SOUTH BEND – Notre Dame’s challenge with major turnover on the coaching staff was to keep its recruiting class together. Today, on national signing day, the Irish will announce a highly ranked class that looks to have remained largely intact even as the program replaced all three coordinators and hired three new position coaches.
Few media who cover the Irish understand the difficulty of it as well as Bryan Driskell, Blue and Gold Illustrated’s football analyst. Driskell once was Defiance College’s recruiting coordinator and is impressed by how Notre Dame’s 2017 class largely held firm.
“I’m impressed by their ability to keep it,” Driskell said. “Part of it is the previous staff sold Notre Dame, and I believe this staff will do the same because I think it’s a directive of Brian Kelly’s. They do a very good job selling this place, and so, when there is a change in coaching, it’s a lot easier to convince kids to stay because that’s what Notre Dame is.”
If all plays out as expected, Kelly will have signed five straight top-15 classes, as rated by Rivals.com, which ranks the current Irish class No. 15 based on commitments to date.
Four-star prospects Robert Hainsey, an offensive lineman out of Bradenton, Florida, and Brock Wright, a tight end from Cypress, Texas, headline Notre Dame’s haul. Hainsey and Wright began courses this semester, as did safety Isaiah Robertson, running back C.J. Holmes and offensive lineman Aaron Banks. There are 13 additional committed players from whom the Irish await the signed letters of intent.
The 2017 class includes 12 offensive players, five defensive players and one kicker.
New linebackers coach Clark Lea said switching jobs late in the cycle meant making an attempt to get to know the players already committed to the Irish.
“You have to cut to the chase,” Lea said. “You don’t have the luxury of the small talk that goes on a lot early.”
Lea’s strategy was to show his tight-knit relationship with defensive coordinator Mike Elko. They came together from Wake Forest to Notre Dame.
“We’ve developed a respect and friendship that goes far beyond (work),” Lea said. “Parents want kids to be at places where they see a personality. Kids see we’re real people.”
New wide receivers coach Del Alexander said he simply tried to be honest with recruits who had committed to Notre Dame prior to the departures of associate head coach Mike Denbrock and offensive coordinator Mike Sanford.
“It’s tough because you don’t have a relationship,” Alexander said. “There was some success there. There were some that got away.”
Defensive backs Paulson Adebo and Elijah Hicks decommitted, as did Pete Werner, a linebacker.