Notre Dame lands a Top 5 class on national signing day
BY MARK POTASh Sun-Times Media February 6, 2013 8:14PM
Bishop Luers' Jaylon Smith starts the 3rd quarter with a 52 yard run at Andrean High School on Friday November 16, 2012. | Jim Karczewski~for Sun-Times Media
For a breakdown of how the Big Ten fared on signing day, see page 32.
Updated: March 8, 2013 7:50AM
A glorious unbeaten regular season showed how far Notre Dame football has come under Brian Kelly. But a blowout loss to Alabama in the national championship game showed just how far the Fighting Irish have to go.
It was with that in mind that Kelly announced a 2013 recruiting class that is ranked among the top five in the country by most analysts, including No. 2 by Tom Lemming of CBS Sports Network.
‘‘Our future is predicated on the last game you play,’’ Kelly said. ‘‘I think we all know ... after the last game we played we wanted to begin taking that next step forward ... so when we get back on that field in 2013, we finish it off. This class is the first step toward that.’’
Kelly announced a class of 23 players, including five who already have enrolled in school and will participate in spring football. Most of them have great size, great athleticism, great statistics and come from great families. But after the National Championship Game, the measurement of any Notre Dame class is clearly defined by one factor: How many of them did Alabama want?
‘‘I would say Alabama would definitely have signed 15 of them,’’ Lemming said.
That’s a lot more than in Kelly’s previous two recruiting classes at Notre Dame.
‘‘Not bad at all,’’ Lemming said. ‘‘They’re getting there.’’
Heading the list is 6-3, 220-pound linebacker Jaylon Smith of Bishop Luers High School in Fort Wayne, Ind., who won the Butkus Award as the nation’s top high school linebacker.
Notre Dame also signed running back Greg Bryant of Delray Beach, Fla., who decommitted from Oklahoma during the Irish’s unbeaten regular season, and safety Max Redfield of Mission Viejo, Calif., who chose Notre Dame over USC. All are rated as five-star recruits.
Notre Dame still is in the running for another five-star recruit, defensive tackle Eddie Vanderdoes of Placer, Calif. The 6-3, 300-pound Vanderdoes is considering Alabama, USC, UCLA, Washington and Notre Dame. He was expected to announce his choice at 7 p.m. Wednesday.
Notre Dame was in the running for Kylie Fitts, rated the No. 8 defensive end in the country by ESPN. But Fitts, who had committed to USC before reconsidering, chose UCLA on Wednesday.
After a late visit to Auburn, running back Tarean Folston of Cocoa, Fla. signed with Notre Dame on Wednesday afternoon. Folston turned down Oregon, Florida, Florida State and Stanford. ‘‘Bryan and Folston are the best duo they’ve brought in since Tony Brooks and Ricky Watters,’’ Lemming said.
Other big gets include 6-5, 265-pound defensive lineman Isaac Rochelle of McDonough, Ga., and wide receiver Torii Hunter, Jr. of Prosper, Texas, the son of Detroit Tigers outfielder Torii Hunter Sr.
Notre Dame also signed five highly rated offensive linemen that Lemming said could help close the gap between the Irish and Alabama: 6-71/2, 280-pound Mike McGlinchey of Philadelphia; 6-5, 300-pound Steve Elmer of Midland, Mich.; 6-5, 305-pound John Montelus of Everett, Mass.; 6-6, 290-pound Hunter Bivin of Owensboro, Ky. and 6-5, 280-pound Colin McGovern of Lincoln-Way West — the only Chicago-are recruit so far.
‘‘They all have All-American potential,’’ Lemming said.
Last year, Notre Dame lost five committed players down the stretch. The perfect storm that ensued after the 12-0 start — the debacle against Alabama, Kelly’s dalliance with the Eagles and the Manti Te’o hoax affair — left Notre Dame vulnerable to another letdown. But the Irish lost only one committed player, linebacker Alex Anzalone of Wyomissing, Penn., who switched to Florida while Kelly was visiting the Eagles in January.
In reality, Notre Dame will not reap dividends from the 12-1 season until next season — 19 players from this year’s class were committed before the 2012 season.
But it’s still the best class Kelly has recruited at Notre Dame — or anywhere for that matter. Smith has everything Notre Dame is looking for in a football player. He’s got size, speed and athleticism. He’s versatile and smart. He’s academically oriented. He’s a leader and a winner.
As a running back, he rushed for 1,265 yards and 18 touchdowns as a senior. He was a starter on four state championship teams in high school. He was named the captain of the West team for the U.S. Army All-American Bowl in San Antonio. He prayed on his decision.
But with all that, perhaps the best predictor of success at the next level is not on his resume: Nick Saban, Urban Meyer and Chip Kelly wanted him.
‘‘He was at the top of everybody’s list,’’ said Bishop Luers coach Steve Keefer, who also coached current Pro Bowl linebacker Anthony Spencer of the Dallas Cowboys.
Smith turned down Alabama, Ohio State, Oregon, Michigan and USC among other elite college programs. Four days after Notre Dame lost to Alabama, when Kelly was interviewing with the Philadelphia Eagles, Michigan defensive coordinator Greg Mattison went to Luers to remind Smith the offer from Michigan is still there.
Smith didn’t budge, regardless of who Kelly was talking to or where he was going to coach next season. ‘‘The Golden Dome isn’t going anywhere,’’ Smith told the Detroit Free Press.
As a prospect, Smith ranks with Manti Te’o among the best Notre Dame recruits of recent years. Smith, in fact, might be an even better prospect than Te’o.
‘‘He fits the mold of what colleges and even the pros are looking for now,’’ Keefer said. ‘‘They want that outside guy who can rush and drop back into coverage and play the run. Jaylon fits that bill perfectly.’’
Notre Dame plans to play Smith at the ‘‘Cat’’ outside linebacker position currently filled by Danny Spond. Kelly did not want to put any of his new players on the spot by predicting which of them could have an impact next season. But with a player like Smith he’s comfortable with letting the best man win.
‘‘We play a lot of guys. But I will tell you this: we’ll put the best 11 on the field,’’ Kelly said. ‘‘If Danny Spond is the best 11, he’s playing. If Jaylon Smith is the best 11, he’s playing.’’
The five players already enrolled include wide receiver Corey Robinson of San Antonio, Texas, the son of Hall of Famer NBA center David Robinson. The others are Elmer, quarterback Malik Zaire of Kettering, Ohio; tight end Mike Heuerman of Naples, Fla. and wide receiver James Onwualu of St. Paul, Minn.
Other signees were linebackers Doug Randloph of Richmond, Va. and Michael Deeb of Plantation, Fla.; defensive backs Rashad Kinlaw of Galloway, N.J., Devin Butler of Washington, D.C. and Cole Luke of Chandler, Ariz.; tight end Durham Smythe of Belton, Texas; defensive lineman Jacob Matuska of Columbus, Ohio and wide receiver William Fuller of Philadelphia.
‘‘We think it’s our best class,’’ Kelly said. ‘‘It really addresses some of our depth needs. We did not have 85 scholarship players in the National Championship Game. We’ve addressed those depth issues in Year No. 3. Now we’ll have the depth in areas we felt like we did not have in 2012.’’