the same day as Te'o as it were, and then slowly back away from his "I"ll go to ND even if they are 0-12" comments over the course of the year only made the miss all the more annoying. Kelly mentioned the need to add size and speed at the edges of the front seven on defense and Martin would have been the ideal solution.

Brian: Martin, because of what he would have meant to the defense, and what he would have meant to enterprising internet so-and-so's who would have had a field day with hackneyed Coldplay references. Honorable mention to Seantrel Henderson (a pipe dream, but it would have been nice) and Anthony Barr (son of Tony Brooks, nephew of By God Reggie Brooks, and his mother is a SMC alum, if I'm not mistaken---this simply had to get locked down.)

Class Sleeper?

Pat: Kelly raved about Cameron Roberson during his Signing Day press conference and I certainly agree that Utupo will bring a lot of energy to the class, but I think I'll go with Tate Nichols. For much of the year he was considered a 6'7" 235 pound tight end recruit. When he visited campus at the end of January the future offensive tackle measured in 6'7" 291 pounds. He'll still have a lot to learn about blocking, but he's looking more and more like a guy who will be able to contribute and possible be a starting tackle down the line.

Kevin: Justin Utupo.

Mike: Justin Utupo. If there were an expansion draft and I could only protect five of ND's recruits, Utupo would be one of them.

Brian: This strikes me as a question best answered this year by slapping on a blindfold and throwing a dart, but I'll go ahead and pick Bruce Heggie, who, given the extent to which he was plucked from oblivion by Brian Kelly in the past week, is not so much a sleeper as a coma patient. Basically, he will greatly outpace expectations simply by earning meaningful playing time.

What position helped itself the most/least?

Kevin: Most- offensive line, though I would have liked one more interior lineman. Least - safety It's a shame ND couldn't land Ioane.

Mike: Most - if Utupo counts as a DT, then the Nix-Utupo combo is tough to beat. Least - safety. Only one commit clearly projects at safety (Badger). Wood and Boyd don't appear to have the size to move from corner to safety. Collinsworth may be a safety, but he may be a slot receiver. We knew safety was a big need going in, and it became a bigger need as the 2009 season played out. When we were discussing a prospect list in the summer that included Amerson, Badger, Bailey, Carrington, Parker and Riley it looked like the need would be filled. I like Badger, but he does not fill the need on his own.

Pat: Most - You have to say quarterback here, because out of the 5 options the odds are pretty good that we'll find a quality future starter (baring landing a 5-star type dual-threat in the next class). Least - I'll echo Mike's opinion about safety. We needed numbers and while Badger will be the hard hitter that probably makes a few special teams units as a freshman, we needed more bodies. Over the past three (!) recruiting classes ND only landed two safeties and both of them (Badger, McCarthy) appear to be strong safety types. Obviously someone is going to have to move positions to fill the big hole at free safety. Any top safety recruit out there in the 2011 class should realize he could easily be a four year starter with our lack of depth at the position.

Brian: Most - I'm gonna go with QB, because that was a position desperately in need of depth. Least - the answer is clearly long snapper.

Favorite Recruiting Moment?

Brian: Not ND-related, but I enjoyed the Lane Kiffin Tennessee Recruiting Hostess scandal, and eagerly await its west coast spinoff.

Pat: As I mentioned earlier, having Chris Martin commit only hours after Manti Te'o unexpectedly picked up the ND hat was about as good as it got. Unfortunately, that was the first day of the recruiting year and nothing later on really topped that. Landing Nix in the wake of Charlie's firing was a close second though.

Mike: Two contenders: (1) Louis Nix publicly declaring for ND between when Weis was fired and Kelly was hired and (2) when the Joyce Center fax machine spit out Nix's LOI. I'll go with (2), based on ND's DL recruiting history over the last six years. Let's review:
2005 - Lawrence Wilson decommitted from ND in favor of OSU.
2006 - ND lost out on Lawrence Marsh and Butch Lewis because they were saving a spot for Gerald McCoy.
2007 - Good news! ND managed to finish ahead of the home state Buckeyes for Ben Martin. Bad news! ND finished behind Tennessee; second place in recruiting gets you nothing. Urban Meyer convinced ND commit Justin Trattou that he'd rather be a 4-3 DE at UF than a 3-4 DE at ND. Trattou now plays DT for Florida.
2008 - Omar Hunter gave Notre Dame an early commitment, leading the Irish to stop recruiting Mike Martin and Garrett Goebel. By the time Hunter finally decommitted, Martin and Goebel were firmly committed to other schools and not willing to entertain Irish entreaties.
2009 - At long last, a year without defections or near-misses to get upset about. Sadly, this was because Tyler Stockton was the only DL who seriously considered ND who seemed worth getting exercised about at the time.
2010 - Chris Martin committed to Notre Dame on Signing Day 2010. Three high schools later, he signed his LOI with Cal.
Given all that, I will count no DL before the LOI is in hand.

What do you think so far of Kelly as recruiter?

Kevin: Withholding judgment for now. I don't think I can draw too many positives, though I'm very happy for him and ND that James committed. The losses were somewhat understandable, yet still disappointing. At the same time, this short period likely tells us little to nothing about his from-scratch recruiting philosophy. I'll wait to see how he proceeds over the course of an entire year before drawing any firm conclusions.

Mike: I don't have a strong opinion on Kelly's recruiting at this point. I don't think anyone could have predicted Weis's 2007 and 2008 classes based on his transitional 2005 class.

Brian: On the one hand, Kelly appears to have closed better than Weis and his staff did during the '04-'05 transition. However, he had a better class to work with on the day he was hired than Weis did (Willingham Alert!!!), plus he had the benefit of being on the job full-time whereas Weis was hiring assistants sight unseen over the phone while splitting duties between ND and the Patriots. In short, I'm going to defer to the Magic Eight Ball and say, "Ask again later."

Pat: One positive that I noticed was that the staff really hit the ground running and turned over plenty of rocks looking for additional recruits to fill up the class. Granted, many of them came from the recruiting lists they had at Cincinnati, but there were also some signs of reaching out around the nation (and kudos to Dave Peloquin for his help here). Getting Spond from Colorado, Schwenke from Hawaii, and Heggie from Florida, not to mention close misses with guys like Ioane (Hawaii), Bourbon (Missouri), and Taylor (Florida) gave some early hints that the staff's contacts and focus aren't quite as regional as some feared. Still, falling just short for elite recruits like Ego Ferguson, Jr., Anthony Barr, and Christian Jones still leave their abilities to close on the best of the best in question.

Monday, February 08, 2010

Final Day Decisions | by Pat

Wrapping up the individual recruit profiles before getting to the end of the season recruiting roundtable, here's a look at the two players that decided to pick ND on Signing Day. As it turns out, it was the player with perhaps the longest connection to the ND coaches and the one with the shortest.

First up on Wednesday was Ohio offensive lineman Matt James. James had been mulling a choice between ND, Ohio State, and the hometown Cincinnati Bearcats. When Kelly left for ND it dropped down to the Irish and Buckeyes with ND coming out on top last Wednesday.

"It was a really tough decision. ...I like the situation of being in the first class with Coach Kelly there."
Landing James was a much needed boost for the offensive line numbers in this recruiting class. The third lineman along with Christian Lombard and Tate Nichols, James is one of the highest rated members of the 2010 recruiting class. Rivals has James as a 4-star recruit, the #14 offensive tackle recruit, and the 86th overall recruit in the country. Scout likewise has James as a 4-star that is the 11th offensive tackle and 91st overall recruit. ESPN gave James a grade of 80, 4-stars, and echoed Rivals ranking of 14th overall offensive tackle. Highlight clips of offensive linemen are sort of silly, but here are ones of James nonetheless.

James played tackle and guard at the recent Army All-American Game but will likely start his Irish career at tackle. In addition to OSU, James also had offers from Florida, Penn State, Wisconsin, Tennessee, North Carolina, and others.

Taking a look again at the OL depth chart for 2010, there are actually a pretty solid set of numbers across the board. In addition to just numbers, there is plenty of talent, albeit largely unexperienced on the depth chart. Consider that the senior, junior, sophomore, and now freshman class all contain an offensive lineman who is a Top 100 recruit. The competition to replace last year's starters will be an interesting one this spring, but almost as interesting will be the competition in the fall to see who makes up the second string.

5th Year
Senior Junior Sophomore Freshman
Dan Wenger
Andrew Nuss*
Trevor Robinson
Chris Watt*
Christian Lombard
Chris Stewart
Matt Romine*
Lane Clelland*
Zach Martin*
Tate Nichols

Taylor Dever*
Braxston Cave*
Alex Bullard*
Matt James

Mike Golic*

On the other side of the ball, Hawaii defensive end Kona Schwenke. Schwenke wasn't on ND's radar at all until the coaching staff ventured out into the Pacific to check out safety recruit Jeremy Ioane (who picked Boise State by the way). Schwenke was brought to ND's attention and they quickly worked to set up a visit.

However, Schwenke was committed to BYU at the time and when head coach found out about Schwenke's interest in visiting ND, he threatened to pull his offer if he went through with the trip. When the Schwenke family decided to go through with the trip, BYU pulled Kona's scholarship offer.

Despite showing up to late January South Bend in a pair of shorts, Schwenke didn't mind the cold enough to avoid picking ND.
"I pretty much made up my mind the day after I came back (Monday)," Schwenke said of Notre Dame. "I thought it was the best place for me. I liked the campus, the people, I enjoyed the school. I love the football program and their academics. It amazed me."
The Honolulu Advertiser released their Top 25 recruit list right before Signing Day and put Kona as the #1 recruit in the state. The recruiting sites are pretty close to agreement on Schwenke with Rivals calling him a 3-star recruit and the #34 defensive end while Scout has him as a 4-star and 33rd overall defensive end recruit. ESPN has him a bit lower at 3-stars, a 74 rating, and the 61st overall defensive end prospect. Here are some highlights of Kona in action.

At 6'5" 215 pounds, Schwenke will have to add some size and strength to his frame until he's ready to be an everydown type of player. However, he could wind up in a few seasons like KLM, who also had to bulk up to handle the DE position.

The best part about landing Schwenke is that he will help out at one of the most needed defensive positions on the team. He won't be an instant impact type player, but will help ND keep the overall DE numbers and could grow into a very good rush end.

Fifth Year
Senior Junior Sophomore Freshman

Kerry Neal
Ethan Johnson
Tyler Stockton*
Bruce Heggie

Emeka Nwankwo*
K. Lewis-Moore*

Kona Schwenke

Hafis Williams*

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Happy Signing Day! | by Pat

Feel free to hang out here today and follow the ups and downs. Also make sure to check out's Signing Day Central for interviews with the coaches. Coach Kelly's official Signing Day press conference is scheduled for around 4 p.m.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Quarterbacker | by Pat

As we head into National Signing Day's Eve (make sure to hang your Christian Jones stockings by the chimney with care) there's one last recruiting update to churn out before turning our attention to what has in store for us tomorrow morning.

After visiting ND this past weekend, Colorado athlete Danny Spond returned home before deciding to join the 2010 ND recruiting class. Spond is the 21st member of the class with a few more names still waiting to announce their decision tomorrow (Numbers-wise, ND is fine even if all undecideds decide to put on the ND hat). A recent offer, Spond was more than eager to join once he got a chance to check out campus.

“Playing for Notre Dame has been a dream of mine since I can remember,” said Spond Monday night. “Just the fact that I have this opportunity to play. Not only is it a blessing, but it's definitely an honor to play for them. Just the tradition and prestige that Notre Dame carries.”
Spond is a high school quarterback and presumably will be the 5th player in the class to get a shot to back up Dayne Crist next fall. Five quarterbacks in a single class is too many, so unless he wins the job the 6'3" 230 pound Spond could be moved to the other side of the ball.
“Coach Kelly and I talked about that,” Spond said. “And they will give me a shot at quarterback. And if that doesn't work, defensively, we talked a lot about a drop-backer for their 3-4 system and also safety.

“The encouraging thing that Coach Kelly and I talked about is that he is just real excited to get me there, and regardless of what position it is, I really have no preference. I will do anything to help the team. I trust that the coaches will put me in the best position to do that. Whatever it is is whatever it is.”
As a QB prospect, Spond falls more in line with the athletic running threat Roback than the more traditional drop back options in Rees, Hendrix, and Massa. But defense certainly seems like a good possibility. The recruiting sites are a bit split on where Spond will end up. On Rivals he is a 4-star recuit and the #27 athlete in the class. Scout has him as a 3-star recruit and the #14 middle linebacker in the class. ESPN has him in the athlete grouping as a 3-star recruit, the 43rd overall athlete and a 78 rating. Check out his highlights for a glimpse of his hard-running style.

Spond was committed to Colorado but recently backed away and took another look at other programs. ND beat out a new finalist group of Stanford and TCU.

As for 2010 depth chart, I'm going to lump Spond with the linebackers for now. It certainly wouldn't bother me to see him taking snaps at QB (and then running over a cornerback), but his future in all likelihood lies on defense. I'm also going to move Prince Shembo and Justin Utupo to the linebacker list for now. Considering ND will need more 'backers in the 3-4 and the fact that both guys, especially Utupo, might not grow into linemen right away or at all, it seems like a reasonable move for a 2010 depth chart.

Fifth Year
Senior Junior Sophomore Freshman

Brian Smith
Darius Fleming
Manti Te'o
Kendall Moore

Steve Filer
Carlo Calabrese*
Prince Shembo

Anthony McDonald*
Zeke Motta
Justin Utupo

David Posluszny*
Dan Fox*
Danny Spond

Heggie Hears a "Who?" | by Pat

The final recruit to go public this past weekend is the center of one of the more surprising recruiting stories in recent memory. Florida lineman Bruce Heggie was a virtual unknown just two weeks ago with no rankings on any recruiting site and not a single offer to play Division I football. Now, he's getting ready to fax in his letter of intent tomorrow morning to play for the Fighting Irish.

How did ND wind up recruiting a player that had to that point gone largely unnoticed by the rest of the college football world? And what, if anything, does it say about ND recruiting going forward under Brian Kelly? I don't think we can really say either way about the second question at this point. This could be a one-time type offer based on a desperate need to bring in more players or a harbinger of future recruiting under Kelly. We'll have to wait until next season to see how Kelly approaches recruiting with a full year cycle.

But back to that first question. While new names of recruits turned up the past few weeks as Kelly and the staff beat the bushes to bring in additional players for the 2010 class, none were as surprising, or surprised, as Heggie.

"Last week FAMU backed out of their offer and said there wasn't going to be an official visit this weekend," Heggie said. "There was William & Mary, but other than that there weren't really anymore options."

Then came the phone call. Notre Dame.

Yep, that's what Heggie thought, too. He probably had to pinch himself.

"It was definitely surprising," he said. "Notre Dame is an epic school. I certainly didn't see this coming. Especially after some of the other schools said they'd recruit me and then backed out of it."
I've seen sleeper recruits before, but never one who's only other option was William and Mary. Even some of the sons of trustees who picked up a scholarship in the past decade usually had a few more options. The story goes that Coach Hinton had considered Heggie while at UC, but UC didn't have the numbers. Now with ND looking to fill out the class, he brought Heggie's name back up again and, following a trip to Florida by DL coach Mike Elston, Heggie was given the opportunity to come up to ND this past weekend to visit. And while on campus, he was offered a scholarship that he immediately accepted.

Coach Kelly certainly has a past history of taking underrecruited players and turning them into productive college players. However, as much as it's easy to point to this when considering Heggie's offer, it's also just being honest to wonder why 119 other college coaches didn't feel the need to offer Heggie. The South Bend Tribune did highlight a few of the reasons why Heggie, son of a Florida State football player, slipped through the recruiting cracks so much.
Heggie, who went to a Florida State summer camp and a Nike camp at the school, believes there's a number of reasons why he's been on the outside looking in most of the recruiting season despite earning Academic All-State, plus All- Lake and All-Sumter County honors.

First and foremost, his school has had three head coaches during his four varsity seasons, the last change occurring the spring of his junior year.

“I didn't get my film out until three-quarters the way through my senior year,” he said. “Tapes were lost. It just wasn't good as far as exposure.”

Second, his school of 800, 40 miles northwest of Orlando, is off most recruiters' radar, though two teammates did get offers and are going to Central Florida.

Missing several games each of his final two seasons did not help either.
Now, rather than continue to dwell on Heggie's recruit history, the important thing is how Heggie will fit in and contribute to the program. Clearly the staff identified the need for defensive ends in this class, especially with losing Chris Martin and Blake Lueders. At 6'4" 240 pounds, Heggie played tight end and defensive end in high school and seems a sure bet to at least start off on the defensive side of the ball. However, recent articles are putting Heggie at 6'6" and closer to 250. If that's actually the case and not just more recruiting stat inflation, Heggie could possibly keep growing into an offensive tackle. Along with the offer to Tate Nichols, ND will need faster, more agile tackles after Charlie tended to recruit bigger road grater types (despite his pass happy offense). But for now, I'm going to list Heggie with the defensive line. With it now being certain that ND will run a 3-4 next season, here are the obvious candidates for the end positions although what the staff thinks won't be entirely obvious until spring ball. What is obvious is the need to land a lot of talent at the defensive end position in the next recruiting class.

Fifth Year
Senior Junior Sophomore Freshman

Kerry Neal
Ethan Johnson
Tyler Stockton*
Bruce Heggie

Emeka Nwankwo*
K. Lewis-Moore*

Hafis Williams*

ND desperately needs defensive ends in this class, but even at that Heggie is a reach if you consider the lack of offers from any other D1 program. However, if he adds viable depth to the team in the future, it will another feather in Brian Kelly's talent identification and development hat. If not, it's the kind of thing that people will bring up constantly when discussing Kelly's missteps as ND's coach. Hopefully Kelly and Heggie will be the ones having the last laugh.

Monday, February 01, 2010

Runnin' Roback | by Pat

On to the next recruit to publicly commit to ND over the weekend: 6'3" 220 pound Ohio QB/athlete Derek Roback.

Roback is an interesting example of the ups and downs of recruiting coverage. When Roback was in junior high he was a national finalist in the Pepsi Punt, Pass, and Kick competition. He followed that up by being named the Freshman MVP at the National Underclassmen Combine. With these two things to his credit, Rivals then included Roback as one of their Top 10 Sophomores to Watch, along with current 5-star players Seantrel Henderson, Jeff Jeffcoat, and Dillon Baxter (and ND legacy lineman Ian Gray).

Heading into his sophomore season, he moved from quarterback to wide receiver and safety where he had a strong season on the field, being named All-State Honorable Mention. After the season he attended another National Underclassmen Combine, this one in New Jersey, and came away with the overall MVP award. With multiple combine and All-State honors to his name, Roback moved back to quarterback for his junior year with multiple national programs sending him recruiting mail.

Yet, after another strong All-State Honorable Mention season, Roback only had a handful of MAC level offers for college like Ball State, Miami, Toldeo, and Bowling Green, perhaps because he was viewed as more "athlete" than quarterback. In fact, when he attended Wisconsin's summer camp before his senior year he worked out with the tight end and slot receivers. He committed to Toledo as a QB and, with an injury filled senior season, that was that until Kelly offered him a scholarship in November while still at UC. Kelly then called him back up while at ND and Roback jumped at the chance to visit this past weekend. Once on campus he quickly committed as the Chillicothe Gazette pointed out by quoting his Facebook status (insert snarky media critque here).

Roback’s Facebook status was updated Sunday to say, “I am officially committed to the University of Notre Dame. Best day of my life.”
The recruiting sites, despite the early praise from Rivals and strong combine performances, put Roback rather low on the recruiting scale. Rivals put him as a 3-star athlete recruit while both Scout and ESPN consider him a 2-star QB. He's the 103rd overall QB recruit on Scout while ESPN has him as the #98 QB (and a 74 rating for those keeping track).

As Roback has primarily been a high school quarterback, it seems that ND now has four quarterback recruits in this class. However, while Roback may get a few practices to prove his worth at QB, his likely destination is more as either a tight end/H-back type or linebacker. This is were Kelly's power/big skill/skill recruiting archetypes make depth chart engineering a bit more difficult. Kelly clearly wants to bring in additional bodies and not have a small class, so he's taking athletic guys like Roback -- and his 4.0 high school GPA can't hurt -- with a mind to find them a position down the road. It's a somewhat risky strategy, but Kelly has been doing it for a number of years so the odds are he has something of a specific position in mind. At the level of recruiting needed for ND, most players have specialized in high school a bit more at a certain positions, so it will be interesting to see next season if Kelly continues to try and find room for a few smart athletic types who don't have an obvious position and can help fill in depth once they get on campus.

In the meantime, I can't really put Roback into one of the 2010 position depth charts because I don't know where he'll wind up. Will he stick at QB, perhaps as ND's version of Zach Collaros? Or will he wind up at tight end along with Alex Welch or linebacker with Prince Shembo and Kendall Moore? Here are his highlight clips if you want to make up your own mind. It's clear he's a good athlete. The question is just where he'll add the most benefit to the program.

Bringing in the reinforcements | by Pat

It's a wild finish to the recruiting season as Kelly and his new staff brought in a large group of uncommitted players this past weekend and so far have gained three public commitments with the possibility of a few more deciding to join up shortly. Ohio QB Luke Massa, Ohio athlete Derek Roback, and Florida DE Bruce Heggie all jumped on their chance to be a part of the 2010 recruiting class, bringing the total number of public commits up to 20.

First up, let's start with the latest quarterback to hop on board. Ohio QB Luke Massa was a Cincinnati commit since July, but when Kelly left for ND it was pretty obvious that Massa would be interested in following him if ND showed interest.

"I was definitely thinking in the back of my mind," Massa said, "is this gonna happen or not?"

Notre Dame eventually did become involved after Steve Specht, Massa's coach at St. Xavier, reached out to Kelly and an offer arrived. Prior to his weekend visit, Massa had a big interest in ND, but the trip made him feel comfortable and wanted.

"The decision was easy for me," Massa said.
After assuming the starting QB role following an injury to the starter, Massa as a sophomore led St. Xavier to eight straight wins and the Ohio state title. He was an up and coming QB prospect, but a foot injury followed by a broken collarbone kept him on the sideline nearly his entire junior season. He still had the offer from UC though and committed that summer before his senior year. His only other offer at the time was from Wisconsin while schools like Michigan State and N.C. State were understandably waiting to see how he'd look as a healthy senior. His senior year Massa stayed healthy while completing 67% of his passes for 1,800 yards, 16 touchdowns, and 9 interceptions.

The recruiting sites slot Massa as an average QB recruit with both Rivals and Scout giving him 3 stars. Rivals has Massa as the 28th overall QB recruit while Scout is a little more critical and has him down as the 75th overall QB recruit. ESPN has the harshest rating, giving Massa 2 stars, a 72 rating, and tabbing him as the 129th overall QB recruit. You can check out Massa's highlight clips for yourself here.

The 6'4" 205 pound Massa gives ND a third QB recruit in a single class, which is very high number. The last time ND brought in three QBs in a single class was under Davie when Jared Clark, Abram Elam, Matt LoVecchio, and Carlyle Holiday all signed on to play quarterback at Notre Dame. Only Clark and Holiday finished their careers at ND while LoVecchio was the only one of the four that didn't move to a new position.

Massa, Hendrix, and Rees will have a three way fight this fall in order to grab the open backup spot behind the recovering Dayne Crist. The winner will likely see some playing time while the other two presumably will stay on the sidelines and preserve a year of eligibility. Rees has the clear advantage as he's already enrolled and will be able to go through spring practice. Massa and Hendrix won't show up until the summer and will have to make do with informal 7 on 7 sessions to prep for the fall camp showdown. Interestingly, Massa and Hendrix come from the same conference -- the Ohio powerhouse GCL conference -- and while Hendrix is rated higher than Massa by every recruiting service, Kelly offered Massa a scholarship to UC before Hendrix.

Taking a look at the 2010 QB depth chart, you can see just how thin and unbalanced ND is at the quarterback position thanks to not taking a QB last year and Clausen exceeding expectations and heading off to the NFL a year early. Add in the fact that Crist is coming off an ACL injury and it's clear why the QB position is concern #1 heading into spring ball. Walk-on Nate Montana is back at ND and will add some depth this spring, but I left him off this table for the time being.

Fifth Year
Senior Junior Sophomore Freshman

Dayne Crist*

Andrew Hendrix

Tommy Rees

Luke Massa